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Amityville handbell choir strikes chord with youth

The handbell choir at the First United Methodist

The handbell choir at the First United Methodist Church in Amityville has sparked interest from all age groups in the community. (Jan. 16, 2011) Credit: Erin Geismar

As churchgoers said their goodbyes in the entryway of the First United Methodist Church in Amityville Sunday morning, bells continued to ring in the church sanctuary.

Inside the room, among rows of white pews, a group of college-aged men and women wore black sweatshirts with the letters ‘FUMC’ on the front and "Eat. Sleep. Ring!" on the back. They could have been sleeping in that Sunday morning, watching TV or spending time with friends and family before many of them head back to classes, but instead, they stood on the church stage around their director, Robyn Hyland.

As Hyland waved a white-gloved hand, the group sprang to attention, each person holding a gold bell in either hand.

Each person plays one or two notes, but when done right, singular chimes became a melody and the group became a choir.

“I didn’t know anything about handbells, I had never even seen one before I started doing this,” said Cori Kaiser, 19, of Amityville, who is a member of one of the church’s handbell choirs. “But once you do it, it just clicks in your head. You just follow the music.”

Hyland, director of music ministry at the church, said she started a single handbell choir for the church in 2006 and quickly sparked enough interest to form four separate choirs, including the group on Sunday, which was primarily college students who had been part of the choir during high school and continued to work together when they were home on break from their schools.

“When they are home, they really throw themselves back into it,” she said.

There is also a middle school group, and beginners and advanced groups for adults, she said, which performs during worship services every Sunday. Hyland also holds two concerts a year, which each money for charity and to support the choir.

Hyland said participants don’t have to be musicians or know how to read music because each bell comes with a packet of sheet music in which she circles the notes that person has to hit.

She said the handbell choir has brought the church community together and provides a unique and challenging way for the members to praise God, though the choirs also play other music, including show tunes.

“The enthusiasm is there,” she said. “This has been a very good thing for our church and our community.”


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