Bell ringing is good, old-fashioned fun

Thomas Warren,

WASHINGTON – The Colonial English Handbell Ringers brought their musical talents to the St. Columba Episcopal Church Sunday, in a holiday concert that featured a little Tchaikovsky and of course “Jingle Bells.”

The 12 member group (eight women and four men) played for more than an hour to a packed room in “The Common” of the church in Northwest D.C.

Like most musical groups, the Colonial Ringers seemed to feed off the energy of the crowd.

“When people start singing, we get so excited,” says Catelyn Jennings, who plays the F, F-sharp, G, and G-sharp bells. “They enjoy us so much, and we enjoy them even more.”

Bill Matthews says he’s a fan of ensemble groups and was thoroughly impressed.

“I give them an A for my own appreciation,” he says.

Becky Manning admits she’s not a bell-ringing aficionado, but she respects the group’s craft.

“It’s an arcane musical style, but there’s so much diversity to what they can do,” she says.

The group embraces the anachronistic and wears Colonial-era costumes during performances.

The stage was set up with two tables, one in front of the other, six ringers at each table, and a plethora of bells that each group member has rehearsed with so much, they know them like the back of their hands.

But, that doesn’t mean they don’t improvise.

“There are times when we’re like, dang it, we can’t play that bell at that right time. So, we pass along our bells. So, I play like five or six bells,” Jennings says.

Also at the front table, and standing to the right of Jennings stood Mary Parker.

The 76-year-old was the group’s musical director for 15 years until she recently retired. The trained musician and composer says she’s now free to do what she really loves, ring the bells.

“It’s just plain fun,” she says. Parker enjoys being out front, playing for crowds big and small. “I wouldn’t miss this for the world,” Parker says.

The group’s last performance for the holiday season is Saturday, Dec. 22 at the Bowie Center for the Performing Arts.

Watch and listen as the Colonial English Handbell Ringers perform “I Have a Little Dreidel”

Follow @tewarren and @WTOP on Twitter.

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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