In Shrewsbury, The Rhyming And Chiming Of The Bells

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Handbells at the First Congregational Church in Shrewsbury.
Handbells at the First Congregational Church in Shrewsbury. Photo Credit: John Swinconeck

SHREWSBURY, Mass. — In the sanctuary of the First Congregational Church in Shrewsbury lay dozens of handbells, waiting to cling and clang in harmony.

To that end, the church's music ministry is offering a free class for those interested in joining the ranks of the ringers.

"We have a very healthy and active handbell program," said Malcolm Halliday, director of the church's music ministry, noting that it is one of the oldest in Worcester County.

Handbell chorus is unique, in that a piece cannot be performed with a missing player.

"People love to hear the bells, and ringing is such an interesting spectacle," he said. "And there's a long and ancient connection between churches and bells."

"Welcome to Handbells" is a free class for new ringers and will be held Sept. 5 and 12 from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the church. It is open to children fifth grade and up and adults. Children in the fourth grade who can read music are also welcome.

The church's top handbell choir is the Shrewsbury Ringers, which performs once or twice a year, in addition to church performances. Ringers who are ready may also be considered for membership in the Parish Pealers or Youth Ringers, whose rehearsals start in late September.

While there is a waiting list to join the Ringers, the Parish Pealers have opening spots for new ringers.

Knowing how to read music is helpful, but not necessary, Halliday said.

"People who have never played an instrument before can learn how to ring," Halliday said.

It's a little easier than learning piano, he said, before adding: "That's not to underestimate the finesse and skill. There's a lot to know, such as how to hold the bell, your stance and stroke."

Children in grades 1-5 may can join the Hand Chimes Choir for Children. Rehearsals will be on Fridays from 3:45 to 4:30 p.m. and start Sept. 14. This choir is open to any child who would like to learn how to play chimes, and is good preparation for learning to play handbells and reading music.

Space is limited. For more information, or to reserve a spot in the class, please call the church office at 508-845-7286 or email office@fccsm.org.

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