By Morgan Fischer
Professor Jessica Kite stood before the St. John congregation directing over 30 handbell ringers from both Concordia and St. John on Sunday, Oct. 6. They played several hymns in celebration of Concordia’s 40th year as a choir.
Kite has held the position of Concordia handbell choir conductor for the past 14 years. Kite and St. John Music Director Paul Soulek collaborated for the last several months to make the 40th anniversary ringing celebration possible.
“The bells are able to provide a different type of music that is not heard every Sunday,” Kite said. “I thought it would be fun to do a mass choir of handbells with St. John.”
Soulek directs the St. John middle school bell choir that meets regularly and performed with the college students on Sunday. The choirs had practiced separately before and Sunday marked the first day of them playing synchronized.
They played several pieces and a prelude with St. John’s middle school handbell choir, including the hymn “Listen God is Calling” that accompanied the congregational singing.
“We use them (handbells) a lot in accompanying hymns and as a percussion instrument,” Soulek said. “They accentuate the rhythms in the hymns.”
Both of the sets of handbells that Concordia and St. John use were made in the 1970s. They are constructed of brass and alloy metals which have a clear persistent ring that fades to a lighter sound before discontinuing. Both choirs also use handchimes, handbells’ less complicated counterpart.
“I always joke that it’s (St. John’s middle school handbell choir) the loudest bell choir you ever heard because we ring 61 notes worth of bells and then we double that with about 40 chimes,” Soulek said.
Dr. David Held, a member at St. John Lutheran Church and former Concordia professor, established the first handbell choir on Concordia’s campus in 1979.
“I discovered we (Concordia) had three to four octaves of bells, but no bell choir,” Held said.
During the 21 years Held maintained the position as handbell conductor at Concordia, he introduced many students whose goal was church work to the unique instrument.
“We were training people to go out and be church musicians,” Held said. “I thought that we should really give people experience working with handbells so they would know how to use them when they got out [of college].”
The choir of 13 has grown since then to two ensembles of 14 ringers each at both intermediate and advanced levels.
Soulek enjoys directing and playing in the handbell choir. He feels fortunate that both he and Kite are able to provide this music for St. John.
“I think the congregation has just as much joy in knowing the people who are making the music and supporting them in as they do just enjoying the actual music,” Soulek said.