Ringing endorsement

February 9, 2009

By Chantelle Lusebrink

Two church musicians attend national hand-bell convention

Erin Hersey, Alice Lewis, Kelly Shoemaker (from left) and the other members of the Memorial Bells hand-bell choir ring out the hymn, ‘They’ll Know We Are Christians,’ during a rehearsal at Our Savior Lutheran Church in Issaquah. By Greg Farrar

Erin Hersey, Alice Lewis, Kelly Shoemaker (from left) and the other members of the Memorial Bells hand-bell choir ring out the hymn, ‘They’ll Know We Are Christians,’ during a rehearsal at Our Savior Lutheran Church in Issaquah. By Greg Farrar

A solitary ringer lifts his bell and it reverberates through the auditorium. Silence follows before your ears are filled with the vibrations of the Memorial Bells hand-bell choir. 

“Whenever I play or listen, I get goose bumps. My group does that quite often to me,” said Alice Lewis, director of the Memorial Bells hand-bell choir at Our Savior Lutheran Church in Issaquah. “To hear them play what I’ve interpreted and give that back to me and on to our audience. The ultimate goal is for the audience or listeners to get the message the music is imparting.” While listening to her 13 ringers of the Memorial Bells choir is impressive, she said, 114 of the best hand-bell ringers in the U.S. will be a different experience altogether. 

Lewis, who lives in Hobart, and one of Our Savior’s ringers, Erin Hersey, of Kent, have been selected to participate in the Distinctly Bronze West convention at the Kitsap Conference Center in Bremerton Feb. 12-15. 

The event is organized by The American Guild of English Handbell Ringers and is identified as Distinctly Bronze because it is the highest performance level of hand-bell musicianship a performer can attain. 

The ringers are chosen through an application asking each what skills they have, the level of musicianship they’ve acquired, how many years they have played and asks for at least two recommendations from people who have seen the ringer perform and can attest to their skills.

For Lewis and Hersey, the event is more than just a chance to show off their ringing skills, it is also a chance to work on their musicianship. 

“Even though I’ve been directing for 37 years, I didn’t know if I’d be accepted, because I haven’t had a lot of chances to ring,” Lewis said. “This is a challenge for me.” 

Despite having played since 1986, Hersey said she is still really nervous. 

“I was really excited because I wasn’t really sure how hard it would be to get in,” she said. “But I’m really nervous, because the music we are going to play is really hard, and I just don’t want to let anybody down.”

She has been a musician all her life, playing piano and participating in her school bands, but she said, unlike a piece where you play all the notes on your page, hand-bells is quite an adjustment. 

“You have two bells in your hand and you start with just two notes, but you really have to count and come in at just the right time,” she said. 

From the first time she played, she said, she was hooked. 

When the chance to perform at Distinctly Bronze came so close to home, she said she couldn’t pass it up. The conference is usually held on the East Coast or in the Midwest.

“I always wonder if I’m going to do this for another year,” Lewis said. “But you go to an event like this and it’s absolutely awesome. It is this thing that challenges you and really inspires you to do more.”

The 114 ringers will ring more than 350 bells during their 14-song performance. 

“All this music is probably harder than anything else I’ve ever played,” Lewis said. “It is hard to play that many songs and remember all those songs, but it is even harder to get the muscle memory of playing them into the brain.”

Since her acceptance, she’s been practicing individually. More recently, she’s been practicing with another group of ringers for two and a half hours on Saturdays, she said.

In the end, the experience will be about challenging themselves and having fun.

“It should be really cool and hopefully we’re not too out of our class,” Hersey said. “We’re going to try, we’re going to have fun and that is the main thing.”

If you go

Distinctly Bronze West concert

4 p.m. Feb. 15

Kitsap Conference Center

100 Washington Ave., Bremerton

Admission is $5.

Call 360-377-3785 or go to www.kitsapconferencecenter.com.

Reach Reporter Chantelle Lusebrink at 392-6434, ext. 241, or clusebrink@isspress.com.  Comment on this story at www.issaquahpress.com.

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