Milton musicians celebrate faith with handbells
MILTON (AP) -- Tiffany Walters will be the first to tell you she cannot read music.
"I couldn't tell a flat from a sharp," she told the Janesville Gazette.
Still, Walters makes uniquely happy music with the handbell choir at Milton United Methodist Church.
"Some songs are a struggle," Walters said. "But when I get it right, it's the best feeling in the world."
Walters will be among handbell ringers from three Milton churches who will perform Sunday, April 30, in a popular community concert.
First Congregational and Hope Lutheran also will take part in the free annual event at Milton's Seventh Day Baptist Church.
"This is our Super Bowl of handbells," Walters said. "I look forward to sharing the beautiful sound."
The choirs will play both secular and religious pieces to showcase their handbell techniques and talent.
Lannie Troon directs the all-female Methodist choir, which has 36 bells.
Normally musicians play all the notes of a song on their instruments, Troon explained.
But in a handbell choir, each ringer is assigned specific notes and plays them at the right times during the musical score.
"Everyone works together to make the music," Troon said. "There is a spirit of cooperation. You need all the notes. If a song has a B flat, you need someone to play it. If you don't have someone, you can't play the song."
Generally, musicians sound two bells, one in each hand. They also wear gloves to keep the oils on their hands from degrading the bells' finish.
Troon learned how to play handbells at the Seventh Day Baptist Church when she was a teenager.
She loved it so much she returned to a handbell choir as an adult.
"If I have a bad day at work and then go to bell choir practice, my bad day is over because we have such a good time," Troon said. "Just thinking about all these great women I play with raises my spirits."
Jayne Lubke both directs and plays in the eight-member handbell choir at Hope Lutheran.
"Bells are such energetic, physical instruments," she said. "I come home from rehearsals both exhausted and fully energized. The act of ringing and directing is like going to an aerobics class, and it's just plain fun."
Like Troon, Lubke learned how to play handbells at the Seventh Day Baptist Church, now known as the Connecting Church, where she is a member.
In 1966, the church was the first congregation in the area to form a handbell choir, which became well-known for its performances in the community.
Today, the bells are in storage because of a shortage of players and direction.
Liz Green, associate pastor, does not know when the handbells fell into disuse.
"Herb Saunders was our pastor, and his wife, Barbara, was the bell choir director," Green said. "Since that time, we have not had a regular bell choir."
Jillian Beaty directs the adult handbell choir at First Congregational Church, where nine people ages 9 to 60-plus make music together.
"It's fun to watch my ringers incorporate their emotions into songs," Beaty said. "It's really awe-inspiring to watch them come together and make wonderful music."
In addition to directing, she also plays in the choir and has played handbells since she was a child.
"There's something about playing handbells," Beaty said. "It's my hour when I get to be one with the music and God, and I get to let my emotions and feelings come through. You depend on everyone in the bell choir. You mesh with the people around you."
She suspects her passion for handbells is intertwined with sweet childhood memories of the instruments.
"It's hard to express my feelings when I hear a bell," Beaty said. "It's soothing and warm. It's happiness."