Ringing in the Holidays: Rochester Area Handbells in concert

HANDBELL CHOIRS HAVE LONG HAD A PLACE IN CHURCH SERVICES OF MANY DENOMINATIONS. The goal of Rochester Area Handbells (rah) is to bring the art of handbell performance out of a church setting and into the greater Rochester community. The ensemble plays music that ranges from classic favorites to contemporary and will be kicking off a concert series in late November.

RAH is a fairly new ensemble—it officially launched in August 2017. Founder and musical director Paul Kingsbury, who moved to Rochester in 2015, was surprised to learn that there wasn’t a community handbell group in a city this size, especially with so many fantastic choral groups and other music ensembles already in existence. Fast-forward a couple of years, and the groundwork was laid to organize a handbell group.

RAH’s inaugural season was marked with five concerts, including a Christmas concert in the Rochester Public Library auditorium that maxed out room capacity. The city of Rochester also had the good fortune of hosting the 2018 Area 7 Handbell Musicians of America Festival Conference in June, which brought ringers from Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Manitoba into the city for three days of ringing and workshops. Along with performing in the massed ringing event, RAH had the honor of opening the festival with a concert and reception. 


With a wide range of ages, the 16 women and men of RAH come from different parts of the country and all walks of life but have one thing in common: a lot of bell ringing. Combined, the group has well over 300 years of ringing experience—many who’ve been ringing since childhood—not to mention those with directing experience. Many also sing or play other instruments with groups in the community in addition to handbells.

Ringer Kristy Giere compares RAH to a sports team. She says, “We need to work together doing our very best for the end results at performance time. It takes practice!” 

Musical director Kingsbury shares much the same sentiment. “What I love about RAH is that it’s a group of like-minded people all working together toward a common goal,” Kingsbury shares. “This really came through at our last rehearsal before the June 2018 concert when ‘Dreamscape’—a particularly challenging piece—finally came together. I remember cutting everyone off after the last chord, and everyone just looked at each other with their mouths hanging open like, ‘Wow, did that really just happen?’”

Even with all their ringing experience, it can still be challenging to turn in a top-notch performance. Ringer Laura Weiss says, “I enjoy playing music in RAH that makes my brain work a little harder. It’s rewarding to hear a piece come together after months of rehearsing, knowing it’s a result of each ringer’s dedication. We are all talented ringers, yet there’s no feeling of competition or judgment among members. We genuinely enjoy and care about making beautiful music, especially creating music together.”

Now in its second year, RAH is expanding its repertoire with a full new set of pieces and putting an emphasis on production and showmanship—bells are a visual experience just as much as an auditory one. The fall/winter season will include a number of shows centered on a “Colors of Christmas” theme, with music ranging from “Greensleeves” to “Blue Christmas.” The season culminates with a free concert at the Rochester Public Library December 9. There’s really nothing like timeless favorites played by a set of handbells to set the tone for the holiday season.

Visit rochesterareahandbells.org for more dates and times. All are welcome, and attendees are encouraged to ask questions and give the bells a try after the show. Come ring in the holidays with us!


Jen Jacobson is a writer, editor and proud founding member of Rochester Area Handbells.