Hand Bells at Salem Presbyterain Church

Written for September 13, 1998 worship service
In November of 1964, the family of Mr. Thomas A. Morgan gave the church 25 Schulmerich hand bells in his memory. These bells, which covered a two octave range, marked the beginning of the hand bell program at Salem Church.

From the dedication of the hand bells:

Their history is more than four hundred years, when small bells were cast to test the quality of bell metal. Some were tuned because of the beauty of the sound of the small bells. Hand bells were used by the "Tower Bell Ringers" to practice before ringing the heavy Tower bells. This ancient and honorable art was further perfected in the 18th century by finer tuning and greater range. Bell choirs were formed, but it was in the 20th century that chromatically tuned hand bells came to our own land. Now there are more than five hundred hand bell choirs here.

These 25 Schulmerich Hand Bells are accurately tuned to two tones each; the primary, strike, tone, 12th harmonic. To the international standard of "A" at 440 cps, the tuning is accurate to 5/100 of one semitone.

Players will wear cotton gloves to protect the high polish of the genuine bronze bell metal, contour controlled, homogenously cast bells. Each has variable strike control, a silent mechanical action in the clapper, and a "soft" or "hard" choice of nylon on the clapper striking face. The handgrip shows the bell note, and is of a plastic that becomes more tough with flexing. The 25 bell set includes the full chromatic scale from G above middle C to G18.

The Hand Bell Cabinet and display case for the Communion Set, are a part of this memorial gift to our congregation.

It is the desire of the donor that these bells be used. Their use is not restricted to youth. Any adult group, within the church, desiring to ring the bells or to form a partial or full bell choir is invited and urged to do so. Mrs. Bebb Jones will be happy to meet with any group and to get you started.

It is easily possible to enjoy an evening of special music, self-produced, with a group sitting down with the bells and bell music, and ringing in an inexpert, but none-the-less beautiful and rewarding way. All that is required is cotton gloves, a few who can locate notes, and the ability to count time. It is not necessary to be able to read music in order to ring these bells.

In 1969, 13 additional bells were given to the church by Mr. and Mrs. Layton Jenkins in memory of both of their parents. For a total of the 38 bells we have and enjoy today. This past Summer, the bells were shipped back to the factory to be refurbished, at the cost of just over $1,800. They came back with new handles and new clapper mechanisms. Gone are the "O" rings that broke, not always at the most opportune times, and the bells can now be adjusted not just to hard or soft, but to hard, soft, or medium. Gifts given in memory of Sharon Davis provided some of the funds for this work, as did major gifts from Margaret Hukill and Harold and Natalie Wilkin. Donations toward the renovation of the bells are still being accepted.

The first bell choir was directed by Bartie Jones, with assistance from Rev. James and Mrs. Mary Patterson during the Spring of 1965. The first public performances of the bell choirs came in December of 1965, and The Mary-Martha Sunday School class gave a gift that enabled Rev. Patterson to build the tables and boxes that were used for traveling with the bells. By September of 1966, there were 4 bell choirs, two for adult women, a youth bell choir, and one for younger children.

Bartie Jones kept a careful diary of the journeys of the Hand Bells, which she called the "Ding Dong Diary." From December of 1965 to May of 1972, the various choirs had traveled approximately 9,000 miles and played for approximately 20,000 people, averaging 49 performances a year.

The diary is full of stories of their experiences on the road. There is the story of the time Mary Patterson kicked off her shoes during a performance, and one of her fellow ringers hid them, leaving her shoeless and searching when it was time to depart the stage. The rudeness of the staff and hostess at a Fort Wayne television station is recorded. The ministry of the women, led by nurse Mary Davis, to victims of an automobile accident is remembered.

