The Ringers for Christ, a bell choir composed of sixth-graders and one teacher at St. Joseph Immaculate Heart of Mary School in Austintown, is finishing up a successful first year. The newly formed group has performed at several masses at the church and held its own concert.
At the beginning of the 2012-13 school year, teacher's aide Sandy Hintz and SJIHM Principal Catherine Wigley were discussing the need for more fine arts opportunities for the students.
"A two-octave hand bell set came to SJIHM from St. Joseph School when St. Joseph School and Immaculate Heart of Mary School were combined," Hintz said. "I suggested establishing a yearlong hand bell choir and it blossomed from there."
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The Ringers for Christ bell choir from St. Joseph Immaculate Heart of Mary School include Andrea Cabrera, Abby Walsh, teacher Caroline Mulhall, Alyssa Casity, Travis Saxton, Alex Sanders, Kathleen Faloon, Caleb Bucci, and Nicholas Ponamar.
Sixth-grade students were invited to join and the open spots in the choir were filled with one spot left. That spot was taken by homeroom teacher Caroline Mulhall, who wanted to learn hand bells as much as her students did.
"Just like the students, she had never rung a handbell before October 2012," Hintz said.
Last October, Mulhall and the students started rehearsing. They met once a week for a half hour before school and kept that schedule every week since. The hand bell choir included sixth-graders Andrea Cabrera, Abby Walsh, Mrs. Caroline Mulhall, Alyssa Casity, Travis Saxton, Alex Sanders, Kathleen Faloon, Caleb Bucci, and Nicholas Ponamar. The newly formed group came up with the name Ringers for Christ.
Hintz stepped in as director, instructor, and the person who would arrange the music for the new group. Being the teacher's aide gave her the ability to rehearse prior to the start of her normal school duties.
Hintz has a bachelor of art degree with a double major in business and psychology, and a minor in music. When asked why she works at SJIHM, she answered, "I choose to work at SJIHM because it is a loving environment in which God is a part of students' entire school day. SJHIM contributes to building brighter futures."
The first time the Ringers for Christ played in public was an Advent school Mass where they played "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" in Gregorian chant style. Since then they have played at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church masses and concerts. They are looking forward to playing at St. Joseph Church, other churches, nursing homes, and other venues in the future.
Hintz said hand bells are different from most musical instruments in that each player is responsible for only a few specific notes in the music. Ringing hand bells involves proper ringing techniques and counting. Ringers need to recognize which notes are theirs, which beat on which to ring, how long to hold the note, and which technique to use. Hand bell music, which is arranged by many different composers, includes both sacred and secular music. Styles include hymns, blues, classical, jazz, patriotic, reflective, and spirituals, just to name a few.
Hintz said hand bell choirs range from two to six octaves and can be accompanied by hand chimes, band and orchestral instruments, percussion, and voices. Ringers for Christ is a two-octave choir and is looking forward in the future to collaborating with Thomas Mastromico's SJIHM band, Mulhall's Liturgical choir, and Michelle Vargo's music classes.
"They would love to add more handbell octaves in the future," Hintz said. "Anyone interested in donating some handbells?"
The current members of Ringers for Christ will continue playing hand bells as next year's advanced hand bell choir, meeting occasionally over the summer if the opportunity presents itself. Next year's sixth-grade students will be invited to join a beginning hand bell choir in the fall.
One person asked, "What if you get 30 new people?" Hintz responded, "That would be awesome! We will be able to have several hand bell choirs to touch the lives of more people with music. Music truly is a universal language that touches people's souls."