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Posted: December 10, 2010 2:38 p.m.

Free handbell concert Sunday

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The Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd on Clark Street will play host to a free handbell concert at 3 p.m. Sunday in the sanctuary.

The performance will feature the handbell choir from Holy Trinity Parish in Decatur. They will be under the direction of Keith Nash and will be accompanied by Good Shepherd organist Joanne Brown. A reception will follow.

"They are an outstanding ensemble, and the program of Christmas music they plan should help attendees get into the spirit of the season," said Mark Hodges, chair for Good Shepherd’s outreach committee.

The handbell choir has been part of the ministry at Holy Trinity Parish since 1978, when a member of the parish donated two octaves of bells to the church. The choir now has four octaves of bells. They start practicing for the Christmas season the Wednesday after Labor Day and practice an hour each week. Two members have been part of the choir since its inception. Nash has directed the choir since he joined the parish over two decades ago.

"We play on festival occasions such as our annual Festival of Advent Lessons & Carols, Christmas Eve, Easter, and Pentecost," said Nash.

The concert is sponsored by the church’s outreach program and is part of a concert series organized by parishioner J. J. Hayden. Donations will benefit the church’s efforts to help the needy in our community.

For centuries, bells have been used to summon worshipers to services.

"Handbells have a long tradition in the rites of Christian worship," said Nash. "Small bells were often carried in processions in order to maintain pitch during the singing of psalms. The sound of handbells is a pleasant one, which catches one’s attention in a way that the human voice or other instruments associated with the church cannot. They seem particularly associated with the season of Christmas, perhaps harkening back to the sound of sleigh bells heard in the streets during earlier times."

"I recall handbell music in churches from my childhood, and there was always something magical about this kind of music," said Hodges. "This memory has stayed with me since then."

The concert will consist of music specific to the seasons of Advent and Christmas. The choir will play well-known hymns and carol, and they will play the bells using several different techniques, including ringing them and by using mallets. The different techniques create distinct, melodic tones.

"The music of Advent is rich with beautiful, haunting melodies directing our attention to the coming of the Messiah, to prepare and make ready our hearts and minds," said Nash. "Those attending will sing two verses of each selection before the handbell choir plays their arrangement. In this way the attendees can become familiar with the music, and discern how melodies are arranged for bells."

"We expect that the beautiful music of the handbell choir and the accompanying organists to be enhanced by the acoustics of the sanctuary in our church," said Hodges. "One of the purposes of the concert series is to provide uplifting music to the community in a sacred space."

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