After a nearly 20-year absence, bell choir plays again at Easter service
Charlotte Richter/Staff Writer
After a 17-year absence and just six weeks of rehearsal, a handbell choir returned to play during the combined congregation Easter service April 17 at Pioneer Chapel.
Handbell choir director Kathy Kem, Religious Services Organization Protestant parish coordinator, said the handbells were purchased in 1964, a year before Pioneer Chapel was completed. She said the five-octave set of handbells have been rung periodically during special services, but not as a choir since 2005, and she wanted to bring the handbell choir back.
“I just love the sound of handbells; they speak to my soul. Music speaks to me anyway… always has. It stirs my soul, stirs my heart, makes me feel closer to the Lord. When I can sing or when I can play handbells, the music just reaches me, as I hope it does others when they hear it,” Kem said.
She said between recruiting members and finding music, she noticed many of the bells needed repair — specifically replacement of dry-rotted rubber springs, or the piece that allows the clapper to swing against the bell casting. She said choir members spent a day fixing the set before beginning rehearsals.
Kem said those interested in playing handbells only need to know how to count and be willing to attend each rehearsal, but that reading music and understanding note values helps.
“(The handbells are) part of our history. (The handbell choir) was here at the very beginning of this chapel, and so to be able to continue that tradition, I think is phenomenal. I’m thrilled to be a part of it and to carry on the tradition,” Kem said.
Kem and two of the choir’s current members, Liisa Waugh and her daughter Emily Waugh, had played the handbells before the choir’s hiatus and returned when the choir was reformed.
Liisa Waugh said she’s thankful the handbells were donated originally, considering the history of the chapel.
“I mean, think about all the people who have walked through these doors…I think about that all the time,” Waugh said.
Waugh, who lived on McClellan Avenue in 2005, said her oldest daughter, Emily, loved music and they joined the handbell choir back then to spend more time together. Waugh said when Kem renewed the choir, she asked her daughter if she would be home from her current position in Norway, and they agreed to play in the choir again.
“I think it’s just a cool way to worship. I remember Easter, way back 17 years ago, we played the prelude or the processional. But we were playing with the organ, the piano and the bells, and I had chills… It was wonderful,” Waugh said.
Emily Waugh, interim head of school at the A+ World Academy in Norway, said it’s fun to have the opportunity to play again. She said the handbell choir is a good way to include more of the congregation in a service.
“It’s a lot of fun. Especially after COVID, too, it’s nice to have a social activity like this to be a part of.
“In my role right now, I don’t really have a lot of options to play music, and I really miss that, so it’s really nice to be back and to be able to do that.”
Kem said she plans to include the handbell choir in future services depending on the availability of musicians and music.