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Posts Tagged ‘handbell choir’

edited by Nancy Mairs

In the 1500s, English bell-ringers rang their tower church bells in intricate numerical patterns instead of the melodies we know today. They called this numerical method “change ringing,” and it required hours of practice. The bell-ringers needed a way to practice their intricate patterns without disturbing their nearby village neighbors, and that was the genesis of handbells. Eventually, tune ringing of handbells was accepted as its own art form, and their performance in churches became more popular.1

The long tradition of including handbells as part of the music program at Richmond’s First Baptist Church began in 1962 when a member asked Dr. Theodore F. Adams, Senior Pastor (1936-1968) if the church would be interested in a set of handbells that she wanted to donate. Dr. Adams asked Dr. Ray Herbek, Minister of Music (1962-1989), who agreed to take the donation even though he knew nothing about handbells.

Handbells Have a Long TraditionThat fall, Dr. Herbek taught himself to play handbells and then taught his sons. By Thanksgiving they had learned to play the Doxology, and premiered it at the Thanksgiving service. Dr. Herbek later commented, “Even my youngest son made a ‘ding’ at the end. It sold the handbells to the congregation.” 2

Because there were very few published music pieces for handbells in those days, Dr. Herbek started arranging music and adapted organ pieces like “Trumpet Tune” and “Trumpet Voluntary.” The bell choir often played from his manuscripts before his arrangements were published, and by the time Dr. Herbek retired in 1989, he had composed 21 volumes of handbell music.

Handbells Have a Long Tradition

Boys’ Bell Choir at the White House

Later in the 1960s, an all-boy handbell choir was formed, and they began to ring outside of the church walls. On a trip to Bermuda they played 17 times in one week. Under Dr. Herbek’s leadership choirs played at the White House on six separate occasions (the first in 1969), playing for Presidents Nixon, Reagan, Clinton and George H. W. Bush.

Susan Atkins, a member of the current FBC handbell choir, remembers that Dr. Herbek later formed bell choirs by requiring those auditioning to take a music theory test that involved rhythm questions. A typical question would be, “What beat is this note on?” The eight highest scorers then won spots in the choir.

The first bell choir Sue participated in performed a piece that required nine bells. She remembers that the person who had scored the highest on the test was given two bells to play! One morning they were to play in church that person was sick, so Allen Brown was asked to step in and play.

Later, a girls’ bell choir began, and in the 1970s, an adult handbell choir was formed.  Since those early trips to Bermuda and the White House, the FBC bell choirs have traveled extensively around the world, including Canada, Mexico, England, Scotland, Germany, Slovakia and Romania. As Sue remembers, “Many times we would play in churches in different towns and then go home with church members to stay in their homes overnight. The missionaries used us to draw a crowd to the concert, as the bells had no language barrier.”

Handbells Have a Long Tradition

FirstRingers

Today, 27 ringers make up three levels of handbell choirs at FBC. FirstRingers, which was formed in 1991, is the adult bell choir. They perform monthly and also travel to retirement communities regularly to share music. Joyful Ringers began in 2013, and is the adult beginner group, performing about four concerts per year as part of the Sunday worship service. The newest choir, Alegria Youth Bells, is composed of our teenage students.

Our handbell choirs add a unique element to our services, creating and enhancing our worship environment as we seek to draw closer to God. That’s something to make a joyful noise about!

 

1Handbell History.” Lancaster Hand Bell Ensemble, Lancaster First Presbyterian Church.

2White, B. and Anderson, F. (2006). The Open Door, A History of First Baptist Church Richmond, Virginia. Richmond, Virginia: First Baptist Church, pp.225, 434.


Listen to the Boys’ Handbell Choir from the album At the Manger recorded with the Church Choir and Quartet.
What Is This Lovely Fragrance?
Shepherds, Shake Off Your Drowsy Sleep
Hark, Now, O Shepherds
Angels We Have Heard on High

Watch the video from FirstRingers on mission in Cloppenberg, Germany, 2001.

Watch videos of recent FirstRingers performances.

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Story by Allen Brown. Photos by Allen Cumbia, Win Grant and Allison Maxwell.

Easy to Follow His CallOn February 12, 2015 Becky Payne completed 25 years of extraordinary ministry as a member of the staff at Richmond’s First Baptist Church. During that time she has served as organist, soloist, children’s choir coordinator, accompanist for choirs, ensembles and soloists, advisor for senior adults, handbell choir director and ringer, and organizer and director of the JoySingers and the Youth Girls’ Ensemble. Becky has taken additional responsibility for many mission trips and choir tours and for a long-running Bible class for FBC members who live at Lakewood Manor.

