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Denver tradition rings a bell with South Jeffco pair

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By Emile Hallez

  Ten-year-old Jett Moore was just a bit nervous.

He stood near the entrance to the imposing Denver City and County Building, about to be given a tour of its historic bell system. And the South Jeffco resident seemed far younger than anyone else scheduled to play the bells.

“He walked up to the building, and all these people are going through security, and he said, ‘I can’t do this,’ ” said his mom, Sandy Moore. “ ‘Just look how old everyone is.’ ”

But Jett found reassurance from someone on the other end of the age spectrum.

John Hutchins, 83, was excited to be sharing the stage with someone so young.

“He’s the only one that’s less than 20 there,” Hutchins said. “I was a little surprised.”

Both Hutchins and Jett had volunteered to play traditional holiday songs on the bells, which are controlled by a small keyboard on the building’s fifth floor. While the bells’ tones are muted inside the building, passers-by outside are treated to robust chimes.

“He was a little bit nervous about everything,” Hutchins said. “It pleased me to be able to give him some confidence.”

By coincidence, the two bell players, likely the youngest and oldest to be performing for the city this year, live a matter of blocks from each other in South Jeffco. Moore’s four years of piano lessons hardly compare to Hutchins’ 67 of tickling the ivories, but this year the two ended up at the same place.

Hutchins, who moved to the area 30 years ago, said it was marvelous that Moore joined the volunteer musicians.

Both responded to a notice from the city of Denver asking for players.

“This year we realized that our pool of volunteers had become a lot smaller,” said city spokesman Eric Brown. “Some of them were old and had died.”

No formal qualifications are necessary, and the city did not hold auditions. It signed people up on a first-come, first-serve basis. Volunteers are asked only to be able to play holiday songs with a very limited number of notes. There are only 10 bells in the building and thus 10 available pitches. Individual players adapted songs and submitted them to the group, which produced a collection.

“It was fun, and I’d definitely choose to do it again,” Jett said after his Dec. 3 performance. “I played any of the songs that other people brought.”

“Jingle Bells,” “Frosty the Snowman” and “O Come all Ye Faithful” were just a few of the pieces in the catalog.

Volunteers have been playing the bells since the ’70s, and this season is the first in years that the city has openly asked people to help fill 100 shifts. About 60 people are signed up play, some of whom are performing more than once.

Hutchins, who will be playing three sessions, can be heard outside the building Dec. 9 at 12:15 p.m. Though no one will be able to see him, he is sure to pass along a bit of holiday cheer to the masses of working people who happen to stroll by on their lunch breaks.

“I hope people enjoy hearing it,” he said.