As rehearsal begins, everybody in the room taps their feet as they read the sheet music spread before them. Instead of raising traditional instruments to perform, however, all the musicians begin the piece playing hand chimes in unison.
The bell enthusiasts are part of IC Bell People, a group started last year by then freshmen Beth Montroy and Beth Faulstick that has grown to include two sections. Montroy and Faulstick said they wanted to create an organization open to anyone who had an interest in music and playing bells.
View an audio slideshow of students playing in IC Bell People Both Montroy and Faulstick have experience with hand bells. Montroy’s mother was a bell choir director, and Faulstick played in bell choirs throughout her youth. After coming to Ithaca, Montroy and Faulstick set out separately to find bell choirs in the Ithaca area. When the pair met, they decided to start a hand bell group on campus.
“There is no experience required to join,” Montroy said. “We wanted to appeal to the whole campus. You don’t even have to be able to read music.”
The only requirements for the group is an appreciation for music, enthusiasm and a desire to reach out to the community.
Freshman Daniel Brownell has been playing chimes and hand bells for years, but said the group gives him a new opportunity to enjoy music.
“[IC Bell People] provides a different kind of musical experience,” Brownell said. “There are so many ways to use [the hand chimes], and I love manipulating them to create different sounds.”
Faulstick said if notes don’t sound right, arrangements can be altered until everything sounds cohesive and fits the taste of the group.
“It’s a unique experience,” Brownell said. “It’s been so much fun.”
The group has 22 ringers and two conductors. Faulstick said the group cannot afford actual bells, so they rely on Shulmerich MelodyChimes instead. These differ from hand bells in material, technique and sound, but serve as an adequate substitute.
“Chimes are a great stepping stone to handbells because the technique is similar and it gets one used to ringing as part of a choir ,” Faulstick said. “Not to mention you don’t need the extra equipment necessary for bells.”
Faulstick said the choir is essentially one instrument so different types of chimes are not necessary. She said what makes hand bell music unique is its ability to have thick, luscious harmonies a person would not be able to achieve with other instruments.
“We have in our repertoire everything from Stravinsky’s Firebird to Phantom of the Opera to Joshua Fit,” Faulstick said. “Also, we fully intend to compose and arrange a lot of our own music.”
IC Bell People rehearsals are informal, but effective. Rehearsals are more like conversations than lectures, as there is open dialogue between the student conductors, junior Justin Falvo and sophomore Beth Faulstick, and the bell players. Bell players frequently change positions, swapping notes and trying their hands — literally — at new positions in the choir.
Though the rehearsals are casual, missing a rehearsal without informing Montroy or Faulstick is a serious offense. Faulstick said she stresses the importance of attendance because if one or two people are missing, it’s very hard to create the right sound.
“It’s all about working together and communicating with each other,“ Brown said.
Freshman Andrew Whitson said being a part of the IC Bell People is helping him grow as a music major.
“I really enjoy being a part of an ensemble that has such a diverse group of people who are all interested in making beautiful music,” he said.
Though the group has yet to hold a public performance, Montroy said IC Bell People hopes to perform at retirement communities and other venues in Ithaca.
“Our goal as an organization is to reach out to the community,” Montroy said.
Though IC Bell People has a dedicated group of performers, the organization is always looking for new members.
“There was a lot of interest right off the bat when we talked to people on campus,” Montroy said. “There are good things ahead.”