Barbara D’Errico is retiring after 20 years of supervising the Briny Breezes Memorial Chimes. Photos by Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star
By Ron Hayes
Ring out the old! Ring in the new!
Barbara D’Errico had just moved to the community in 1992 when she offered to serve on the committee that oversees the Briny Breezes Memorial Chimes. Twenty years later, she’s stepping aside to welcome a new belle of the bells. “I’m 80 years old,” says D’Errico. “It’s time for new blood.”
The new blood is Nancy Aceto, 56, a third-generation Brinyite who inherits a memorial fund that has seen residents’ donations transform a primitive loudspeaker system into a sophisticated electronic carillon.
Six days a week, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., the park’s electronic bells chime the hour.
Sunday mornings they call the faithful to nondenominational church services. And every day at noon and 6 p.m. three familiar melodies echo over the park — maybe Beethoven, maybe the Beatles. Maybe the Notre Dame fight song.
“Most people request Danny Boy,” says D’Errico. “We have a small group of Irish people here who are very proud of their heritage.”
Long before Danny Boy rang from the roof of the auditorium, back when Briny Breezes was little more than a seasonal campground, residents were summoned to Sunday services or the office’s single telephone over a loudspeaker positioned in the trees.
“Mr. Jones, you have a call!”
That system was disconnected in 1971 to eliminate the overhead wiring, and swiftly missed. Sunday wasn’t Sunday without the sound of music.
One day, Abe VanOosten, a director, and resident Charles Stimets were lamenting the loss.
Beginning in the early 1960s, a memorial fund collected donations in memory of departed loved ones.
Over the years about $500 had been raised, and none of it spent. They decided to spend some.
Stimets bought a tape recorder and rigged it to play music through a new loudspeaker on the auditorium’s roof, the wiring underground.
Stimets was named trustee for life, and held the post until 1997, when he returned permanently to Vermont and D’Errico took his place.
His system endured until November 2011, when residents’ generous donations replaced the old analog tape recorder backstage in the auditorium with a brand-new Schulmerich Bells Digital Auto-Bell Instrument with Digital Signal Processor.
Oh, what a difference $16,272.70 makes!
In addition to the hourly chimes, digital memory cards hold about 2,000 songs, of which D’Errico has programmed about 300 to play in three- or four-day intervals.
Sunday mornings still ring with sacred music, but now Christmas carols echo each December, Irving Berlin’s Easter Parade each spring, Stars and Stripes Forever on the Fourth of July and college fight songs during football season.
“Personally, I love September Song,” says D’Errico.
Donors to the memorial fund are welcome to make requests, she says, but few do. The family in whose name the gift is made receives a gold-embossed card, the donor a thank-you note.
Now Nancy Aceto, who favors show tunes, will take the donations and sign the cards.
“I’m honored,” she says. “But Barbara’s promised to be my consultant.”
Incidentally, the electronic bells that chime the hour in this tiny mobile home community are a digital recreation of a slightly more famous bell hanging in a clock tower high above London’s Houses of Parliament.
Yes, England can take pride in the knowledge that Big Ben plays the same tune as the Briny Breezes chimes.
And don’t worry about Barbara D’Errico. The bell has tolled on her trustee years, but she won’t be without music. Her cell phone plays the opening bars of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.