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Westminster Ringers celebrate anniversary with 'Sweet 16' concert

Now starting their 16th year, the Westminster Ringers may not be given a new car, but they will be celebrating the occasion with a "Sweet 16" birthday bash.

On Saturday, May 31, the handbell group will hold a "Happy Birthday Sweet 16" anniversary concert at the Scott Theater in Carroll Community College.

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Debbie Henning, who created the group with her husband Larry, said the concert will consist of a combination of new music and classic pieces, ranging in style from traditional handbell music to Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven."

"The repertoire is there to show people that handbells can run the whole gamut of music," Henning said. "They're not just for church at Christmastime, they can be for any kind of music."

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At the concert, they will celebrate the anniversary with an original handbell arrangement of Neil Sedaka's "Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen," arranged by Assistant Music Director Kyler Brengle.

"Basically, what I do is I try to get as close to the original music as I can, and then try to capture the essence of the piece in a rough form," Brengle said. "Once I've done that, so I can be sure it would work for handbells, I contact the copyright holder to get permission to do the arrangement. It's kind of neat; it gives us the opportunity to perform pieces that no other group can do."

After procuring permission, Brengle said he begins to work creating the arrangement with the use of the computer program Finale, which allows him to lay out the chords, listen to the music, change it and print out the parts.

"It's a unique process. I find it's a really neat way to express yourself," Brengle said. "Playing music is one form of expression, this is just another way to take part in the music."

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Henning said the Westminster Ringers were created in 1997 to give local players the opportunity to work on a more difficult repertoire of songs, and to bring handbells beyond the church setting and into the community.

Over 16 years, Henning said she has seen an evolution of the group as it expanded to include ensembles of different skill levels and interests. Brengle said he joined the group around eight years ago, and since then has seen a definite change in the make-up of the Ringers.

"There are more young people in the group than when I joined," Brengle said. "It's encouraging to see young folks coming in and joining this core group of people and helping to carry this on. The personality of the group has changed over the years. We get along really well. We have fun as well as make music."

Henning said handbell music is something a lot of people don't have much familiarity with, but it's one of the most unique forms of musical performance that can't precisely be described.

"The sounds of the bells are really unique," Henning said. "We have an almost full seven octave set of handbells and choir chimes. It's basically a team sport. There's other music that's performed for solo venues or duets or quartets, but with this, you really have to work together."

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