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Oak Crest Handbell Choir rings in fifth year

Created date

November 23rd, 2009

Five months after Joan and Brooks Hubbert traded in their Towson home and moved to Oak Crest in Parkville, it was clear as a bell something was missing. [caption id="attachment_6800" align="alignright" width="300" caption="The Oak Crest Handbell Choir, which includes both experienced bell-ringers and those who had never played before, practices for its upcoming holiday performance. (Photo by Mark Abromaitis)"][/caption] I asked if there was a handbell group in the community in hopes that I would be able to join and play, says Mrs. Hubbert, who had played with the Cathedral Ringers Handbell Choir at Baltimore s Cathedral of Mary Our Queen. But Mrs. Hubbert wasn t quite prepared for the answer she received.

A different note

I discovered there wasn t a handbell group, Mrs. Hubbert says. Everyone I spoke with suggested that I start one. I thought to myself, I ve never conducted a group, let alone organized one. So I started doing some research on details like where to get bells, how many bells we needed, where the money to purchase bells would come from, and finding a place to practice. It didn t take long for things to fall into place. A fellow music lover atOak Crestgenerously donated the money needed to purchase the bells. And in January 2005, Mrs. Hubbert began recruiting volunteers to play in the new Oak Crest Handbell Choir. Serving as her codirector, Mr. Hubbert handled the logistics, including coordinating practice rooms and equipment; eventually emceeing concerts; and settling financial requests made to the Oak Crest Treasure Chest, which donates funds from sales to support various resident-run groups. [caption id="attachment_6797" align="alignright" width="280" caption="A closeup look at some of the handbells the Oak Crest Handbell Choir uses. (Photo by Mark Abromaitis)"][/caption] With 21 eager members waiting for the new handbells to be delivered, Mrs. Hubbert began holding practice sessions using large spoons with piano accompaniment. We learned note reading, counting, and bellringing form, she says. Then in June, 37 Englishmade brass Schulmerich bells spanning three octaves arrived, the largest a C4 weighing nearly two pounds. When I spoke with the salesman for the bell-maker, he said that this was a good starter kit, says Mrs. Hubbert. The bells cover most of the notes played on a piano and therefore are able to cover a wide range of music. The group mastered some well-known songs like Amazing Grace, Holy, Holy, Holy, Joy to the World, O Little Town of Bethlehem, I ve Got Peace Like a River, Moonlight Sonata, Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, Edelweiss and My Favorite Things from The Sound of Music, Sunrise, Sunset from Fiddler on the Roof, When the Saints Go Marching In, and the group s theme song: Bless This House. We try to keep our choices familiar so that the audience can feel free to hum or sing along, says Mrs. Hubbert.

A familiar ring

[caption id="attachment_6794" align="alignright" width="280" caption="Jean Rosenberg rings during a weekly two-hour practice session at Oak Crest. (Photo by Mark Abromaitis)"][/caption] Now in its fifth year, the group is led with the help ofOak Crestresidents May Raila and Carol Chidsey. The ringers practice every Monday for two hours. Mrs. Hubbert says the group of 25 includes both experienced bell-ringers and those who have never played. You don t have to have a musical background, but there is a correct way to ring a handbell that produces a perfect sound, she says. According to Mrs. Hubbert, the proper bell-ringing technique uses a flicking motion to make the bell ring and then is damped on the shoulder to stop the sound. The ringer must be prepared to do this on the precise count that their note appears in the music, she says. If there is a chord with 5, 6, 7 notes, ringers with those notes must strive to all ring at exactly the same time. It takes lots and lots of practice! In May, the Handbell Choir s practice paid off. The ringers hit all the right notes at a Memorial Day Concert at Oak Crest. And this fall, the group performed hymns at the Wednesday evening service in Oak Crest s chapel. Members are currently preparing for holiday services and their next chapel concert on March 25, 2010. It seems like a dream now, says Mrs. Hubbert. It s exciting to realize that this age group can take on any challenge, learn new and rewarding activities, and bring so much pleasure to others. There s also a wonderful camaraderie among the ringers they depend on each other s accuracy and do all they can to help each other. When a performance is over, they all know they ve done their best to make Oak Crest ring. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The history of handbells

Handbells were invented in 17th century England when neighbors of bell towers grew tired of listening to long ringing rehearsals. The creation of handbells enabled the rehearsals to take place in the spirited warmth of pubs. Handbells were first brought to the United States around 1840. They were popularized by P.T. Barnum as a circus attraction. In the 1960s, people started forming handbell choirs and writing more intricate arrangements with harmony lines. Today, there are more than 10,000 handbell choirs in North America. Many are affiliated with churches, schools, and community centers.