A Crozet hand bell choir formed last year made its town debut with a Christmas concert to a delighted crowd of 85 people Dec. 18 at Tabor Presbyterian Church’s Pickford-Chiles Fellowship Hall. The choir is yet another product of Tabor’s Crozet Cares community outreach program.
“The turnout was way bigger than we expected,” said choir director Chris Celella, the performing arts director for Miller School, where he teaches piano, guitar, drums and singing. The choir has also performed for The Lodge at Old Trail and at Crozet Baptist Church recently.
The 12-member choir presented 10 songs, mainly traditional Christmas carols, with each member handling two bells, but also performed Coldplay’s “Clocks.”
“The crowd really got into that and clapped forever. It was like a rock concert,” said Celella. “The only way to sustain a tradition is to make it accessible to young people.” He said the group is now looking to form a youth choir as well.
“I took on [the choir] because of Jesse Haden,” he said, “who had the idea for the bell choir.” Haden is the sort of grand dame of Miller, and has been selflessly dedicated to the school for more than 50 years now.
“It’s like a fluke that Crozet has a hand bell choir, but people are having fun. Every line of music takes eight people to play, so it’s the ultimate team sport. Any mistake is really exposed,” Celella explained. To get that tightly in synch, the choir practices every Wednesday night. “It’s really a gift to have members who come every week.”
The bell ringers each wore black gloves. “The hands are a big deal because you see the movement and hear the sound.” The choice of black was a contrast decision, he said, and choirs will also wear white gloves.
The choir is intending to buy more bells and will go for a fourth octave, extending half an octave up and half an octave down. “We’re looking for more members because in hand bells it’s the more the merrier.”
The choir went to two festivals last year. “It inspired the choir to see what could be done. It’s more than just ringing a bell. There are different articulations. People really have to concentrate. It’s escapism. It’s the definition of being part of something bigger than yourself. Our choir is nice people and super democratic.”
David Collyer, co-pastor at Crozet Baptist Church, is part of the group and once directed a bell choir at CBC. Churches sometimes form hand bell choirs, he said, but this one in Crozet is community-based.
“We’re still in the novice stage,” said Collyer. Next comes the use of mallets and trying to create echoes. Bells have a special design that allows them to ring in one direction, he explained. Bell makers mark the spot on the bell where it makes the best sound.
“It’s about how the ensemble plays,” Celella stressed.
“Our playing together really has improved,” agreed Collyer.
Celella said the choir wants to add songs by Michael Jackson and The Beatles to its repertoire.