Bell Choir 2010

Wesley Handbell Choir Performs Today

From the Post Register, Saturday Dec. 4, 2010


At times, the rehearsal at Trinity United Methodist Church was a bit nerve-racking -- for bell ringers and director alike.

Ringing handbells demands precision, flawless technique and, above all else, an impeccable sense of timing. Members of the Wesley Handbell Choir, who practice for two hours every Monday evening, are well aware of the attention to detail required of them.

"It's very important to be able to count," bell ringer Gwen Weaver said. "You can't rely on your hearing. If you wait to hear your neighbor ring, you'll be late."

And late in a handbell choir sticks out like the proverbial sore thumb. It also is just as painful, judging from the grimaces that etched a face or two during the Saturday morning rehearsal.

But that's what a rehearsal is all about -- working out the kinks, fixing the trouble spots and getting rid of the bad notes.

While a musician who plays a piano, cello or saxophone has a full array of notes at his or her fingertips, not so with bell ringers.

Ringers in a handbell choir are limited to only a few notes. Each bell played represents a different note in the musical scale. So, the notes that form melody lines and chords are truly a group effort.

Weaver, for example, plays bells representing two musical notes, "F" and "G." She also is responsible for bells representing the sharp and flat versions of those notes. In addition, the onetime baritone saxophone player rings the corresponding choir chimes.

Choir chimes produce a mellow sound that contrasts with the bells. They are rectangular-shaped pieces of metal, similar to a tuning fork, with a clapper on the outside. As with the handbells, each chime is tuned to a specific pitch.

Bell ringer Alice Berrey is responsible for the "A" and "B" bells.

Berrey joined the Wesley Handbell Choir awhile back at the urging of her friend and fellow bell ringer Marilyn Taylor. Berrey must have enjoyed it. She's played with the group -- on and off -- for 25 years.

"It's just addictive," Berrey said. "I love the people, the camaraderie. It's a good group to be around. It's a lot of fun."

As the Saturday morning rehearsal progressed, the group coalesced. By the end of the practice, the members were playing as one -- drenching the North Water Street church with cascading melodies set against a backdrop of full-bodied chords.

Director Jim Dahlgran was smiling as rehearsal wrapped. All appeared ready for the Saturday afternoon concert.

Dahlgran, who grew up on a small farm in Iowa, is in his second year leading the group. A bell ringer himself, Dahlgran joined the Wesley Handbell Choir in 1994. He also writes and arranges music and is an accomplished bell soloist.

As Dahlgran or any musician will tell you, playing in an ensemble -- be it a community bell choir, symphony orchestra or professional swing band -- brings the players together. The most successful groups become extended families. It's that way with the Wesley choir.

So, it should come as no surprise that Dahlgran's favorite part of the job is the people he's worked with and gotten to know over the years.

"They're fun," he said. "They're my Valium in life."

Dahlgran also is partial to the sound of the bells, of course. He marvels at their extraordinary range and resonance, as well as the music they are capable of producing, especially at this time of year.

"It's a traditional Christmas sound," he said. "Bells also have been used as a call to worship."

The Wesley Handbell Choir hopes to combine both aspects when it performs today at 4:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. The concerts feature two guest artists -- pianist Ruth Farkas and cellist Tyresha Hale, who plays with the Idaho Falls Symphony -- as well as the Trinity United Methodist Church vocal choir.

A word to the wise: If you're planning on attending the 4:30 p.m. concert, you might want to get to the church a little early, Dahlgran said, as that performance usually is packed.

If you go

When: 4:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. today

Where: Trinity United Methodist Church, 237 N. Water Ave. in Idaho Falls

Admission: The concerts are free, though donations are appreciated.

     Trinity United Methodist Church; 237 N. Water Ave. Idaho Falls, ID 83402                   208-522-7921