Meet the 36-year-old behind the signature sound of Dilworth

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If you live anywhere in Dilworth, you have probably heard them.

On Sunday mornings, a few minutes before and after each service, hymns float from the Covenant Presbyterian Church bell tower.

While most churches have all but done away with this traditional symbol of church, or transferred the songs from instruments to computers, Covenant still utilizes a carillon, played by local guy Ben Unger.

Ben, 36, is a real estate lawyer in Gastonia by week-day and carillon player by Sunday. He and his wife Casey, have a three-and-a-half-year-old and another baby due in October. He seems like an average Charlottean.

But a few months ago, Ben, who grew up playing piano, was asked by a friend to consider playing the carillon for the church.

The carillon is slightly different than the piano, requiring its player to use keys and pedals. Ben has been playing for a few months and says he is still learning.

“I like the old-fashionedness of it,” he said. “I like the fact that it’s very unstructured.”

Covenant Presbyterian rotates carillon players every few months.

Ben is the youngest of the players. He is one example of the church’s growing young adult population.

When it is his turn, he climbs 60 steps on a small, narrow, spiral staircase.

Inside the small square bell tower, he opens a door on each side, one of which exposes a beautiful view of the uptown skyline.

The carillon is made of 48 bells that were made in Holland between 1963 and 1969.

The carillon bells weigh more than nine tons, the largest bell weighing 3,300 pounds and the smallest weighing 22 pounds.

The Sunday I went with him, Ben attended the early service, then climbed to the bell tower and played for about 15 minutes prior to the service. He chooses a variety of hymns to welcome the congregation, depending on his thoughts and feelings for the day.

Despite the immense heat inside the bell tower the Sunday I went, Ben places a hymnal on the carillon and begins reading the music. 

Ben played songs using quick foot movements. For the keys, Ben balls up his fist and presses the keys with the bottom of his fists.

Ben says playing the carillon keeps up his musical ability.

“Selfishly, I like playing, and I like making music. In law school, I played in a band. (Now), I can perform and not be front and center,” he said.

Ben said he believes he is sharing God-given talents as well.

“Faith wise, I believe God gives us talents,” he said. “If people like it, then that’s a good thing.”

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Mary Elizabeth Robertson
Mary covers faith for the Charlotte Agenda.