After 1973, interest in the hand bells waned, to be revived again by Mary, Sharon, and Marla Davis in 1975, who convinced Joyce Sommerset, Connie Lloyd, and Shirley Lloyd to join them in providing bell music for church. With occasional help from others, they kept the bells ringing for the next few years. In August of 1978, Bartie closed out her "Ding Dong Diary" with these words:

It hardly seems possible that it has been 12 years since we began the bells. Now I am moving away from Venedocia to Elyria, Ohio and I must pass the keeping of the activities and fund over to new hands. I have chosen Mary Davis who has been the most faithful to them through the years. She along with her two girls have held them together and provided the church with a service unrewarded except for the joy they receive in doing it and the words of appreciation that some give.

May the sound of the bells stay alive in Venedocia for they bring a very special gift.

God bless you who ring them.
In recent years, the hand bells have been rung by the children and youth of the church, first under the direction of Sharon Davis, and after her tragic death in May of 1997, by Kathy Pugh McCollow, who first joined the Little Bells in January of 1967. Last year there were 3 youth bell groups who performed, with over 40 of our young people ringing them over the course of the year.

In 1964, when the bells were given to the church, there were over 500 bell choirs across the country. A search of the internet almost 34 years later reveals over 86,500 references to hand bell choirs. The popularity of hand bells has grown over the years, and Salem Church has continued to enjoy the beautiful music that first graced our services over 30 years ago, with the hand bells now being rung by some of the grandchildren of the first bell ringers.

Bartie Jones led an active music program in Salem Presbyterian Church from 1952 to 1978. Upon leaving Venedocia, she moved to Elyria, Ohio, where she worked on developing her writing skills, serving the Lorain County Arts Council as poetry consultant in the public schools. She moved to St. Louis in 1983 where she did some work as poetry consultant in the "artist in the schools program" and worked as office manager at the Washington University Campus YMCA/YWCA for ten years. She has been poet in residence for the American Youth Foundation in Michigan for the past two Summers and is currently putting the finish touches on a novel set in Venedocia entitled "Call to Cambria." Bell Players Bartie directed over the years:

Terry Owens, Tim Richardson*, John Jones, David Witmer*, Mark Davis, David Morris, Jerry Koenig, Doug Price, Owen Pugh, Jean Owens, Becky Zirkle, Mary Patterson Cory, Doris Price, Violet Ashton, Evelyn Pugh, Mary Ann Owens Matthews, Elgarda Evans McGee, Eugenia Evans Fisher, Judy Jones Muhn, Cheryl Patterson, Karen Koenig Herman, Lynn Jones, Sandra Richards Caffro, Mildred Morris, Joyce Profit, Alice Gamble, Carolyn Girod, Anne Morris, Marcella Crum, Janice Bolton Deal, Art Patterson, Kim Morris Gehres, Stephanie Morris Callaro, Marilyn Lare Beck, Kathy Pugh McCollow, Lisa Morris Lloyd, Alice Bolton Lange, Janis Owens, LaDonna Etzler, Carla Morris Breese, Loretta Williams, Linda Bragg, Chris Bolton, Cyndy Patterson Edwards, Joyce Profit, Karen Koenig Herman, Jill Lloyd Crucini, Joyce Sommerset Morris, Connie Lloyd O’Neill, Shirley Lloyd

*Unable to locate

The music provided by our reunion choirs is dedicated to the memory of those bell choir members who have joined the heavenly chorus: Marcile Lare, Mary Evans, Mary Davis, Marla Davis McOmber, Sharon Davis, Rev. James Patterson, Zelma Evans, and Florence Jones.

Elder Deiniol Wyn Price is an elder at the Bethel Welsh Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, England and a member of Cymru A’r Byd or Wales International. He will be leading the congregation in prayer in both Welsh and English.

Junior Bell Choir
We thought it was appropriate to close out our anniversary celebration and our celebration of our past by looking to our future, so some members of our junior bell choir will play the Seven-fold Amen this morning. Those marked * are third generation bell ringers.

*Michael Breese, *Julia Morris, Megan Smith, *Johnathon Morris, Kayla Owens, Emily Blackmore, Lena Pratt, *Joshua Lloyd, *Scott Lloyd, Scott Fair

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