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Safety Harbor woman donates bells she’s played her whole life to TFO

When she was just 7 years old living near Harrisburg, Pa., Joanne (Schindler) Biringer was given a beautiful set of top-quality Deagan orchestra bells. Her parents thought they would be the perfect instrument for her to play.

And she did, all through school, with the summer symphony in New Hampshire, and the orchestra at the University of Miami, where she got her music education degree. Now living in Safety Harbor, Joanne continued to play the vintage bells in local ensembles, including the St. Petersburg Community Band, where she is still part of the percussion section.

Joanne, 83, decided it was time for the bells to go to a good home: The Florida Orchestra. Officially called a Deagan Roundtop glockenspiel, the impressive set made its debut this past weekend during the sold-out Planets concerts.

TFO percussionist Kurt Grissom couldn’t believe the rare find. The bells, which he estimates date back to the 1920s, are made from drop-forged, high-carbon steel, which is extremely dense and produces a lovely, pure sound. It’s hard to find a set like these today.

“This instrument is an example of the Golden Age of percussion manufacturing, where nothing was spared when it came to sound, detail and quality,” Kurt said. “We will treasure this wonderful gift from Joanne.”

The bells have tuned keys that are arranged like a piano keyboard and played with a mallet, much like a xylophone. When Joanne donated the set last summer, it was showing some wear from decades of use. The orchestra sent them to Andres Bautista of Century Mallet Service in Chicago to be refurbished. They came back looking brand new.

“I can’t believe it!” Joanne exclaimed when she saw them Sunday at Ruth Eckerd Hall. TFO’s percussion section brought Joanne onstage before the concert so they could show her the gleaming bells and thank her. She had her photo taken backstage with Music Director Michael Francis.

Later, when the bells rang out from stage during Mercury, Venus and Jupiter, Joanne was in the audience.

“I was so excited! I told everyone around me, ‘Those are my bells!’ ” Joanne said.

Joanne has a long history with The Florida Orchestra. In fact, she helped start TFO’s popular Instrument Petting Zoo many years ago so kids could try out instruments. Still, donating the bells was not an easy decision.

“I didn’t know if I could handle the empty spot,” she said. “They have been a big part of my whole life. Now I know I made the right decision.”

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