The Desert Bells Handbell Choir is looking for new members. Photo: Cristina Lee Photography

Handbell choir looking for new members to learn an old art form

Desert Bells Handbell Choir one of the few four-octave choirs in the province

Do you love music, but feel that the inability to read it means that you can never join in? Would you like to learn an instrument, but can’t afford to purchase one or get lessons? Do you want to be part of a fun, social, and inclusive all-ages group, learn a new talent, and bring joy to others?

Then the Desert Bells Handbell Choir might be just what you’re looking for. Based in Cache Creek, and made up of people from all over the area, it is a four-octave handbell choir—one of the few such ensembles in the province—that was formed in 2011. For the first two years the group used a set of handbells borrowed from School District No. 74, but in 2013 they were able to purchase a three-octave set of bells; in 2017 a donation from Fraser-Nicola MLA Jackie Tegart enabled the choir to purchase their fourth octave. Mallets and hand chimes have also been added to the repertoire.

Director Carmen Ranta, who formed the Desert Bells choir in 2011, says that because of the added range created by the new bells, the choir can currently accommodate up to 14 new members of all ages.

“You don’t have to read music,” she notes. “We’ll teach people how to read music.”

Handbells are descended from the tower bells of the churches of England. By the 17th century the art of tower bell ringing was being perfected, but the large bells hanging in church towers, and pulled by ropes, were cumbersome, so smaller bells were created to practice on.

This type of bell ringing eventually became an art in itself, and sets of handbells began to be cast, with tune ringing coming into fashion in the middle of the 19th century. The first set of handbells known to have come to North America arrived in 1902.

The Desert Bells choir meets weekly on Wednesdays at the Cache Creek Community Hall from October to December, and in the past has had members ranging in age from nine to 80+. Ranta says that while the group has traditionally met on Wednesday evenings, they are considering moving to Wednesday afternoons (after school). The choir performs in at least two performances each year.

The cost is only $25 for the season, and Ranta says that the choir is ideal for students. “It can be part of the musical component for home-schooled kids, and high school students can use it for credits in independent studies.”

The Desert Bells Handbell Choir will resume practices in October 2019. Anyone interested in becoming a part of the choir, or learning more, should contact director Carmen Ranta at (250) 457-1250, or email If you want to see the choir in action, feel free to come to a practice night to see how it’s done.

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