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Handbell Choir to host reunion concert

| Friday, April 20, 2018

To commemorate its 30th anniversary, the Notre Dame Handbell Choir will host an ensemble concert Saturday at 8 p.m. in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. The concert is free and open to all.

Sophomore Katherine Fugate, vice president of the handbell choir, said the group was first founded in 1988 when Campus Ministry purchased a small set of handbells.

“Over the years, we’ve really tried to expand,” she said.

Photo courtesy of Edit Varga
Students in the Notre Dame Handbell Choir pose for a photo in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart.

Today, the choir features over five octaves of handbells and two groups of performers, the higher-level Bronze ensemble and the beginners’ Copper ensemble, she said.

Karen Schneider-Kirner, director of the handbell choir, said the group primarily performs liturgical music for on-campus religious services, including at the 11:45 a.m. Basilica mass, the Sunday night Vespers and the vigil masses.

The group also goes on tour once a semester, she said.

In addition to celebrating the choir’s 30th anniversary, Fugate said the concert will also commemorate Schneider-Kirner’s 20th year directing the ensembles. She said several alumni will be returning to perform.

“People who have rang with us within the last 30 years are also going to be able to get to ring some favorites for the concert,” she said.

Schneider-Kirner said the concert will include mainly sacred music but also a piece of her own composition entitled “Ring Out Your Joy.”

“Another, more proper church piece that we’re playing is an arrangement of a Palestrina song, who was an early Catholic composer,” Fugate said.

Freshman Brittany Cahill, who plays in the Coppers ensemble, said she enjoys performing in the choir because of the unique tone of handbell music.

“I love the way it sounds,” she said.

Schneider-Kirner said handbell performance employs several techniques that go beyond traditional bell-ringing.

“A lot of the pieces sort of highlight the percussive nature of handbells,” Schneider-Kirner said. “Often you play them with mallets [or] by thumping them into the table.”

She said that many of the more advanced pieces to be featured demand considerable coordination, some even requiring four bells in-hand.

“It shows how talented [the performers] are, to be able to keep all the bells straight,” she said.

Schneider-Kirner said the concert will include several guest performers for additional vocal and instrumental accompaniment.

“We have some vocalists from the folk choir, [and] organist Patrick Kronner will be joining us,” she said. “We’ll also have a group of singers who’ll highlight some of the hymn tunes that our other pieces are based on.”

The handbells, vocalists and instrumentalists blend well together, she said, and work to complement one another musically.

“The diversity of handbells can be combined beautifully with all different types of instruments,” she said.

Schneider-Kirner said she hopes the concert helps acquaint students with the handbell choir and the musical opportunities the group offers.

“We want to let students know that we’re out there,” she said.

Cahill said she looks forward to hearing the efforts of the ensembles, vocalists and instrumentalists come together.

“I hope that people just have a very peaceful experience,” she said. “It’s just this unexpected joy when you hear [the bells].”

Schneider-Kirner said playing handbells is “very uplifting.”

“We always want to use our music to draw people closer to God, but also just to offer a really beautiful, spirited evening of song,” she said.


About Mary Steurer

Mary is a senior sociology major and journalism minor from St. Louis. An aspiring religion reporter, Mary has spent the last year covering conversations about the Catholic Church sex abuse crisis at Notre Dame.

Contact Mary