Bell choir returns to Wapak

Bells will be ringing during an upcoming concert by an internationally acclaimed bell choir in Wapakoneta.

The Raleigh Ringers, hosted by St. Paul United Church of Christ (UCC), are returning to the area after a quickly sold out concert also hosted by the church in 2009. This time, the bell choir will take to the stage of the Wapakoneta Performing Arts Center on May 26, which is the last Sunday of the month.

“They are a group known around the world for their precision ringing as well as their ability to put on a very entertaining show,” said Wendy Schlenker, who is helping to organize the show for the church.

She said they were able to bring the group here through generous memorials set up to benefit the church and its bell choir.

The concert is being funded by the Donald and Irene Seitz Memorial Fund, which was established to enhance and support the church’s music department and bell choir, in particular, along with memorial dedications in memory of one of the church’s own beloved bell choir members, Bill Berg, who died in October.

“Bill was such a dedicated member of our bell choir and he was looking forward to seeing the Raleigh Ringers again in concert this spring,” Schlenker said. “We are honored to be able to use some of the memorial dedications to help fund this event.”

Schlenker, who directs St. Paul’s Bell Choir, said they felt fortunate to again be able to bring the group to the community to perform after some time spent on a waiting list for them to return.

She said she was told during its first visit, the group was impressed with the reception they received.

Based out of Raleigh, N.C., the Raleigh Ringers are known for performing challenging handbell music with extreme precision and musicality. Their performances include unique interpretations of sacred, secular, serious, popular and even humous music, arranged just for handbells. Aside from their incredible ringing skills, the group is full of personality, which comes through on stage during their performances.

Under the direction of David M. Harris, the group, founded in 1990, has released five CDs and a DVD of a holiday concert, which also was broadcast on more than 250 public television stations in 45 states. The group has performed in 36 states, several cities in France, and live on nationally syndicated radio shows.

Nancy Ritter, managing director for the Raleigh Ringers, said their mission is four-fold — to bring advanced secular and sacred handbell music to the widest possible audience, to promote the art of handbell ringing, to encourage handbell composers and arrangers to create works for advanced handbell choirs, and to help less experienced handbell musicians develop their skills.

The Raleigh Ringers perform on one of the most extensive collections of bells and bell-like instruments owned by any handbell ensemble in the world and since the group began, it has commissioned more than 100 compositions and arrangements for handbells.

“They put on a wonderful show that is sure to be enjoyed by everyone,” Schlenker said. “The reason I want to bring them to Wapakoneta is because I want to bring the love of bell choir music to our community. The St. Paul UCC is very passionate about what we do as a group. We love handbell ringing and we love having the opportunity to bring a wonderful group to Wapakoneta.”

St. Paul’s Bell Choir has been ringing for more than 25 years.

“Handbell ringing is different than playing any other instrument,” Schlenker said. “Each ringer has the full score of music, yet they are only responsible for two to four notes on the staff throughout the song. Sometimes a player will play a couple of notes and then not play again for 10 measures or more or they may have only one note of the melody of the song and if they miss that note, it is very obvious that it is missing.”

She said it takes great concentration and, in her opinion, approaches reading music from a totally different perspective.

“They are able to see how their part fits into the entire song, and it most definitely makes them stronger music readers,” Schlenker said. “Depending on the difficulty level, it can easily take three to five rehearsals to prepare a piece to play in church, and if one person is missing, all of their notes are missing.”