Sandhills Ringers putting ‘game face’ on

 

By Kevin Spradlin
PeeDeePost.com

ROCKINGHAM — Deep down, the members of the Sandhills Ringers are having fun.

Only one might have to squint to discern such an emotion. Or simply wait until a break in the action. On a recent Sunday afternoon practice in a First Baptist Church classroom, director Judy Harris carefully guided 13 handbell players through the group’s weekly practice.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com From left to right, Mary Catherine Moree, Anna Moseley and Judy Harrelson.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
From left to right, Mary Catherine Moree, Anna Moseley and Judy Harrelson.

This time was different, though. There was only a week left until the performance, which is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. at First Baptist Church on North Randolph Street in Rockingham. Admission is free and the event is open to the public.

There was a lot riding on this last run-through of 10 songs, numbers which range from holiday-oriented to classical to patriotic, and maybe a show tune or two thrown in for good measure. After all, the group has been practicing for at least 90 minutes almost every Sunday afternoon since February. Combined, the Sandhills Ringers has more than 700 hours invested in this single performance.

Collectively and figuratively, each member is holding his or her breath.

Harris referred to it as getting their “game face” on.

“When you start getting closer to concert time, I guess it’s like sports,” Harris said. “This is not fooling around. We have got to be on target. The whole demeanor changes. Typically, they do rise to the occasion.”

Harris doesn’t run a military-like environment. In fact, she’s hopeful the members remember it is supposed to be fun.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Dr. John Stevenson handles six bells as well as chimes. Some members manage even more, changing midstream during a particular number.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Dr. John Stevenson handles six bells as well as chimes. Some members manage even more, changing midstream during a particular number.

“Early on, when we’re trying to select music … it’s very much more lighthearted,” Harris said. “I don’t want everything to be so serious that it’s not fun to come to rehearsal.

A week out, the final Sunday afternoon practice is full of tension, concerned looks and embarrassing moments in the rare gaffe.

 

The group finishes off a second effort of “God Bless America,” and Harris said group members should be “all smiles” because the number signals the halfway point.

There’s another way to look at it, said bass handbell player Matt Harrelson.

“I just realized we’re only halfway,” he quipped.

Harris said it all comes together on stage.

“After the first song or two, they kind of loosen up” and let the training take over, Harris said.

Sandhills Ringers include Caroline Goodwin, Jon Marks, Mary Catherine Moree, Anna Mosely, Judy Harrelson, Starla Wilson, Peggy Harris, Dr. Sue Stevenson, Mary McDonald, Chris Larsen, Dr. John Stevenson, Abram Buckner and Matt Harrelson. Marks is the only newcomer to the group. Wilson, meanwhile, is rejoining the group after a three-year hiatus.

Wilsons said Harris reached out to  her a month ago. Learning 10 new songs on a series of bells she’d never played before — she’s playing treble bells now and was formerly on bass bells. Was it possible?

Wilson said she’s 90 percent ready, and joked there’s that “10 percent we may not get.”

Wilson said she began playing handbells while living in Boone in 1988. As a teacher at the alternative school, she continues to play because “it’s a good release.”

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com The Sandhills Ringers will perform at 4 p.m. Sunday at First Baptist Church in Rockingham under the direction of Judy Harris.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
The Sandhills Ringers will perform at 4 p.m. Sunday at First Baptist Church in Rockingham under the direction of Judy Harris.

Harris said part of the handbell ministry is to educate the public about their use and to reach out to others, young and old, to encourage and inspire others to take up the task. The group performs a variety of songs to reach a wide range of people.

“We try to expose the public to the fact that bells are not just church, bells are not just Christmas,” Harris said.

Over the course of the past three years, the group has tried to include a show tune, or a Disney number like last year’s “Under the Sea” from The Little Mermaid and “Phantom of the Opera.”

Those types of songs are “very difficult, very rhythmical,” Harris said. “They are far more challenging than the average Joe on the street realizes. You’re trying to imitate a whole orchestra, and that’s hard to do.”

The all-volunteer group encounters some expenses along the way — buying music, mallets, shirts, the cost of white gloves to keep the bells clean and the occasional replacement of a bell or chime. To that end, “we would love to have sponsors,” Harris said.

“We are a completely volunteer group. None of us are paid. We do this just because we love it.”

If a local business is interested in supporting the group, please contact Harris by email at sandhillsringers@hotmail.com or through the group’s Facebook page.

Filed in: Featured News, Latest Headlines, News, Religion, Rockingham

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