For many, it's comforting to think the heavenly ringing of handbells will greet us at the pearly gates. But of course, we don't have to wait until then.
Handbell choir performances around our region reach a peak during the holidays. One of the matriarchs of the Minnesota handbell scene is Betty Fletcher Mast, who played for about 50 years.
Fletcher Mast, a music educator by trade, moved to Minnesota from New Mexico after World War II. She found a St. Louis Park church choir to lead and a minister with a notion about bells.
"He said, 'I think you should start a handbell choir for the boys.' And I said, 'What is that?' "
Fletcher Mast immersed herself in handbell culture. Her handbell education included an ear-tingling trip to a national convention.
"These people are crazy," she remembered. "They rang bells for two days and nights."
Fifty years later Fletcher Mast guesses she has started or led about a dozen handbell groups. The Ding Dong Dollies are her master stroke. Sandy Stoneking, one of Betty's acolytes, now leads the touring handbell group.
Handbell ringing is a team effort. Ringers get to play only their assigned bells and notes, requiring counting and paying attention.
Cammy Carteng, another Fletcher Mast handbell student, now rings with the Ding Dong Dollies and said when she worked for Pillsbury she used bell ringing to help managers learn teamwork.
"They can't argue with the notes; they have to do their job," Carteng said. "They have to count and be on time and they can't absolutely let go of their mind for a second or they'll be late or not come in at all."
She also leads the handbell choir at Plymouth Church in south Minneapolis.
Fletcher Mast, 89, said her ringing days are over. She focuses much of her volunteer time now for Meals on Wheels and tutors kindergartners.
But she still has ringing on the brain. She's created a color-coded system that might be just the thing for helping older folks or those with less experience reading music get into the act.
IF YOU GO:
The Plymouth Church handbell choir in south Minneapolis led by Cammy Carteng performs Christmas Eve, including a 10:15 p.m. candlelight service.
The Ding Dong Dollies led by Sandy Stoneking resume their appearances in the new year including an early summer tour around the region.
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