Members of the Acadia Handbell Choir, from left, Thayer Fanazick, Blair Sala and Linda Gould take part in a recent practice session in the parish house of the Union Meeting House in Somesville. ISLANDER PHOTO BY DICK BROOM

Ringers wanted

The Acadia Handbell Choir is looking for a few good ringers — or even a couple of people with no bell-ringing experience who are eager to learn.

Annotated sheet music. ISLANDER PHOTO BY DICK BROOM

“We always say you just need to be able to count to four,” said choir member Thayer Fanazick.

“It’s also helpful to have a sense of music and rhythm. And if people have difficulty reading music, they have a little more trouble at the start.”

The handbell choir performs at libraries, churches, retirement communities, nursing homes and other venues in the Mount Desert Island, Ellsworth and Blue Hill areas. They have performed at a number of weddings and at least one funeral.

The bells range from very small ones that make high, ringing sounds to large ones that boom out the deep, rich bass notes. A player rings a particular bell at the appointed time in the music and then mutes it against her chest so the sound doesn’t get muddy.

Ideally, the choir would have 12 ringers to handle all of those bells, but the number is now down to 11.

“The person who does the bass bell has to ring about twice and a half the number the rest of us do,” Fanazick said. “So, we need a person next to her. However, if we had a new person who didn’t want to ring those heavy bass bells, one of us could probably move over there.”

She said it would be really nice to have at least two or three more people join the group.

“We would love to have more. Then we could alternate if someone couldn’t be there.”

Fanazick is one of three members of the choir who have been there since it was formed around 1977; no one seems sure of the exact year. The other two are Mary Gilliland, the choir’s director, and Dotty Kay Stillman. Stillman’s husband, David, was the minister at the Union Meeting House, United Church of Christ, in Somesville at the time. Most of the original members of the handbell choir were church members, and the group still practices in its parish hall every Monday evening.

Gilliland was teaching in Sullivan 40-some years ago when someone told her about a handbell choir at a church in Hancock.

“I thought that sounded like fun, and I played with them for a year,” she said.

Stillman recalled that the Hancock choir came to play at the Somesville church.

“We heard them and said, ‘We can do that.’”

One choir member, Gail Reiber, joined about a year after the group was formed, so roughly 40 years ago. Several others have been ringing for well over 20 years.

Asked why she has stayed involved for so long, Fanazick said, “It’s a challenge, a weekly challenge. And when we get to know the music very well, that’s very nice.”

Most of the 12 members, including the director, live on MDI. Three live in Ellsworth.

The choir doesn’t charge for its performances or ask for donations.

“But we certainly do accept them if people want to give,” Fanazick said. “We mostly buy sheet music with donated money. We also use it for maintenance of the bells. We need to have them reconditioned once in a while.”

In addition to bells, the choir members use similar instruments called “hand chimes.”

The choir is especially in demand in the weeks before Christmas and in the spring.

Because they practice hard and most of them have been at it so long, their performances are nearly flawless. But there was that one time many years ago when they were to play at an Easter sunrise service in Northeast Harbor.

It was a very cold morning, and the only sound the bells made was “clink.”


Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]
Dick Broom

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