St. Joseph bellringers readying for holiday performances

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Calab Bucci, a seventh-grader at the Austintown school, concentrates as he plays his part in the Ringers for Christ, the school’s handbell choir.



Ringers for Christ count in rhythm and play as a team to make beautiful music as the handbell choir at St. Joseph Immaculate Heart of Mary School.

Sandy Hintz, handbell choir director, described the “whole choir as the instrument.” “The key,” she said, “is seeing the music as group and being in the same place.”

Hintz, a teacher’s aide at the school for a decade, fills in as substitute teacher, tutor and researcher for teachers. She brings experience to this new role — she’s been directing the handbell choir at Redeemer Lutheran Church for about 16 years. A music minor in college has helped.

Hintz said the school had a set of Schulmerich handbells, so it seemed only natural to put them to use. She said sixth-graders were offered the opportunity to be involved and then continue to play until they graduate as eighth-graders.

A beginners’ group of sixth-graders, Ringers for the King, recently began. They will combine with Ringers for Christ, which formed last year, on various occasions and eventually graduate to that group.

The members are dedicated. Rehearsals are at 7 a.m. Tuesdays for Ringers for the King and Wednesdays for Ringers for Christ and other times as schedules permit.

Hintz said the handbell choir has learned to play “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and “Joy to the World” combined with the “Hallelujah Chorus.” If they’re having trouble, Hintz has them clap out the rhythm to get a feel for it.

The choir performs in an all-school concert at 6:30 p.m. Monday at St. Joseph Church, 4545 New Road; at Mass at 8 a.m. Dec. 18 at the school; and for a luncheon Dec. 19 of Immaculate Heart of Mary seniors at the parish center.

Hintz said among basic skills of handbell playing are counting to four, counting in rhythm and learning the value and name of each note.

“The challenge is finding where your notes are and playing them at the right time,” she said. “Players have to be able to coordinate where they fit it.”

That can be a challenge for students who play other instruments and play all the notes of music for that instrument.

Sixth-grader Riley Burke has played the piano since she was 3 and also plays the clarinet. The 11-year-old said she finds it “harder to coordinate” as she plays certain notes and other members play the rest.

Seventh-grader Alyssa Casity finds it “really cool” to be able to read music and follow along. “I like being able to read the music and play when I should,” the 12-year-old explained.

For Travis Saxton, 13, who plays drums in the school band, “it’s learning more about music.” The seventh-grader also appreciated learning to read music.

Alex Sanders, also a seventh-grader who is in the percussion section of the school band, agreed with Travis about reading music. “It helps you get into the beat,” the 13-year-old said.

A clarinetist in the school band, seventh-grader Abby Walsh, 13, said she “likes the challenge of learning different music.”

Seventh-grader Calab Bucci, 12, said he got involved in the handbell choir because he “likes the sound.”

Also in the group are Caroline Mulhall, sixth-grade teacher, and Melissa Chalker, fourth-grade teacher. Chalker, who plays the flute and tuba, said she liked the idea of learning another instrument. “I think being a part of this helps build the school community,” she said.

Mulhall added, “This builds a different rapport with the kids. You’re part of the group.”

Hintz said teacher participation also provides another type of lessons to students. “They see a teacher is learning,” she said, and the idea of lifelong learning is shown.

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