In a recent interview Becky shared about her ministry at FBC.

Leaving First Baptist Church, Jackson, Mississippi, a place where you served happily and successfully for 11 years, was a major step for you, personally and professionally.

Yes, but for me the call of God was to “go.” I saw it not as a “leaving” but a “going.” Believing fully in God’s faithfulness, I found it easy to follow His call.

What are some memories of those early years at First Baptist?

becky-friends_350pxThe surprise of renovation. I had left a church which had just finished a major renovation, then learned that we were to do the same here. The renovation process causes big adjustments for an organist and accompanist. Also, I remember that it took time to balance staff responsibilities, each finding our niche and then finding ways to support each other.

Then there was the surprise of process, finding that the pace of most everything was much slower, especially in church life. In my previous church, things happened quickly and, other than scheduling, without needing the approval of deacons or committees.

Other vivid memories include the illness and subsequent death of our senior pastor’s son. The love and support shown to their family by FBC people told me so much about my new church home. (Dr. James Flamming was pastor from 1983 to 2006. His son Dave died in 1991, a year after Becky’s arrival.)

In your many roles since you arrived, what have been the most meaningful personal and spiritual parts of your ministry?
Worship and relationships. When I am using music to help people feel the presence of God, it is fulfilling. When the people sing “Worthy of Worship” or “Amazing Grace,” for instance, these become holy moments for the church family. But it is not about me—God is using my hands and feet and talents to glorify Him—to point people toward Him.

Personal relationships have been so important, especially walking through difficult times with someone. One of my spiritual gifts is discernment. I can feel the pain and share in the difficult but special process of walking with them.

Tell us some warm memories or “aha” moments.
becky-directing_350pxThere are at least three music moments that are special. One is our congregational singing of “The Lord’s Prayer” after communion. Another is when we sing “Silent Night” on Christmas Eve. Those two moments make me fully aware of what it means to be a part of the body of Christ and the power we share in that relationship.

The third is when the Youth Girls’ Ensemble sang “Blessings.” The phrase “what if the trials of this life are blessings in disguise…” When I selected music for the Ensemble, I looked for text more than melody. As they practiced, they sang the words over and over. For this piece they internalized a great truth: If we let Him, God uses what happens in our lives for good. I was glad to be part of their learning this lesson.

One memorable personal event occurred after I had been here about 10 years. I was driving home from a conference and realized for the first time that I felt I was coming home. This was my place and still is.

How do you feel about your work with seniors?
When I was new to Richmond, I met the Wendy Bunch (a small group of couples who met on Sunday nights after church, first at Wendy’s, then in homes) – the Seldens, the Dixons, the Shearons, the Harringtons, the Lucys, the Elmores, and others. They embraced me with such love and care that I knew I was in the right place.

As my work with seniors grew and became a significant part of my ministry, I found my life enriched on every level. We have studied together, laughed and played together, prayed together, grieved and celebrated together. Our senior adults are the heart of this church. I love them.

You’ve gone on several mission trips. How have they changed you?
beckywithchild_350pxI was a Sunbeam and a GA (Baptist missions organizations for children), and I had a missions-minded mother, so of course I’ve always had a desire to see God’s world and His people. But nothing could have prepared me for what I experienced in Germany and Indonesia.

In Essen, Germany, I learned what it felt like to be considered part of a cult (how many Germans view Baptists). That sense of separation was overcome as I watched a young girl weeping when she sang “Fairest Lord Jesus” in German while some of us sang in English. I realized anew that God is everywhere and that we serve the same God. And I have lasting friendships with members of our host church there.

The two trips to Indonesia were medical missions. It was a life-changing experience to be among people who had lived through a tsunami, who had never seen a doctor or white people. Many of them walked for hours to wait all day, hoping to be treated. Yet there were always more than we could possibly see each day.

Despite that disappointment, blessings abounded. Indonesia is a place where I should have been afraid, but I wasn’t. I witnessed a miracle as our group prayed for a girl who was obviously demon-possessed, and we saw her healed. Also, relationships among team members were deepened. We became more accessible and more important to each other as we recognized a new meaning in being brothers and sisters in Christ.

You are truly ministering to us through your exceptional instrumental and vocal skills. Tell us your feelings about this.
My calling is to teach others about the love of God through Christ Jesus. Music is the means, not the end. My abilities are God’s gift to me and He has been generous. I believe the greatest ability is availability—to be willing to use what God has given me to point others toward Him.

