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Bell ringers' concert is pure Americana


WESTMINSTER -- The bells the teen-agers rang may have been English, but the music Sunday night was pure Americana at Westminster United Methodist Church.

For the second time in three years, the Wesley Bell Ringers from Salt Lake City, Utah, chimed rather than sang 18 songs celebrating all 50 states.

The 30 teens performed a variety of music, from the hymn "How Great Thou Art" and a medley of American spirituals to an Aaron Copland tribute, Stephen Foster's "Oh, Susanna" and modern popular pieces such as Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land" and Neil Diamond's "America."

"They're an absolutely unique group -- there's nothing like it in the world," said Linwood Row, who organized the concert for the church. "I think they're real special kids."

Using only a variety of English handbells and a few percussion instruments, the group performed a sound as rich as a large choir raising its voice at the finale of a song.

Edwin J. Duncan formed the Wesley Bell Ringers in 1963 with nine young people from a Salt Lake City church. They used 25 bells with a two-octave range.

Today's group employs a 25-note set of silver melody bells, a 74-note set of hand chimes, a 25-note set of cup bells, a 25-note carillon, a 20-note set of Chinese saucer bells, orchestra chimes, tone bars and a bass boom-a-gong -- for a six-octave range.

To achieve the wide variety of sound, the shiny brass bells range in size from very small, weighing only a few ounces, to the 23-pound bass bells.

Mitch Dailey, 18, one of four bass ringers, was on his third tour. When he got involved with the group, through church, he already had musical experience in high school on the saxophone, piano and bassoon.

"It takes some time to learn the technique, but longer to learn the music," he said.

Natalie Moore, 18, is on her fourth tour. She joined the Wesley Bell Ringers after her brother became a member.

"You get so much out of it," she said. "You meet wonderful people, make friendships that last a lifetime and get to travel. It's worth 10 times all the work."

Assistant choir director JoDe Knutson works with the teens individually and in sections, then Duncan takes over with the group as a whole.

"You don't need musical experience to join the group, though most of the kids have some," Knutson said. "We teach them where the notes are, the basic ringing techniques and how to count the notes. Anybody can play the bells."

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