Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

Features

February 22, 2014

Thirty years and still ringing

Local handbell choirs gearing up for annual festival

They call themselves the Joyful Ringers.

Nearly a dozen women gather weekly inside the sanctuary of Shiloh United Methodist Church to play their handbells.

Wednesday night the choir members quickly slipped on their black gloves before performing their first song.

Cindy Ison, the choir’s director, said the gloves are important. The grips keep the pricey instruments from slipping out of their hands and protect the bells from the skin’s oils.

After offering the explanation, she turned back to her choir and cued the first song.

The women played a song called “Holy Manna.”

They never picked the handbells up, though. They performed the whole piece by tapping the bells with mallets.

“This is kind of a funny little technique we use,” one member said.

The Joyful Ringers played that song through several times, often stopping on certain measures that proved tricky for the group.

It was their second-to-last practice before the big show.

On March 1, the women will join handbell choirs from five other area churches and one from Indianapolis for a festival at Bible Baptist Church to celebrate the unusual instrument.

“The ringers practice at their own churches and then come together on Saturday and practice together with the other churches, working together as one ensemble,” said Mary Ellen Harnish, a member of Joyful Ringers.

This year is special. The festival is celebrating its 30th anniversary.

It’s being directed by Mike Kellar, a Peru native. Kellar has been the director of the Circle City Ringers since its ensemble was formed and also directs the Wesleyan Ringers of St. Luke's UMC in Indianapolis. “Mike is recognized for his conviction that making music should be fun,” Harnish said. “What he enjoys most about handbells is the challenge of making multiple ringers sound like one cohesive ensemble and also bringing the joy of this unique instrument to people who have not experienced it before.”

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