The Wesley Bell Ringers from Salt Lake City, Utah, leave on June 13th for a nearly two week concert tour that will take them from Utah all the way to New York. Bryce and I recently had a chance to watch a dress rehearsal of their ambitious concert.
The first thing that strikes you about the Wesley Ringers is their size. Comprised of over 30 high school students, they bring a small army of talent to the stage every time they perform. But don’t let their size intimidate you. The concert started with the ringers surrounding the audience performing “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee” and I felt like I was in the audience from Sister Act (the movie staring Whoopi Goldberg) not only because of the song choice, but because I knew I was hearing something unique. With a group of this size they easily swelled to impressively loud dynamics. But even more impressive were the moments when the group dropped their dynamics down to a whisper, causing the audience to physically lean forward in their seats.
Founded in 1963, the Wesley Bell Ringers have had thousands of kids cycle through their group. There are so many alumni associated with the group that for their 50th anniversary concert this June they had to rent out an 1800 seat auditorium to accommodate everyone. Groups that have been performing as long as they have tend to accumulate instruments through the years, and there are several different sets of bells mixed into the group to give them a very distinct sound. The best way to describe the Wesley Ringers sound is to relate them to the Raleigh Ringers, but the Wesley Ringers have been performing for far longer.
As the concert progressed they performed a great mix of recognizable music (like a medley from Jesus Christ, Superstar and Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”), with several original bell pieces mixed in to show off the group’s unique sound (including a piece by Matt Compton written specifically for the group). With a group as large and young as the Wesley Ringers there were some technical mistakes here and there, but none of that mattered when the group pulled out all the stops. You could feel the energy the ringers were putting into the bells. They also performed the most interesting version of Noah and the Ark I have ever heard, made even better by an enthusiastic narrator with just the right mix of entertainment and energy.
Terry Waite, the Wesley Ringer’s current director, has been with the group for 17 years. You can immediately tell his passion for the group just from talking with him. What struck me most when he was describing his ringers to us was the fact that the Wesley Ringers are a non-auditioned community group who take any high school student who wants to ring. Many of the ringers have little to no musical experience before they start with the group, but from my seat in the audience I would have never known.
Nothing about the Wesley Bell Ringers is small, including the fund raising behind the group. For this concert tour they raised over $68,000 from the community through a combination of rummage sales and pancake breakfasts. As the rehearsal drew to a close, some of the ringers started calling out names, organizing their fellow ringers into groups to sort rummage that weekend.
If you ever get the chance, I would highly recommend checking out a Wesley Bell Ringer performance. They also keep a blog about their tours, which can be found here. Below are the dates for their summer concert tour. Check their website for updated information.
Searching for a Host Church
United Methodist Church of Kent
1435 E. Main
St. Peters Lutheran Church
1239 Clover Mill Rd.
338 Walnut Tree Hill Rd.
Cressey Road UMC
81 Cressey Road
Friday June 21 – West Rutland, VT
St. Bridget’s Church
28 Church St.
Saturday June 22 – Chelmsford, MA
242 Boston Rd.
Sunday June 23 – Duxbury, MA
The Pilgrim Church of Duxbury
United Church of Christ
404 Washington St.
Monday June 24 – Sea Cliff, NY
Sea Cliff UMC
Carpenter and Downing Avenues