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Bell choirs chime in together

May 04, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

As they played both somber, haunting melodies and more playful pieces of music, the handbell ringers who performed during a concert at South Hagerstown High School on Saturday may have defined the meaning of the phrase "clear as a bell."

Around 200 bell ringers put on the half-hour concert. Most of the ringers held in each hand a polished bell, which varied in size.

Although the majority of the ringers were women, a few men and children rounded out the group. All but one of the 22 choirs that participated are affiliated with area churches, including a few from Pennsylvania and Virginia.

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John Rudy, handbell director at Trinity Lutheran Church in Hagerstown, said the concert is organized every two years.

This year, the Raleigh Ringers from North Carolina came up, and their conductor, David Harris, led the choirs in the concert.

Rudy, 33, said he started ringing a handbell in the sixth grade.

"I wish they were better respected in the music world," he said. "Some people still look at them as a novelty item, not a musical instrument."

Walking inside the school's gymnasium was Linda Turner, whose daughter is a ringer with The Cathedral Ringers of Otterbein United Methodist Church in Hagerstown.

"It's always been a very unique event," Turner said. "It's amazing what they can do with those bells."

Once those in the large crowd settled in on a set of bleachers, Harris stepped forward. With a sweep of his arm, the players, all wearing gloves, stood. With another arm motion from Harris, the ringers raised their bells, ready to play.

Different melodies, tones and pitches formed intricate songs, which sounded as if coming from a top-of-the-line hi-fi sound system. Acoustically, it sounded, well, clear as a bell.

A member of the Raleigh Ringers, Angela Chiatello, 24, watched the concert from the bleachers.

The allure of ringing a handbell comes from the intricacies, she said. A player is responsible for her part, but also must have faith that the other ringers will play their parts correctly.

Chiatello compared it to simultaneously playing an individual and a team sport.

Afterward, she and fellow Raleigh Ringer Stephenie Drepup both said they were impressed with the concert, especially given the short time the different choirs had to rehearse playing as part of a larger group.

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