Every Monday the Seniors’ Centre rings with the soft, melodic tones of the Bell Ringers as the dedicated choir practice their selections.
Pat Peeke-Vout, who joined the Bell Ringers two years ago, says its fun and gives her a reason to enjoy Mondays.
It was during Billy Barker Days, Peeke-Vout and her daughter were enjoying a Bell Ringers performance and it was suggested she join the group.
“My daughter told me to join,” Peeke-Vout said with a laugh.
Quesnel Bell Ringers began in Dec. 1989, founded by Mildred Keen, Mary Girvin and Mavis Goodman (still a member.)
Nettie Geoffroy joined in 1991 and has remained a member since those early days.
“It was for seniors as a form of activity and to entertain in the community,” she said.
After attending a workshop in Vancouver, the fledgling group approached the Old Age Pension Organization for sponsorship and with a New Horizons grant 37 English hand bells in three octaves, seven tables and nine cushions were purchased for $7,000.
Quesnel Bell Ringers still play those original bells.
Over the years men and women have come and gone from the group with 14 current members including one man.
OAPO turned over the bells and equipment to the Bell Ringers group in 2000 and in 2009 with a city and CRD grant totaling about $1,500, they purchased chimes which provide the group with a lighter and easier form of playing. The chimes are also a perfect complement to the hand bells, offering a depth of sound not afforded by the bells alone.
Geoffroy said when she joined Mildred Keen, then conductor, said, “you don’t need to read music, you just need to count to four.”
Kathie Davis, who joined the Bell Ringers in 2007, appreciated that aspect of the choir.
“I always enjoyed music but can’t sing and couldn’t read music,” she said.
“I used a left and right system until I learned to read notes. Now I’m also in a recorder quartet.”
MaryAnn Sturdy said she was on a bus to Prince George, sitting next to Nettie, when she revealed she’d just retired.
“Nettie said ‘come to the bells’,” Sturdy admitted.
“It’s the best thing I ever did.”
Jean Veer was a retired widow looking for something to do.
“I didn’t want the solitude of learning an instrument at home, I wanted the social aspect as well,” she said.
“Nettie told me to come to the bells.”
Jola Jarecki had just moved to Quesnel from Wells in 2006 and was looking at a list of activities at the Seniors’ Centre.
“I saw bell ringing and joined the group,” she said.
One of the newer members, Judy Edberg joined the Bell Ringers in January 2010.
“I called Nettie and asked about the Bell Ringers,” Edberg said.
“She persisted for a couple of months, encouraging me to join – and here I am.”
Arleen Hall was a member of the Anglican church choir and fellow choir member and Bell Ringer conductor Amanda Gillcash encouraged her to join.
“It’s so relaxed, there lots of room for beginner mistakes and a lot of fun,” she said.
The newest member Lois Pollock has been with the group since Nov. 2010 and is still learning.
She said it was like learning anything, you need to practice but agreed the group was very patient.
“They play simple stuff for me,” she said with a grin.
“They’re a fun bunch of people and bell ringing, for me, is a personal challenge that I really enjoy.”
Conductor/director Amanda Gillcash has an extensive musical background and says bell ringing is her favourite hobby of all the activities in which she participates in Quesnel.
“The group is great, they always show up,” she said.
It was her musical background that first prompted Mavis Goodman to invite Gillcash to come and help out.
“I’m a focused, demanding, fussy musician who treats these people as musicians,” she said.
“Through practice and study, they’ve learned to read music which allows us to elevate our sound to another level of musicality and the audience appreciates the beautifully-played music.”
Gillcash said she brings a level of professionalism to directing primarily because she’s attended many workshops and learned from those conductors.
“Bell Ringers is open to anyone wanting to join and other than preparing for a concert, we have fun, learn new things and welcome all levels of musical ability,” she added.
Quesnel Bell Ringers play a wide range of musical styles including contemporary, soft rock and classical. The ideal number is 24, with each performance needing a minimum of 12 for the full range of hand bell sound and another 12 to cover performing demands.
Gillcash is hoping in the future to develop a junior choir.
Anyone interested is encouraged to drop in at the Monday practice, 10 a.m. – 12 p.m. at the Seniors’ Centre. As well as a $10 Seniors’ Centre membership, a $2 fee is charged each practice.
“It’s a very cheap hobby with lots of rewards,” Sturdy said.