Funding means Desert Bells Handbell Choir can expand its range

The choir intends to use recently received funding to purchase another octave of bells.

Fraser-Nicola MLA Jackie Tegart (second from left) with Carmen Ranta (left) and members of the Desert Bells Handbell Choir.

Fraser-Nicola MLA Jackie Tegart (second from left) with Carmen Ranta (left) and members of the Desert Bells Handbell Choir.

The Desert Bells Handbell Choir Society received a grant of $8,175 from the provincial government last week; and choir director and society president Carmen Ranta says the funds will allow the group to fulfill their longer-term goal of expanding and getting more members. And in May, members of the public will be able to see what it’s like to take part in a handbell choir (more on that later).

“We’re a three-octave handbell choir right now, and the normal configuration for that under international standards is 11 ringers,” Ranta explains (the choir is a member of the BC Guild of English Handbell Ringers). “The funding will be used to expand to a fourth octave, so we can add notes higher and lower than what we have now.

“That’s the normal way for a handbell choir to expand: go higher and lower at the same time.”

She adds that with the addition, the choir will be looking for a minimum of two new members. “We’ll be in recruitment mode.”

Ranta says that the society provided information about their funding needs to MLA Jackie Tegart’s office several months ago. “They had asked for information about unique groups in the community. We’re unique, because we can train people with no musical experience, who don’t read music. And we have a broad range of ages: our youngest ringer started at age nine. We hope to attract youth, seniors, and everyone in between.”

The current handbell set the choir uses was made in the 1970s by Schulmerich in Pennsylvania. The firm, established in 1935, is one of only three in the world that creates handbells. Ranta says that the society will consider whether to buy a used set and have it refurbished (as they did with their current set) or purchase a new set.

“If a used set is available it would probably need refurbishing, and it cost thousands to get our current set refurbished. The size determines the cost of each bell. They’re pricey instruments. We’ve borrowed higher bells before, and the lower ones are quite heavy. I don’t know if any current ringers would be interested in the new bells.”

The choir holds regular concerts in the area, usually at the Crossroads Pentecostal Church in Cache Creek. However, on Wednesday, May 3 the handbell choir will be holding a concert at the River Inn in Ashcroft at 7 p.m. (admission by donation; refreshments available for purchase).

“It will be a more casual event than the usual classical musical concert, where everyone just sits still for the performance,” says Ranta. Ranta says holding the event at the River Inn is the society’s way of saying thank you to the River Inn and to the choir’s Ashcroft supporters.

“The River Inn has been a financial supporter of ours over the years,” she notes. One of the choir’s handbells is dedicated to the River Inn, an honour bestowed on people, groups, and organizations that have made cash or in-kind donations to the society of $250 to $300. A handbell dedication can also be made in honour of the memory of a loved one.

The Ashcroft concert, under the direction of Ranta and assistant director Theresa Tackacs, will feature seven or eight pieces. And it will also give any would-be ringers an opportunity to see what it’s like to stand on the other side of the table and ring a bell.

“We’re going to allow people to try ringing,” says Ranta, “so they can see what it feels like to be part of the group. People can try out the bells, learn how to hold them, work with the handbell choir on a pattern to get a feeling for it. There’s no commitment at all.”

Ranta adds that there will be student performers at the May 3 concert, and that there is room for others in the community who would like to perform. “We’d welcome musicians interested in performing as guests who’d like a concert opportunity in the local area.” Anyone interested in prforming should contact Ranta at (250) 457-1250 in advance of the concert.

On May 7, the handbell choir will once again be joining the Kamloops Handbell Choir at Kamloops United Church on St. Paul Street. “They’ve invited us to take part in their spring concert,” says Ranta. “They usually invite us every Christmas and spring. It’s nice to sit back and enjoy other handbell choirs. We always learn from each other. The place is always packed, and it’s nice to play for a large audience.

“It’s nice to see the government recognizing the arts,” Ranta says of the grant. “And it’s nice to see our unique little handbell choir getting funding. We’re happy to provide a very low-cost way for people to get into music.”