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Eng Family Ringers
How many directors out there can say that they have more than one member of a single family who ring together in their choir? In all likelihood, quite a few of you. It’s not unusual for a husband and wife, or a father and daughter, or even a grandmother and grandson to ring together in a group. Sometimes, the parents ring, one of their children reads music and that child is recruited to fill in for an absent ringer. That may be a one-time fill-in or the child may enjoy ringing so much that he or she continues with the choir. We have also seen small ensembles, from two to six ringers, that are made up of members from one family.
During the Christmas concert season that’s just in our rear-view mirror, we received a request from this month’s featured group asking that their concert schedule be posted on our events calendar. What caught our attention is that this group is comprised of 10 siblings ranging in age from 7 years old to 23 years old! We’ve always felt that ringing bells brings people together and creates a “family”, but here is a talented family who has taken that a step further. Following is our interview with the Eng Family Ringers.
How long has your group been active?
Our group was founded in November 2009 by the oldest 6 of 10 homeschooled siblings. We are and have always been self directing. While Sarah is the technical/musical director, she is also a ringer. At that time, the average age of our group members was 12 years old.
We began on 1 ½ octaves of colored-children’s bells similar to those seen in elementary school programs. In March 2011, we began playing on 2 octaves of chimes and in July 2012, we began playing on 2 octaves of handbells. In 2013 we added the 4 octave set of handbells. In 2015, besides adding more bells and chimes, we began adding conga and handheld percussion, keyboard and guitar. In 2016 we added flute. This year, in 2017, we added vocals, drums, cello and a sound system.
Where and how often do you practice?
We practice, on average, 7 hours a week, but historically up to 15 hours per week, in the living room of our home. We also have up to 4 pre-production sessions per season at local churches when we need additional space for staging and rehearsing with our sound system.
What type of bells do you use?
We ring a 5 octave set, another 4 octave set and triples of several bells. Our bells are a mix of both Malmark and Schulmerich bells. We also ring a 4 octave set plus a 3 octave set of Malmark chimes.
When and where do you perform?
We produce two performance seasons a year. One season runs from before Easter through May. The second season runs November 1 through Christmas. We average 20 performances a year. Each season, we perform at churches, retirement communities, and civic events.
For the past several years, we have played at the Bethel Baptist Church Christmas Music Fest, First Southern Baptist Church of Anaheim’s Christmas Eve service, St. Boniface Catholic Church’s annual Christmas Gaudete, and with the Buena Park Community Chorus. We also play a few times a year at Knott Avenue Christian Church, Crescent Baptist Church, and twice a year at Anaheim Christian Reformed Church’s Friendship services for the mobility and disability impaired.
We have played for local memorial services, parties, weddings, and other private and community events. We play free of charge and book first come, first considered. Our largest audience was at CareNet’s 2015 National Conference in San Diego in front of 1,300 attendees.
What are some favorite or noteworthy titles in your repertoire?
Most of our favorite songs that have become our big hits over the years are ones that are fast-paced and/or feature additional instruments. From our 2017 Christmas repertoire, we especially enjoyed “Bell Carol of the Kings” by Derek Hakes, Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride” by Martha Lynn Thompson, “The Little Drummer Boy” by Joel Raney, during which we played the drum part while proceeding down the aisle, and “Do You Hear What I Hear” by Tammy Waldrop, which included a flute section.
Other favorites are “Bwana Asifiwe” by Cathy Moklebust, a Swahili song that features maracas, a cowbell, and two congas, and “Joy and Elation” by Cynthia Dobrinski, which utilizes a flute part. We enjoy the hymns “Crown Him with Many Crowns” by Matthew Compton and “Blessed Assurance” by Cynthia Dobrinski. We also play more contemporary Christian songs such as “In Christ Alone” by Patricia Cota, which employees several different bell techniques, and “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us” by Peggy Bettcher, to which we added a vocal part and, as a surprise element for the audiences, performed the singing bell portion of the piece while walking down the aisle. We also love many Kevin McChesney pieces.
What else would you like to tell our readers about your group?
We are a family group consisting of 10 homeschooled siblings; 5 sisters and 5 brothers, ages 23 to 7 years old (with an average age of 16) and our parents. When we began in 2009, only the 2 oldest siblings could read music. We taught ourselves to play bells and read music using YouTube videos, books, online forums and websites, and watching other groups in concert. Currently, we play up to level 5 music with 5 octaves and just 8 ringers.
When we ring we don't actually have a director. We practice with a metronome, but during our performances someone counts off and after that we self-direct and just listen and look at each other. The oldest sibling doesn't ring on all of our programs; he helps with speaking parts and program planning as well as ringing for some of our more portable programs or the programs that require special music. The youngest, who is 7, doesn't ring yet, but everyone has a part; he played the drum this season with one of the older siblings as his guide.
Being a young group, we love the challenges of creating a new program. The Christmas Eve service required us to learn 8 new songs which were played with an orchestra. We enjoy learning new music, creating meaningful moments and adding unexpected elements to every show. For example, this season we added flute, cello and vocals and a tree decorating competition during our show and we are always adding new percussive sounds and surprises. We consider the rearranging time just as important to the totality of our show as the musical pieces. Within our family, we create our own programs, graphics and promotional materials as well as maintain our own web page and social media presence.
We specialize in taking handbell music and modifying it to fit our concerts. We often add percussion and keyboard parts to many of the songs. Our concerts have more of a “family show” feel to them rather than a concert feel. Since we have fewer ringers than most groups, almost all of us can four and six in hand. This skill allows us freedom to move away from our tables and play some of our selections from the midst of our audiences. Between pieces, family members each share poignant personal and family stories while the rest are setting up the next piece. We choreograph dynamic movements within our performances to add visual interest to each piece, using Tom Jackson’s Live Music Method book to help guide us in creating our unique shows.
We want to thank the Eng family for sharing their story and their talents with us and with you, our readers. To connect with them, please visit their website, follow them on Facebook and Instagram, or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org for additional information or to inquire about scheduling a performance.