Members of Kodiak’s local handbell choir are putting Kodiak and Alaska on the map these days. Two members of the Isle Bells recently returned from ringing in a regional all star choir in Oregon.
Ella Saltonstall is the artistic director for the Isle Bells and attended a national handbell seminar with the group’s treasurer, Theresa Miller, last year. From there, the two auditioned for and were selected to perform with the regional group.
“So to have two Alaskans be part of this regional all star choir was exciting because it put Alaska on the map. There was only 13 of us and we were a significant chunk of that group.”
Saltonstall said she and Miller only had eight hours to practice with the regional group and the experience was overwhelming and intense, but also rewarding.
“It definitely, like I said, taking us out of our comfort zones. I for instance play some of the bigger bells, I love the base bells. And I learned some things about what those bells are capable of that I probably wouldn’t have experienced for quite a bit longer. So that was valuable. So now I have new things that I can do with our own base bells.”
Saltonstall helped form the Isle Bells about three years ago with a handful of women that actually rang together 20 years prior to that under the directorship of Susan Oliver.
Saltonstall said handbells have been a lifelong passion of hers, and she was able to purchase a set of bells using money her father left her. She helped form a bell choir in Maine, which ultimately helped her decided to reunite the Kodiak group.
“So I knew about ringing I knew about the logisitics of starting a choir but I didn’t know anything about conducting, I didn’t really want to conduct. But I brought the bells and I thought shoot, I’m going to have to conduct. And fortunately everyone had really great spirits about ringing under someone that had never done this before. Because I loved hand bells, I loved the music, I loved the fellowship but I didn’t know if I would love conducting.”
Miller said the group that played together 20 years ago would play here and there over the years, but they didn’t become the Isle Bells until Saltonstall moved back in 2011.
Miller, who has been playing hand bells with some of the women since she was 11-years-old, said the bells range in size and can sometimes weigh up to 10 pounds. She said each bell requires a certain amount of technique.
“Depending on the size of the bell you’re ringing, whether you ring through your wrist or you use your arm, and there’s different styles of ringing.”
As far as music goes, Miller said there really aren’t many songs that don’t have hand bell arrangements, so the group has lots of choices when deciding what to practice or perform.
Isle Bells averages about 13 members and is always looking for folks to join. You don’t have to be woman to join, and Saltonstall said a male ringer will actually join the group this fall. The only requirements are that those interested are committed to the group’s weekly two hour practices and have an ability to read music.
Isle Bells will host a Sum’ Arts for kids bell camp the first week of August for students in 6th grade or higher. You can learn more about that and register by visiting kodiakartscouncil.org .
Tune in to Tuesday’s Talk of the Rock to hear the full interview with Saltonstall and Miller. Listen to 100.1 FM at 12:30 p.m., or stream us online at kmxt.org .