Editor’s note:
Becky’s last day as FBC’s organist will be June 28. She will retire on June 30, 2015.
View a video about Becky produced by Sean Cook and Allen Cumbia.


Allen BrownAllen Brown was Minister of Music in Baptist churches in North Carolina and Virginia, before becoming Director, Department of Church Music, at the Virginia Baptist General Board, from 1962 until his retirement in 1993. He has served the Music Ministry of Richmond’s First Baptist in many ways, including as a member of the search team that brought Becky Payne to FBC. He has been on Partnership Mission trips to Brazil, Germany, Slovakia and India. Allen and his wife, Charlotte, have two sons, four grandchildren, and two great grandchildren.

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By Ruth Szucs. Photos by Win Grant and Ruth Szucs.

calloutStarting time, agendas, discussions, problem solving, share and prayer time – sounds like most teams at First Baptist. And like most teams at FBC, FirstRingers do much more.

The sounds of rehearsals are more than just notes; there are lots of “sorry,” “oops,”

photo by Win Grant

“you’ll get it,” and laughs. Handbell choir has been called the ultimate team sport because it takes every person ringing in perfect sync. In rehearsals we practice lots of grace as we try to get that perfect sync.

Ministry within our small group grows out of that grace. We share with each other, pray for each other, take meals to each other, visit each other. Reflecting on our group verse, Galatians 6:2, Mary Eldridge says, “We have truly become a community of believers together, bearing one another’s burdens.”

Concerts in Romania, England, Scotland, Germany, and Slovakia, as well as throughout North America, Virginia, and Richmond have given our members opportunities for ministry outside our group. Martha Grace Washington commented on one of the blessings of concerts: “As we play familiar hymns, faces begin to light up – the faces of the audience, as well as our own.” Perhaps our most memorable ministry went beyond concerts. In 2000, in Cloppenburg, Germany, we were matched, side by side, to a group of new bell ringers, teaching them how to ring. We also prayerwalked and witnessed in their community.

FirstRingers bell choir

photo by Win Grant

Worship, our most visible task, can become our most fearsome. Getting the right note can take over our hearts and minds. We have to get past that, get out of the way, and let the music speak. Janet Chase says, “When we ring, our desire is to contribute to worship a musical praise offering.” We hope people will not focus on us, but close their eyes, move into the sounds, and let themselves be transformed by the music. Mary reminds us that “We use our bell ringing to point beyond ourselves to the Maker of all music.”

There is a long tradition of handbell music at First. Janet remembers “ringing bells since high school age, first at Woodland Heights Baptist and then at FBC. One of the reasons I ventured across the river was to ring with Dr. (Ray) Herbek before he retired—the FBC choirs had a reputation statewide.”

FirstRingers bell choir

photo by Ruth Szucs

Although many FirstRingers began their bell experience in middle or high school, Sarah Amick joined rehearsals in 2007 with no previous training. She has grown since then in knowledge and comfort with ringing and shares that she is “thankful to be a part of a group that so loves God, music and people.” On a mission trip to Austria, Kathy Rock found herself playing handbells for the first time in a worship service. Later during that trip she taught a children’s group how to ring and has been ringing ever since.

However they began, all bell ringers agree with Susie West: Ringing “feeds my soul – the music and the fellowship. I love being part of a small group making music.”

FirstRingers bell choir

photo by Ruth Szucs

Members: Sarah Amick, Sue Atkins, Chuck Batteau, Janet Chase, Mary Eldridge, Robin Hendricks, Martha Pugh, Trudy Rickman, Kathy Rock, Linda Stevens, Martha Grace Washington, Melissa West, Susie West, Ruth Szucs, director.

Editor’s note: In fall 2012 two new handbell choirs will begin, one for seniors, meeting on Thursday afternoons, and one for youths on Wednesdays. If you are interested in participating, contact Ruth Szucs at 358-5458 ext 164.


Ruth SzucsRuth Szucs has been happily married to Richard for almost 22 years; they have two children, Alexandra and Matthew. She is the music assistant for FBC, focusing on handbells and youth and children’s choirs, and thoroughly enjoys directing hymns when Phil is unable to be “on the platform.” Ruth began working with children’s choirs when she was in middle school herself, then after joining FBC in 1987, volunteered in the music program until filling in as handbell interim director in 2000. She is currently teaching 11th grade Sunday school. Ruth likes to keep things stirred up, from hiding under a bell table after a botched handbell solo to looking for fun in as many places as possible. Out of church you can find her at a horse field with Alexandra, at a soccer field with Matthew, or escaping to the lake with Richard.

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