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The Lutheran Bells
Christmas is coming and hopefully so is the start of a new tradition here at St. Paul’s, “Twelfth Night”, an Epiphany Celebration of music and food, hosted by The Lutheran Bells. I thought this would be good time to tell the story of The Lutheran Bells with the help of : Cathy Dymek, Betty Kerwin and Valerie Groff.
In the Beginning there were Bells...
It all began In 1986. At that time, Joe Dymek was on church council as the Worship & Music representative. Joe does not recall who suggested to him that the church should have handbells. However, he ran into Elizabeth Iager and was talking to her about it. Elizabeth offered to donate the funds for the initial octaves that were needed. So a 3-octave set of 1Malmark handbells were donated by Elizabeth Iager in memory of here husband, Ellsworth.
Joe Dymek then asked Betty Kerwin if she would consider becoming the Handbell Director and Betty was willing to do that. Cathy Dymek said, “I don't believe she (Betty Kerwin) had any experience with handbells but she worked hard to learn what was needed and more.” Betty has continued to be the director since 1986.
...and it was good
What makes St. Paul’s Lutheran Bells ring?
(by Valerie Groff)
The St. Paul’s Lutheran Bells hand bell choir is currently made up of 10 ringers: Linda Alms, Sandy August, Cathy Dymek, Carla Heyser, Daniel Heyser, Steve Groff, Valerie Groff, Jane Hershey, Jan Wilson, Lee VanGundy, and the director, Betty Kerwin. The number and names of players fluctuate as “guest ringers” (i.e. substitutes) fill in when needed. The choir size has varied over the seasons. When it got to be as few as 4 ringers, Betty’s mom (Lillian Kerwin) would tell her, “Don’t be discouraged. Use what you have and the Lord will give you more.” Lillian was right.
A few years ago, the choir asked for donations towards the purchase of another octave of bells (tiny, higher notes) and then a generous donor purchased 5 larger, low notes for the bass. That expansion put us at 4.5 octaves of bells, and let us not forget the 3 octaves of chimes. The chimes were a generous donation in the 1990s and added a very different tonal quality, more mellow, to the notes played. The chimes have also been used by the children since they are not as easily damaged if dropped, are lighter and easier to hold, and the metal finish is more tolerant to finger prints than the shiny brass castings of the bells.
Why do ringers ring?
People join our bell choir for a number of reasons. Playing bells is truly a “team sport.” Technically, our entire set of bells is considered to be a single instrument and it is unusual in that it is an instrument that takes many people to play. This team effort attracts some.
Cathy Dymek, being a piano player, liked the aspect that it was like being in a “band” - playing her part with others in the group to make the music together as a whole.
Some people who are used to playing piano find the bells a “stretch” and challenge as they now play only 2 notes and do it in conjunction and coordination with those around them.
For some, the attraction is in being able to be part of a beautiful song without being good at playing an instrument on your own. In fact, one of our members has a hard time reading music but uses coping mechanisms available only in bell ringing. Bell ringers can learn their “position” and where the notes are located. After that, it is all about counting and staying with the rest of the team during the march to the finish line.
For some, playing bells has been a “family affair.” Linda Alms joined the bells with her twin daughters when they were in 5th grade. They all read music and Linda liked the idea that it was an activity that they could all do together as a family. It was a great fit.
The Alms family of three is the largest number of players from a single family, but we have had husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, and a father and son. In addition, the bell choir sometimes recruits other family members to play guitar, piano, and even to help in the set-up and tear-down when the choir plays (affectionately referred to as our “roadies”).
Some of our “helpers” are not family but have felt like kin after spending time with us. Tanya Hoegh-Allan and Bill McWithey have helped by accompanying us with wind instruments, directing or simply lifting a set of bells when our team is in need.
The “team” is very important during set-up and tear-down! Tables, pads (necessary for protecting the bell castings), covers/clothes, music stands, music folders, lights, gloves, mallets, and the bells themselves, all need to be carried from a closet or the basement and arranged properly. This work can make the bell choir members dream of playing a piccolo or almost any lighter and more compact instrument!
Our newest member, Sandy August, was interested in the bells for years, but until retirement, she could not manage one more evening commitment. Sandy says that she enjoys the challenge of this new activity and she recommends it to anyone who has an interest.
A number of years ago, John Murphy was persuaded, by his wife, Sally, to substitute and play “just one song” at a Christmas Eve service. The one song turned into three and he was not allowed to leave the choir for a number of years.
So the ways and reasons that people join vary widely, but what keeps everyone there is the joy of being part of something greater. Your two notes (versus your “two cents”) are a vital difference between random notes and a melody. Just as in professional football teams, sometimes the bell team just does not gel and play as well on Sunday as they ought. However, there is always the knowledge that “a joyful noise is being made unto the Lord.” Go team bells!
Consider joining us. We always need ringers and we are willing to teach you. You know where to find us. We play in the back of the sanctuary.
2017 Lutheran Bells