Handbells were in the spotlight Sunday at Hamilton church
By Mary Ann Tarr
HAMILTON — Each participant received a small decorative magnet. It was circular with a familiar diamond-shaped figure printed on it. Pictured inside the five-sided red outline was artwork depicting two handbells.
Put it together, and you’ve got Super Bells.
And, that is exactly what the two handbell choirs at Saint Mark United Methodist Church attempted to provide at Sunday’s traditional worship services.
It was the 23rd annual Super Bell Sunday at St. Mark and the choir members, using a variety of handbells and handchimes, were involved in nearly all of the music at the 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. services.
The Silver Bells got things started by performing two pieces of music and providing accompaniment for the Hymn of Praise. The St. Mark Handbell Choir led the way on two hymns and the Doxology and also played two songs appropriate for the Offering and Preparation for Service.
It was a long but rewarding morning for the ringers and their directors (and they hoped the congregation liked it, too). As she often does, longtime member Pam Rooney filled multiple roles, directing the Silver Bells and performing with the St. Mark Bell Choir.
The handbell ministry at the church on Paxson Avenue began in 1981 with the purchase of three octaves. Additional bells, as well as handchimes, have been added through the years. Pam, a super hero who also is active in the vocal choirs at St. Mark, has been a key participant with the bells for more than 35 years. To improve her ringing and directing abilities, she has taken courses at Westminster Choir College. In addition to handbells, she is also proficient on the piano and the organ.
Like the newer Silver Bells, the original handbell choir at St. Mark is a close-knit group that has evolved and survived through the years. In addition to Super Bell Sunday and other monthly performances in church, the St. Mark Bell Choir has provided musical accompaniment at weddings and funerals. The choir has appeared at the annual Celebration of Lights ceremony at RWJ University Hospital at Hamilton and Member Nights/Open Houses at area Hallmark stores. The choir was also invited to play at a building dedication at Educational Testing Service in Lawrence. Practicing almost weekly from September through June, the St. Mark Bell Choir has also participated in handbell festivals and workshops. A highlight of the year is a trip fondly dubbed “The Pocono Peal.” The choir members trundle cases of bells, as well as music stands, music folders and other necessary items to visit with original choir member Jeanne Layton, who retired and lives with her son and his wife in Pocono Manor, Pa.
Church organist Bill Garrett directs the St. Mark Bell Choir. A true “Renaissance Man,” Garrett often bribes/rewards his choir with homemade chocolate chip cookies (and refrigerator magnets). An avid bicyclist and player of stringed instruments, Garrett is another super hero at St. Mark UMC.
Like the human ringers, the bells and chimes get quite a workout at St. Mark. Through the years, there have been as many as three full choirs (The Faith Ringers were led by Bill Wieszczek, the church’s Director of Music) and the age range of the members has spanned from 9 to “80-something.”
AGE OF TRANSPARENCY – While it will surprise no one who knows me … yes, I am a ding-a-ling, too. We’ve heard all the ding-dong jokes and believe me when I tell you that “we represent!” I am in both handbell choirs ringing some D’s and E’s with the St. Mark group and F’s and G’s with the Silver Bells. Some of us have two “naturals” and the appropriate sharps and flats that accompany those notes. Like many handbell groups, the bells at St. Mark’s have either a white/light-colored handle (the natural notes) or a black/dark-colored handle (the accidental notes). Some ringers, like the amazing Mrs. Rooney, have mastered the coveted “four-in-hand” technique and thus have a multitude of bells for which they are responsible. My challenge yesterday was to make sure I remembered which group was ringing which song because there are few things worse in this world than an E-flat in the wrong place.
If anyone wants to tell me about the good news that is going on in their church, I am happy to help spread the word regarding interesting things from our Hamilton-area houses of worship. The best way to reach me is at firstname.lastname@example.org.