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Annual Spring Ring - A Food Pantry Benefit Concert
Spring Ring began in 2007 with three participating Presbyterian parishes, Bridgehampton, East Hampton and Southampton. They had received word that one of the churches devastated by hurricane Katrina had lost their set of handbells and they chose to designate that church as the recipient of the proceeds of the concert. Unfortunately, that donation was never acknowledged and none of the participating churches have ever heard from the Louisiana church. Learning from that experience, they considered a local designation the following year. Two of the directors worked in their local community food pantries and a worthwhile plan was formed so that the food pantries would be the beneficiaries of the proceeds from the concerts. Over the years the fourth parish, Sag Harbor's Old Whalers' Presbyterian Church, joined in the program and became the home of that village's food pantry as well.
The directors have devised a plan whereby each of the choirs present three of their own selections and then each director selects one piece (usually not more complicated than level 2+) for all four choirs to play together. This mixes up the energy level in the program. Those group rings are prepared in advance by each choir, with the directors sometimes visiting the other choirs and directing "their" selection. This works especially well when the director is subbing in a missing ringer’s position for a rehearsal.
The night before the program, all gather at that year’s venue to set up and dress the tables and lay out the bells. They have dinner together and after dinner, rehearse the group selections for approximately an hour. If a director’s hands aren't busy, they fill in the spaces where holes remain from shared ringers (two of the choirs “share” 3 or 4 ringers).
On concert day, each choir has a specified time in which to practice their selections and become accustomed to the acoustics of an unfamiliar space. Two hours before the program begins, all gather and run the entire program as a dress rehearsal. After that, all that’s left is to change clothes and await the audience.
The program generally opens and closes with the bell choirs playing en masse, then each of the choirs play their individual pieces. Musical selections range from sacred to secular but most are sacred. With limited rehearsal time, directors might choose one secular number and focus the majority of their ringers’ time and attention on selections that are appropriate for both worship and the concert. Some of the secular numbers that have proven to be very popular include a setting of the theme from Pirates of the Caribbean, blues tunes, a Beatles medley, ragtime and patriotic selections.
Approximately half way through the concert, a free-will offering is gathered. The ringers usually relax during that time, allowing other musicians to contribute to the concert. Past Spring Rings have featured organ selections based on a bell tune (i.e. “Carillon de Westminster” or “Bell Symphony”) or an instrumentalist with organ or piano accompaniment. One year, one of the ringers, who was also a trumpet student, played “Fantasie and Variations on the Carnival of Venice” on the trumpet for the offertory. Sometimes, in place of an instrumental offertory, one of the participants explains the needs that the pantries have; other times, they may talk about bell music in general or a specific ringing technique in particular.
With sixteen pieces of music and the offertory time, Spring Ring concerts last around seventy minutes.
The admission “price” for the Spring Ring is non-perishable food items. Attendees also have the opportunity to make monetary donations if they wish. Past Spring Rings have garnered a range of fifteen to twenty bags of groceries and slightly less than $2000.00 in monetary donations.
But the local food pantries and the community members that the food pantries assist aren’t the only ones to gain resources from the Spring Ring; the handbell community itself also reaps benefits. Before this event began, two of the directors had known each other since high school and all four directors had musical contact through a local community chorus. The four parishes are all within 9 miles of each other and all have a wonderfully rich history dating back to colonial times. Music has played an important role in each church’s life from their beginnings. Through the Spring Ring, that musical bond has been strengthened, forming a “family” of 35-40 ringers. The ringers will often fill in for each other when a substitute is needed or they will help with a wedding or funeral when bell music is requested.
So if any of you are looking for a great way to encourage a cooperative effort among local handbell choirs to benefit your communities, perhaps the Spring Ring will inspire you start a benefit concert in your own area.