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Red Deer handbell choirs ready to chase winter away at April 22 concert

Gaetz Ringers and Silverbells ensemble to perform
Red Deer’s Gaetz Ringers and Silverbells handbell choirs are set to Ring Into Spring on April 22 at Gaetz Memorial United Church. (Contributed photo).

Red Deer’s unique handbell choirs are set to ‘Ring into Spring’ at a special concert on April 22.

A veritable symphony of tintinnabulations will be heard at Gaetz Memorial United Church when more than three-dozen harmonically tuned handbells are played by two community choirs. The intermediate Silverbells ensemble and the veteran Gaetz Ringers will perform.

Diverse works are on the program, from the modern You Raise Me Up to the historic Jubilant Psalm, which borrows from Pachelbel’s Canon.

As bell chimes fill the church, choir member Sue Schollie believes many audience members will be moved — particularly by the sounds of Carillon, named for the 23-plus harmonically-tuned bells that are typically housed in a bell tower.

Whenever the Gaetz Ringers have played at local festivals, personal care homes, various churches and community functions, some audience members have been left teary-eyed. Schollie believes European-raised people, especially, seem to miss the sound of bells, which are more commonly heard in their homelands than in North America.

But handbell choirs have been springing up around the world since the “modern” handbell was developed in Wiltshire England between 1696 and 1724.

Melanie Grant, director of the 30-year-old Gaetz Ringers and Silverbells ensemble, heard handbells were created so monks could practice indoors the tunes they would eventually play by pulling the strings of large bells in towers.

Many people find handbell music soothing, even meditative. Gaetz Ringers member Lori Heppler noted the vibration of chimes are used by some alternative health practitioners to balance the body. “It’s like music therapy.”

The women love the camaraderie that develops on practice nights, as well as the demands of collaboratively performing complicated tunes while each only contributing a couple of notes.

With handbells, timing is everything, said Schollie, who calls this unique musical form fun, challenging and expressive.

She expects some selections from the April 22 program will “put a spring in your step and shake the winter cobwebs away.”

Red Deer’s handbell choirs, playing over 4.5 octaves, will also deliver the tunes 10,000 Reasons, Lullaby of the Iroquois (based on the poetry of Pauline Johnson) and Prayer for the Innocents, dedicated to innocents around the world who have been victims of violence.

The concert will begin at 2 p.m., and admission is by donation. Contributions will help buy new equipment for the choirs.

Anyone interested in learning to play handbells in the choirs can call the Gaetz Memorial United Church for more information. Grant said choir members do not have to be members of the church.

Lana Michelin

About the Author: Lana Michelin

Lana Michelin has been a reporter for the Red Deer Advocate since moving to the city in 1991.
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