Two members of the Oliver Handbell Ringers are expanding their range, so to speak.
Nicole Thorp and Devin Riley have both been selected to join the Okanagan Handbell Chorus, an elite group of ringers cherry-picked for their talents, to accompany the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra.
Thorp’s ringing career began in 2007, as a charter member of Oliver Ringers, but her musical career began when she started piano lessons at eight years old and carried on to earn two separate music degrees in college.
She said it’s a very different experience playing with a handbell choir compared to an instrument like a piano.
“In an ensemble situation you may be responsible for 2 or 10 tones in the entire piece,” said Thorp. “You rely on body cues from other players and develop a real awareness of the entire group.”
Riley joined the Oliver Handbell ringers a little later, in 2010, a pivotal time in his life. Not only was this his graduation year from high school, it was also and when his piano lessons, which he stared in kindergarten, reached a high, completing his Grade 8 certificate in the Royal Conservatory of Music program.
“I find that handbells are deceptively complex. I might only have four bells in a piece, but once you add five or six different ringing techniques or hand chimes, it gets complicated in a hurry,” said Riley. “I don’t think I’ve ever been bored playing bells. Then there is the added challenge of making it appear easily done to the audience.”
The valley-wide Okanagan Handbell Chorus was organized in 2011 by ringer and director Nikki Atwell of Westbank and directed by Susan Carscadden-Mifsud, an Ontario ringer and director.
The valley-wide Okanagan Handbell Chorus came about in 2011 when Rosemary Thompson, music director of the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra, approached Westbank ringer and director Nikki Atwell to draw together musicians to produce high-quality handbell pieces to be incorporated with the symphony’s Christmas production.
Unlike regular choirs, Okanagan Handbell Chorus ringers study and rehearse their music individually. There are no weekly practices to slowly brush up on the material, and the group only gets together to ring as an ensemble two days prior to the performance. The week of performance can be gruelling both mentally and physically.
The Okanagan Handbell Chorus is performing with the Okanagan Symphony as part of their Christmas special concert, Ringing in the Season, with a matinee performance in Penticton at 2 p.m. on Dec. 23, and evening performances in Vernon on Dec. 21 and Kelowna on Dec. 22.
The Oliver Handbell Ringers are preparing for their own Christmas program One Winter’s Night, with performances in Oliver’s Christ the King Catholic Church on Dec. 15 at 7:30 p.m. and Dec. 17 at 3 p.m.