Tahlequah Daily Press

December 9, 2013

Handbell choir rings in the holiday

By SEAN ROWLEY
Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — A group of local musicians literally began ringing in the holiday season at the First United Methodist Church on Wednesday evening.

The Celebration Ringers, meeting for rehearsal, are a handbell choir that performs at the church and elsewhere locally.

“All are volunteers who are involved with the church in some way,” said Linda Cheatham, choir director. “But not all are members.”

Cheatham has rung handbells since age 10 and has always loved music.

“The handbells are a very unique instrument,” she said. “I played handbells until I graduated from high school and began directing when I got out of college, and I have been doing it ever since.”

During the rehearsal, the choir members performed with appreciable cohesion. Though called a choir, it is about ringing, not singing.

“Some of these ringers have been members of the choir for 12 years,” Cheatham said. “I know a lot of people love participating in music but don’t have a singing voice. Ringing handbells requires a sense of rhythm and some ambidexterity. You need to make your left and right hands do what you want simultaneously, which can be difficult for someone who is very right- or left-handed. But this is a way for people to participate in a musical activity that is not simply singing.”

Cheatham said the choir members do more than ring bells: They employ percussion techniques.

“A person not watching might not know the sound came from handbells,” she said. “We try to create many unique sounds with the bells.”

Katy June is one of the most tenured members of the Celebration Ringers.

“What I love most about it now is getting a weekly dose of music,” she said. “In high school I was in band and got music there. This is a chance to get together and play some music with friends. These are nice, wonderful people.”

When there was a recent vacancy in the ringers’ lineup, June recruited Toni Felts.

“I just joined,” Felts said. “I’ve been out of music since I graduated from high school in 1999. I love music. I’ve always enjoyed playing and listening to it, and it is nice to get back into it.”

For Dr. Bob Daniel, associate professor of music at Northeastern State University, ringing bells is a change of pace.

“I sing all day and teach singing all day,” he said. “This is musical, but something different from singing, and I really enjoy it.”

A handbell choir rings handbells to create melodies. Bell handles are slightly flexible. Bell sets may range across two to eight octaves.

The choir acts as a single instrument, instead of each musician being assigned a musical line.

The Celebration Ringers perform on Dec. 15 during the 10:40 a.m. service at the First United Methodist Church.

Later that day, at 3 p.m., the group gives a performance at Go Ye Village.

“We play one time a month every month at the church,” Cheatham said. “Of course, for December we are playing Christmas songs.”

srowley@tahlequahdailypress.com