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Chimes give voice to Flight 93 heroes across windy memorial site near Shanksville

August 12, 2018
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Fugate Inc. staff (from left) Carly Todd, Brett Fugate, Bert Durr and Chris Arnold pose with chimes that will become part of the Flight 93 National Memorial Tower of Voices. Behind them is a mock tower with several hanging chime tubes.

The chimes for the Flight 93 National Memorial Tower of Voices started out as simple aluminum tubes.

Brett Fugate’s job was to turn them into musical instruments.

Now nearing completion, the chimes likely will be delivered and installed at the Somerset County memorial near Shanksville this month -- just in time for the Tower of Voices dedication on Sept. 9 and the annual commemoration of Sept. 11.

“This is a unique musical instrument,” Fugate said. “I’ve studied music for a long time, and I’ve never seen anything like it in my whole life.”

Fugate’s company, Fugate Inc., of Morton, Ill., got the commission of a lifetime when it won the contract to build the 40 wind chimes that will become part of the 93-foot Tower of Voices, the final phase of major construction of the Flight 93 Memorial’s original design.

Work on the chimes portion of the project began in earnest in March, while construction of the tower itself, with its precast pieces of concrete, had to wait until better weather in April. The last beams were set in mid-July.

“My company is literally producing the voice for the Tower of Voices,” Fugate said in a recent interview. “This job was a good fit for us because ... we have a knowledge of tuning and music that others don’t have.”

The Tower of Voices differs significantly from other musical instruments that Fugate, 45, is used to building -- marimbas, xylophones, drums and other percussion instruments.

“This is a musical instrument that is not played by human hands but by Mother Nature. The wind comes through and catches the sail and makes the tube sound (a note),” he said.

What’s more, it is the largest musical instrument he has ever made and probably will outlast any conventional instrument he has ever made.

“This is literally going to be out in the elements continuously, and the elements can be relentless. That’s certainly something that my products have never been exposed to before,” he said.

The chimes are made from polished aluminum tubes that range in diameter from 8 to 16 inches and in length from 5 to 10 feet, according to the National Park Service.

Each one is cut and tooled to produce a certain musical note as wind flows through the tower.

Describing the concept, Los Angeles architect Paul Murdoch told Glass magazine, “Symbolically, those 40 wind chimes are a living memory representing the sound of the voices of those 40 people, many of whose last conversations where on phones with loved ones while on the plane. It’s a heroic statement, a very personal and intimate entrance to the park.”

Fugate said he, too, was motivated by the fact that the chimes will give voice to the victims of Flight 93 and will tell the story to people who are too young to remember or hadn’t been born at the time of the 2001 terror attacks.

“The next generation will be able to experience a little bit of the emotion, of how we felt that day,” he said. “I can remember hearing about Flight 93, but when I was that young man, I never dreamed that I would be involved in making a memorial for the heroes of Flight 93.”

The Tower of Voices also will be a tribute to the man who created the pitch design for the project -- Hamilton College music professor Sam Pellman.

The sole musician on a team of acousticians, architects and National Park Service staff, Pellman was hired by Paul Murdoch Architects for his combined expertise in acoustics and composition, said Vige Barrie, spokeswoman for Hamilton College, Clinton, N.Y.

“Each of the 40 chimes, representing the passengers and crew, are tuned to a different pitch,” Barrie said.

Pellman played piano and organ and described himself as “a composer, primarily of electro-acoustic music,” Barrie said. A simulation of Pellman’s sound design can be heard at the National Park Service’s Tower of Voices website.

Just weeks after attending the Tower of Voices groundbreaking ceremony last October, Pellman, 64, was killed when he was struck by a motorist while riding his bike.

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