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Handbell Choir Still Ringing after 30 Years

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Handbell Choir Still Ringing after 30 Years
Posted on 02/03/2015
This is the image for the news article titled Handbell Choir Still Ringing after 30 Years

The Portland Public Schools’ Lincoln Middle School is one of just a few schools in Maine with a handbell choir. Lincoln’s handbell choir is a longtime tradition at the school – the choir is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year – but it’s one that still resounds with today’s students, according to band teacher Audrey Cabral.

She said that about 13 to 16 students join the choir each year. “I have had more fun with these students,” Cabral said. “I like to challenge them and I think they like that. We laugh and tease each other, but when it comes down to ringing, they take it very seriously.  If a student fools around too much, it is other students that “police” that student, not me.”

In a recent article Cabral wrote for the newsletter of the Handbell Ringers of America, she described how the choir got started.

“The bell choir initially began in 1985 with the general music and chorus teacher, Alice Bredenberg. Her principal approached the staff telling them that he had funds to ‘give away’ (imagine their surprise!!) and anyone wanting money to spend needed to let him know. Soon thereafter, Alice proposed purchasing some English handbells.  Since no one else approached her principal requesting money, Alice’s proposal was accepted,” Cabral wrote.

She explained that the “choir began with diatonic bells only: C5 through C6. Alice had to write pieces in C major with no accidentals. She would write out some Christmas carols that the students would ring during general music which helped pique the students’ interest.”

Cabral wrote that Bredenberg continued to add another bell or two each year, “beginning with the flats and sharps to complete bells C5 through C6. She continued to purchase bells throughout her years at the school in order to have a full three octave compliment, C4 through C7.”

Students have to audition for a place in the choir, which meets each Friday for 50 minutes. “Students must take a written music test to demonstrate they have a basic background knowledge in music, i.e. rhythms, notation,” Cabral said. “They then take a ‘playing’ test where I show them the ‘proper’ technique for ringing and how to get a sound. Once they produce a sound, all students will play a simple bell piece at the same time. I rotate them through all the bells, so they have the opportunity to play most of them.”

Cabral added, “I know that Lincoln Middle School is very fortunate to have a bell choir and to have an administration that supports us. Alice laid the foundation for the choir, and I am sure she never knew that we would still be ringing 30 years later.”

The choir could use some help, however, in the form of donations from parents or other community members to help maintain the handbells. “Handbells need to be cleaned and checked up every ten years, and the cost is usually around $1,500 to $2,000,” Cabral said.

She added that she hopes Lincoln Middle School students “realize how lucky they are to have this opportunity to be exposed to such a unique experience.”