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Congregational Church of Brookfield

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Ringing a heavenly sound

Bell choir to perform Sunday night in Brookfield

BROOKFIELD -- If you happen to be walking near the Congregational Church of Brookfield on Sunday evening, you may wonder what's making the beautiful sound coming from inside.

Jeni Hoyer Carolyn Lindroth, of Brookfield, rehearses with other members of the Congregational Church of Brookfield bell choir.

Could it be a violin?

What about a harp?

Perhaps an accordion?

It's none of those, and probably nothing else you're thinking of either.

It's the sound of English hand bells being played at the church's bell choir concert, which begins at 7 p.m. at the church on Whisconier Road. The event is free and open to the public.

A hand bell is a bronze instrument that ranges in size from 2 to 12 inches. The larger the bell, the deeper the sound it produces. The bells are designed to be played in an ensemble with others.

Although the first hand bells were developed in 17th century England, they didn't become popular in the United States until the late 1960s.

The 250-year-old church has had a hand bell choir for the past 40 years, and this is the second concert they're performing in at the church.

"We have a total of 31 members and four separate choirs," said Toni Sullivan, 58, of Newtown, church music director and organist. "We have a leveled program that allows people with whatever knowledge they have to join it."

The choir is intergenerational, with members ranging from 9 years old to those in their late-60s. Several of the ringers are married couples and others are sets of parents and children.

Aside from playing in church concerts and services, the choir performs throughout the year at a variety of assisted living facilities and town events. Members have also traveled to college campuses across the east coast to take part in area festivals that have about 900 hand bell players performing in them.

"Hand bells produce a sound that's unlike anything most people have ever heard before," Sullivan said.

This is due to the large diversity of musical sounds the bells can produce, such as African, meditative and chimes, as well as marching and hymn tunes and music box notes, she said.

Of the 13 songs the bell choirs are playing at the concert, listeners will be able to hum along to some tunes they may recognize, such as "Jesus Loves Me" and "He's got the whole world in his hands."

According to hand bell director Jean Dorrell, 49, what makes the bells so unique is that it requires a team effort to play them.

"You need at least nine people to play a song," she said. "Each ringer is only responsible for making a few notes."

All choir members must therefore work together to coordinate the exact timing of each person's rings, she said.

"That's what makes it so challenging," said Dorrell, a Brookfield resident.

Another reason hand bells are not as commonly used as other musical instruments is because they're very expensive. Based upon the size of the bells, prices range from $150 all the way to $950. A five-octave set costs $19,500.

The bell choir provides a great social outlet for its members.

"From all the time we spend throughout the year practicing and performing, we've all really become close," Dorrell said.

Church member Michael Anastas, a New Milford resident whose wife plays in the choir, said the music completely captivates anyone listening to it.

"It produces such an ethereal and heavenly sound," he said. "The resonance of it plays in your mind long after each song has ended."



This page was last updated on 09/13/2016 09:42 PM.
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