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Wakefield Memorial Bell Choir becomes a ringing success

Special to the Union Leader

May 28. 2014 9:57PM

WAKEFIELD — Worshippers at the First Congregational Church of Wakefield are treated monthly and on special religious occasions to the heavenly sounds of the Wakefield Memorial Bell Choir.

The choir, comprised of about a dozen regular ringers, creates music not with voice, but with authentic Schulmerich-brand English handbells and chimes.

Choir director Janice Stanley said the bell choir celebrated its 25th anniversary last year. Today, three out of the original eight ringers still perform — Cathy Koukal, Patricia Golden and Lynn Watts — and Stanley, who still directs.

Stanley said former church pastor Rick Russell and his wife, Jennifer, created the bell choir as a musical outlet for people who couldn’t sing. Church leaders organized a potluck gathering to get interested ringers together to try out the bells and soon after, the church voted to purchase its two original octaves of bells.

“At the time I thought it was a good idea but I had no idea I was going to get as involved as I had,” she said. “They got the bells, but they needed a director.”

Stanley, who retired as the Paul School’s nurse, has always been musically inclined: she plays piano. She was asked if she’d be interested in directing the choir, and said yes.

“I wasn’t sure it would be my calling, or not, but it has been my calling,” she said.

Currently, the choir uses almost four octaves of handbells, and a set of hand chimes, donated in the name of Charles E. Fogg. Each bell rings a note on the scale.

Some ringers play four bells in hand and one ringer plays eight bells — not all at once. With space tight in the church’s performing area, Stanley said the choir is not likely to expand with more bells.

Stanley said the choir has a core group of about 10 or 12 ringers, but is seeking new talent as existing members retire or take on other responsibilities and move on.

The choir practices Sunday at the church from 6 to 7:30 p.m., and ring one Sunday service per month and on special occasions like Christmas, Christmas Eve, Easter, Palm Sunday, and weddings and funerals upon request.

Ringers should be able to read music and have a healthy range of motion in their wrists and arms. Since the bell choir was established for those who can’t sing, ringers are not current members of the church singing choir.

“This is a group for people who love music, and want to be involved with music, but who can’t carry a tune,” she said.

The First Congregational Church of Wakefield is located at 2718 Wakefield Road.

For more information, call the church at 522-3189 or visit

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