The Examiner

Pleasantville Church’s Handbell Choir Rings in Holiday Season

We are part of The Trust Project
The middle school/high school members of Emanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church's handbell choir in Pleasantville.
The middle school/high school members of Emanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church’s handbell choir in Pleasantville.

It’s difficult not to sit up and take notice when a handbell choir is performing at a church or any other venue.

While technology can recreate the sound of almost any instrument, nothing is quite the same as hearing a dozen or more live ringers playing in a four- or five-octave range, whether it’s performing Christmas carols, church music during a service or any other type of selection.

For more than 35 years, the Emanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church in Pleasantville has been one of the local churches in the area that has had its own groups of ringers play during holidays and special occasions.

“I think it brings a different dimension,” said Eiko Cornelius, director of the Emanuel Ringers for about 15 years. “The bells bring a different dimension to the music.”

On Sunday, the choir teamed up once again with the Katonah Celebration Ringers from the First Presbyterian Church of Katonah to present the 26th annual Handbell Benefit Concert. The concert, held this year at the Manville Road church, featured Christmas music but also raised money to benefit the Schoharie Area Long Term, this year’s beneficiary. The organization is helping to help residents who were ravaged by Hurricane Irene in 2011 in the upstate county. Many parts of that region have yet to fully recover.

For those who missed the concert, the Emanuel Ringers will return for the church’s Christmas Eve service.

Emanuel Lutheran currently has between 35 and 40 players in three separate groups spanning different age ranges. There is one group for elementary school-age children, another for middle school and high school students and an adult choir. They take turns performing at designated services throughout the year.

Last week, Cornelius, who started playing the handbells in fourth grade, put the dozen members of the middle school/high school group through their weekly two-hour rehearsal. That’s a significant commitment for students who have plenty of schoolwork and other interests but most are happy to be there.

Many of the students spoke of how much they love the sound and the camaraderie of a group where some members enjoy being able to play a somewhat obscure instrument.

“I love playing the bells because I love the sound of it,” said Byram Hills High School freshman Mio Shimizu, who started in fifth grade when she attended Convent of the Sacred Heart. “I also play the flute and piano so I love the music. Some songs are very slow, very quiet. Others are very hyper and very strong.”

While virtually all the ringers have some musical background, which comes in handy, it is not a requirement, they said. Some were attracted to playing by friends or an older sibling, others while attending services. A ringer does not have to be a parishioner at Emanuel Lutheran to play, Cornelius said.

Benjamin Feinstein, an Ossining 10th-grader, said he started at about the time that he took up the baritone horn in school and was taking piano lessons. He didn’t have enough time to continue with the piano but he calls playing the handbells “tremendously satisfying.”

“I was able to read the music from those past experiences and it just sounded really cool–and it was fun to play,” said Feinstein, who plays some of the group’s bigger bells.

Watching Feinstein play on a regular basis was his younger brother, Caleb, now a seventh-grader. He said Cornelius asked him if he wanted to join and he has been with it ever since.

“People like the sound and stuff and I think it seems like anybody can play it,” said Feinstein, who also plays the saxophone. “You can get really good so it’s not like the kind of instrument where you have to have this creative type of person to play.”

In addition to the holiday and monthly services, there is a an international festival during the summer for the older school group and a festival in Rockland County for the adult choir.

Cornelius said she notices that for the services featuring one of the choirs, there is an almost festive mood in the church, she tells her players.

“People are touched by what you play,” she said.



We'd love for you to support our work by joining as a free, partial access subscriber, or by registering as a full access member. Members get full access to all of our content, and receive a variety of bonus perks like free show tickets. Learn more here.