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  • 24 Oct 2014

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That RING THING

Carolyn Snyder has led handbell choir since 1978


Carolyn “Coi” Snyder frequently experiences a ringing in her ears.

Thankfully, it’s not an inner ear problem. It’s the pitch-perfect tones of her handbell choir at the First Congregational United Church of Christ in downtown Hillsboro.

Snyder, 75, was recently honored for her 35 years of service as the director of the church’s handbell choir.

The story began in 1978, when members of the church’s youth group expressed interest in forming a handbell choir. The group raised enough money to buy a two-octave set of handbells for the church. The set, Snyder said, “came with two notebooks of instructions.”

Snyder was a member of the church’s choir at the time and decided she would take on the challenge of directing the handbell choir. “I didn’t know anything about bells,” she recalled. But she was willing to learn. by: HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: KATHY FULLER - Members of Carolyn Snyders family, including her three granddaughters (front row), play and sing during a recent workshop she held at UCC in downtown Hillsboro.

Armed with her notebooks full of instructions and some musical background, she went about the work of learning the handbells right alongside her fellow players. And thus set off on an adventure that has lasted three-and-a-half decades.

The bells arrived at the church in October of 1978. On Nov. 1, Snyder and her choir performed their first song, “Jacob’s Ladder,” during the Sunday church service.

“The bell choir brings so much to the worship we share,” said the UCC’s pastor, Rev. Diane Dulin. The choir performs about once a month during church services, and more often at Christmas and Easter, Dulin said.

Through the years, the choir has been through several name iterations, including the Praise Ringers, the Dapper Clappers and now, the Celestial Ringers.

The group consists of 8 to 11 members at any given time and practices every Wednesday evening.

Snyder has always welcomed all ages to participate. “It’s always been intergenerational,” Snyder said. There’s so much interest among the younger set that the UCC has a children’s chime/bell choir of children under the age of 10, the Joy Ringers, under the direction of Ellen Green.

Snyder currently has two teenage members in her group, as well as several long-time ringers.

Kristine

Peterson has played for 15 years.

And learning and playing right alongside Snyder for the last three and a half decades is her brother, Butch Wilcox.

Wilcox is the group’s self-taught bell mechanic. The bells need to be adjusted occasionally, and have special hinged clappers that sometimes need repair or replacement. Wilcox does it all and has begun to train some of the teens in the bell choir to do the same. “We’ve always done it ourselves,” Snyder said of the maintenance, which includes careful polishing to maintain the pristine shine and the tone of each bell.

With the addition of two more octaves of bells, Wilcox’s work has increased, as has the ability of the choir to add depth and difficulty to their musical selections.by: HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: KATHY FULLER - Carolyn Snyder uses a wooden dowel to make a handbell sing. Snyder has directed the handbell choir at First Congregational United Church of Christ in Hillsboro for 35 years.

It’s been a family affair through the years, Snyder said. Her mother played in the bell choir for 21 years and her four now-grown children played at various times throughout the years.

And what did Snyder do to mark her 35 years as director? She put on a workshop, of course, open to all who wanted to get their (carefully gloved) hands on a bell or two and give it a go.

Snyder’s crash course after church services attracted about 30 ringers, young and old, including four of her grandchildren.

She has no plans to stop directing. The energetic Snyder enjoys the camaraderie of the group. “It’s a nice group of people,” Snyder said. “And there’s always more to learn.” She claims her bell ringers know more about playing the handbells than she does.

Dulin says Snyder is “a great person to work with. Her teaching has been a big part of many people’s musical training. She inspires (her players) to learn challenging pieces.”

Snyder and some of her players attend special workshops to learn more skills. They’ve traveled to various events sponsored by the Handbell Musicians of America, the national guild that promotes handbell music — including a national convention in Portland last July.

“It’s hard to imagine that when I started I’d still be doing this,” Snyder said, reflecting on her tenure as director.

But 35 years later, Snyder is still at it, happily helping fellow parishoners ring music into the ears and hearts of all who listen.