Forty-three years ago (1971 for the finger-impaired) a bequest from Grace Ward provided a set of Schulmerich handbells for Raytown Christian Church. Although the bells are precious, acquiring hardware is the easy part.
Church leaders approached Suanne Comfort, a music teacher at Southwood School, to ask her to start a bell choir (how hard could it be?). Little could she have known what a watershed moment that was; she agreed. Suanne knew what handbells were, but the niceties of four-in-hand (playing four bells at a time) bell maintenance, playing techniques, she had no idea.
Move forward forty-three years. Having attended countless seminars and workshops offered by the American Guild of English Handbell Ringers (now a much easier to say, Handbell Musicians of America) Suanne is a recognized handbell expert, and is directing and training three handbell choirs and overseeing a fourth. Raytown Christian Church now owns and uses a 5 octave set and a 6 octave set of Schulmerich handbells, and a 4 octave set and 6 octave set (an octave consists of 12 notes, C4 to C5 for instance, with the five accidentals [on a a piano, the black keys]) of Malmark hand chimes. Chalice Bronze honored her upon her fortieth year of leading the bells by commissioning a work from noted handbell arranger, Cynthia Dobrinski.
The Inspiration Ringers will soon embark on its forty-third tour, visiting churches and other institutions, and experiencing the joy of sharing its music and worship of God. Suanne Comfort has retired from public school teaching and is the Director of Music at Raytown Christian Church.
To hear what's going on, the Raytown Christian Church Music Department will present the Spring Festival of Bells (with instrumentalists) Sunday, April 27th, at 7:00 PM, in the church sanctuary. The church is at 6108 Blue Ridge Blvd, Raytown, MO. A freewill offering will be accepted.
Suanne Comfort readies the music
Suanne Comfort enters the worship space from a side door, makes a last minute check that the right music is in the right place, raises the baton, and the fireworks begin.
RCC bell banner
The beautifully sewn gilded banner is carried down the middle aisle, just after the banner ceremoniously reaches the half-way point, the bells are carried, ringing, toward the chancel.
The combined choirs, Royal Ringers, Inspiration Ringers, Celebration Ringers, and Chalice Bronze, joined for a beautiful ringing of, "On this day Earth shall ring," with the tune "PERSONENT HODIE."
RCC Inspiration Ringers
The Inspiration Ringers, a high school choir, has a long tradition of excellence. Also directed by Mrs. Comfort, it always presents amazing precision in its section of the bell rings.
RCC Inspiration Ringers Bass
The larger (lower pitched) bells require more strength to play, and a developed skill to sound fast notes one after the other. Also visible are the slender Malmark choir chimes, providing an alternative, angelic halo of sound.
Suanne accepts a bow with the Inspiration Ringers.
Suanne Comfort, now a retired Southwood music teacher, accepted the challenge offered by the newly purchased, silent bells. After school gets out, the Inspirations will embark on the 43rd performing tour with Mrs. Comfort.
RCC piano interlude
Tucked into a crowded corner with the organ console and pipes is the grand piano from which student pianists present their progressed skills between bell choirs.
RCC bells inspire other study
Since a bell ringer can learn as few as two adjacent scale steps, ringing offers a relatively easy introduction to music reading and playing in an ensemble. Many ringers also learn other instruments as the interest in music expands; Jonathon Fields, Jr., presents his keyboard skills.
RCC Royal Ringers
The Royal Ringers is an intermediate level, entry level ensemble. Faithful adherence to the practice schedule brings a new ringer to the point of making beautiful music within a few months.
RCC grand piano
Raytown Christian Church gives members the opportunity to offer their musical talents in a friendly concert environment. The packed house joins in cheering the hard-learned contributions.
RCC father and son
In several RCC families, music has become a shared joy. In addition to playing piano and other instruments, there are nineteen second generation ringers.
RCC Celebration Ringers
With a separate director, the Celebration Ringers is composed of adults who lead services occasionally, and provide a joyous sound in the twice-annual bell festivals.
Another piano intermezzo.
It is encouraging to old listeners to see young people who are carrying the love of music into the next generation. This young bell-ringer is playing a full set of notes.
Jonathon and Dovie
Organist Dovie Fields and her grandson, Jonathon Fields, worked together to play a four-handed duet. Sometimes pieces are arranged for this ensemble, other times the composition is for that specification.
Chalice Bronze Passacaglia
Chalice Bronze is the most experienced ensemble, frequently performing both in the church, and as guests in multiple venues around the area.
Bronze with flute & percussion
For this number, the Chalice Bronze was joined by flute, percussion and the mighty pipe organ, played by Church Organist, Dovie Fields. Some of the instrumentalists also play in a bell choir.
Raytown CC Bronze Ensemble
Additional instruments generate a variety of timbres to complement the ringing bells and chimes. A festival, after all, implies bringing together all of the forces available to make as much joy as possible.
Raytown CC grand finale
The Chalice Bronze, Inspiration Ringers, and some Royal Ringer were joined by a deftly-played trumpet and a mellow set of timpani for the grand finale for the Christmas Ring.
Raytown CC Finale
The sound of the trumpet is entirely complementary to the ringing of bells; it is as though the trumpet were elongating each sounding of the bells.
Raytown CC finale with timpani
The sound of the timpani emphasizes the percussive character of the bells. The combination of the pipe organ, trumpet, timpani and two-and-a-half bell choirs certainly made for a festive close to the program.