Symphonic Bells ensemble performs concert
By ANICKA SLACHTA | IDS
A table draped in red velvet stood in front of the pews of First United Methodist Church Tuesday night.
Spread out evenly across the surface were dozens of glossy golden bells, carefully organized from smallest to largest.
Behind them, six vases of Christmas poinsettias sat on the altar, and wreaths hung below the tall stained-glass windows.
Fourteen people, dressed in black from their pants to their gloves, filed in from either side of the church and took their places in front of the bells.
All were members of Symphonic Bells of Bloomington, a local bell-ringing choir that was founded by IU graduate students in 2011.
Tuesday night they celebrated another semester of music with their fall concert.
“When people think of bells they probably think of their church bell choir, which may not be the most interesting thing in the world,”group co-founder Kallan Picha said.
In reality, she said, bell ringing is a music form that is evolving all the time.
She described it as exciting and interesting, even if that might not be what immediately comes to mind.
Picha said that in 2011 there were several members of the Bloomington community who were “floating around,” looking for a place to ring bells and not necessarily in a religious setting.
As a solution, she teamed up with other students and formed SBB.
The group is composed of IU students and local members of the community.
Picha is no stranger to these types of groups. During her undergraduate studies at Hastings College in Nebraska she was a founding member of its bell choir in 2004.
Picha said music is a stress reliever and has always been a hobby.
She, like most members of the symphonic bell choir, has a background in music as a singer and flute player.
None of the 14 members of the choir picked up their bells for the first minute of the first song, but instead came out holding various mallets and used their music stands, sticks and the tables for a percussion opening.
Mallets were also used on some of the larger bells to create deep, echoing sounds.
This first piece, titled “Rythmic Rip!” and composed by John A. Behnke, is an example of how SBB doesn’t solely play church music.
“We play both religious music and secular stuff,” Picha said, noting that Tuesday’s concert would feature several selections from both genres of repertoire, which members of the group said was a facet of SBB that attracted them.
People are allowed into SBB on an audition-only basis, but Picha said that doesn’t turn away newcomers.
About one-third of the group is new or relatively new to playing this kind of music, she said.
Priscilla Borges is one such member. She grew up in Brazil and had never heard of bell ringing until she moved to Bloomington in 2005.
She has been ringing since 2012 and said she loves it.
“As a singer by training, it really triggers and develops a different perspective in music playing, which is challenging and rewarding at the same time for me,” she said.
Borges is able to play in the advanced choir because the directors hand-pick parts for each musician, and each player is assigned to a set of bells according to his or her experience level.
Between songs the performers switch positions so that no one person plays the same set of bells throughout the concert.
Halfway through the concert, Assistant Director Jen Bollero introduced the fourth piece, “Silent Night,” and the dynamic in the audience changed.
The young children who previously couldn’t stop fidgeting fell still, and everyone directed their gazes toward the front of the church and the music.
The entire church fell silent and stayed still as the bells rang out the familiar, soothing tones of the wintertime classic.
The assistant director conducting the piece, Jen Bollero, introduced the song with a bit of history before they began.
“‘Silent Night’ was first played in 1818,” she explained, smiling warmly as she reflected on the past. “Now it’s a part of our Christmas tradition.”
Follow reporter Anicka Slachta on Twitter @ajslachta.