Bell choir will ring out a concert at Shepherd of the Mountains

Celebration Ringers, a youth bell choir from the First Lutheran Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado, will perform at Shepherd of the Mountains Church on Friday.
Photo by Theresa McConnell/Creative Flair

Celebration Ringers 7 p.m. on Friday, June 7 Shepherd of the Mountains Lutheran Church, 4051 N. S.R. 224 Free

A youth handbell choir from the First Lutheran Church of Colorado Springs, Colorado, will celebrate spring in Park City on Friday, June 7.

The Celebration Ringers, which is composed of youths in grades 9 to 12, will perform at 7 p.m. at the Shepherd of the Mountains Lutheran Church, 4051 N. S.R. 224. The event is free and open to the public.

The group, lead by Deacon Joan Kuehn, music director of the First Lutheran Church, will play hymns, spirituals and a handful of secular works.

“We play music a lot of music by modern handbell composers that could be played in church, but are not necessarily church pieces,” Kuehn said.

One of the works on the program is “Make Me an Instrument of Thy Peace,” written by Kevin McChesney 20 years ago after the Columbine shooting, according to Kuehn.

“It starts with remembering those who have lost their lives and then moves into joy and hope and the triumph over evil,” she said. “This is good for the kids to play, because, unfortunately, they have grown up in their school lives with the knowledge of school shootings.”

The bell choir also plans to perform a work called “Canticle,” which was composed by Matthew Compton.

“Matthew, who directs a handbell group in Portland, Oregon, went through our handbell program,” Kuehn said. “We’re very proud of him.”

The piece includes chimes, percussion and tambourine, she said.

“I try to expand beyond the bells,” Kuehn said. “We also put in piano and voice in the performances.”

Friday’s concert will also include some Christmas songs.

“We decided to do that because I really like them,” Kuehn said, laughing.

The director enjoys selecting pieces that resonate with the ringers.

“I look for variety and music that the youth will buy into,” she said. “I also like selecting works that will help them grow musically. Because when music keeps pushing them, they want to keep working to get better.”

While the music is an enjoyable challenge, Kuehn knows her students face other problems being in the bells choir.

“These kids are so busy with school, jobs and sports,” she said. “Some of my students have experienced tough situations in family and school, but they are all pretty committed.”

Ringers attend rehearsals every Sunday after church.

“When they do come to rehearsal, it’s like they are putting away some of their cares and struggles to enjoy playing music for an hour and a half,” Kuehn said.

The Celebration Ringers is one of six handbell choirs at the Colorado Springs church, she said.

“The program is for kids who are in second grade all the way up to adults and senior citizens,” Kuehn said.

The students who stay with the program move from group to group as they advance in skill and age, she said.

“When they are in high school, the fun for them is getting to go on tour when school ends for the summer,” Kuehn said.

The main goal for the handbell program is to teach students about music and how to play handbells. Playing handbells is different in terms of technique and playing in ensembles than singing in a choir, Kuehn said.

“When you’re in a vocal choir, there are many people who sing soprano or alto, but in bells, there is usually only one person playing one part,” she said. “Not that it puts pressure on the kids; it creates responsibility. And it also give the kids an opportunity to contribute and give their notes to the overall sound.”

Another benefit for kids who join the bells choir program is making friends in the choir and in the church, Kuehn said.

“Many of the kids who play together still remain friends after high school, and I also have a few who have come back to play in our adult choir,” she said. “These friendships create a community in the church, and since it’s a church program, there is a faith and spirituality aspect of it as well.”

These bonds are strengthened during the tours, according to Kuehn.

“The ringers also experience the church in a wider sense as they travel,” she said. “They see how different churches do things.”

In addition to churches, the Celebration Ringers perform in retirement homes, assisted living facilities and schools.

“These performances do affect the kids,” Kuehn said. “So, the big reward for me is to see then develop into wonderful younger people, especially in a society that we see youth getting into trouble.

“I’ve been here a long time, 30 years, so now I have the kids of one of my first Celebrations Ringers from 1990 playing in the choir,” she said. “It’s rewarding for me to see them mature and enjoy being part of this group.”

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