| By Lori O'Brien|
WESTFIELD - Soon the warm spring air will be filled with the sounds of the carillon bells as a new season of free Carillon Concerts begins May 6 at Stanley Park.
West Springfield resident Norma Hopper, spry at 77, will once again climb the steep set of stairs inside the Carillon Tower on the first and third Sundays of each month to ensure visitors are treated to a diverse musical program that features the carillon bells. The Carillon Tower, adjacent to the Rose Garden, houses 25 English bells, 61 Flemish carillonic bells and a Casio 40" musical information system. On a recent Tuesday afternoon, Hopper ascended what appeared to be an endless amount of stairs to inspect the organ prior to her first concert of the season.
The sounds of Hopper playing "Carolina Moon" (among others) could be heard throughout the Rose Garden as she carefully inspected the equipment that had recently been returned after the long winter. While joggers and walkers passed by, a warm breeze made the yellow daffodils flutter and the dogwood blooms sway and made the music all the more enjoyable to take in.
"If the wind is right, you can hear the bells across the park," she said.
The Stanley Park Carillon Tower stands 98 feet, topped by a gold leaf dome. Completed in 1950, the structure was dedicated to world peace during a national broadcast ceremony. The tower's imposing bronze doors are decorated with 14 relief sculptures portraying various aspects of the park and Stanley Home Products, as well as profiles of Frank Stanley Beveridge and Catherine L. O'Brien. A map in front of the tower measures 23 feet by 30 feet, and was created with multi-colored New York slate.
Carillon Concerts are planned on the first and third Sundays from 3 to 4 p.m., rain or shine. Concert dates are May 6 and 20; June 3 and 17; July 1 and 15; Aug. 5 and 19; Sept. 2 and 16, and Oct. 7 and 21.
Hopper noted during an interview with Reminder Publications that she has always had a love for music since her parents surrounded their children with music. Her earliest beloved memories included listening to the player piano as a child. As years past, it was her brother Harold Roberts who formed a band playing Hawaiian music that encouraged her to learn to play several instruments. Hopper plays the organ and carillon bells, as well as the flute and piano.
In addition to her love of music, she couldn't resist talking about her love of flying.
"I loved flying," she said, noting that she became one of the youngest licensed pilots in the region at 17, back in 1947. She reminisced about her many jaunts to the Cape (one of her favorite trips) in the single engine Piper Cub, and the young men she met along the way.
"We were hot tickets back then," she laughed.
Hopper said she doesn't fly any more, however, her days are still bustling with performances at area nursing homes and senior centers. She is also available to play music for weddings and picnics at Stanley Park.
Hopper noted that her Sunday Carillon Concerts are varied and include older tunes, hymns and patriotic songs.
"I always end with America the Beautiful and God Bless America," she said.
Hopper said she enjoys performing the concerts because the people attending are always appreciative and thank her after the event.
"This is a beautiful park to sit, relax and listen to music," she said, adding "I love it here."
For more information on the Carillon Concerts, call the Stanley Park office at (413) 568-9312.
Also on Sundays at Stanley Park, a host of free concerts will be conducted in the Beveridge Pavilion, beginning at 6 p.m. Concerts planned include: May 27, Golden Age Harmon-Cats; June 3, Kenny LaBelle of Diamond Collection; June 10, the Dave Colucci Show; June 17, Melha Military Band; June 24, Classic Brass; July 1, Westfield American Legion Band; July 8, Rising Tide; July 15, Dan Kane Junior Singers; July 22, Donna Lee, Patsy Cline Tribute; July 29, Pat Rhondy's Circus Band; Aug. 5, Swingtime; Aug. 12, Atwater/Donnelly; Aug. 19, Your No Good Buddies; Aug. 26, The Westernaires, and Sept. 2, John Waynelovich.