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Meet the Choir: West Michigan Homeschool Fine Arts
Rick Wiltse is a very busy man on Wednesdays. He spends all day teaching handbells and handchimes to four separate choirs at West Michigan Homeschool Fine Arts. WMHFA is a non-profit organization that offers music education to home school students at campuses in both Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids, Michigan. In addition to handbells, they also offer band, choir, orchestra, and color guard classes as well as some niche ensembles like fiddling, drum line, and recorders. (Find out more at www.wmhfa.org)
Rick directs four choirs with around 45 total musicians that share a little more than four octaves of both Malmark choirchimes and handbells. The Junior Chimes are 7-10 year olds with very limited experience. This group focuses on music reading skills and musicianship as well as preparing young ringers for moving up to ringing handbells. The Junior Handbells choir is for 9-13 year olds who can already read music; this intermediate class teaches basic techniques and introduces students to a more challenging level of music. Senior Handbells is for 11-19 year old students with strong music reading and rhythmic skills. They learn more advanced ringing techniques and ring some more difficult titles. The Aurora Handbell Choir is the premier handbell choir at WMHFA. It is open to students who are strong musicians between the ages of 14 and 19. They use advanced handbell techniques and perform a wide variety of challenging music.
The first half of the year is spent preparing for their annual Christmas concert. Each of the approximately 25 groups that make up WMHFA prepares and performs one piece at the concert. During the second half of the year the handbell choirs prepare a larger repertoire, as their Spring Concert consists of performances from just the choral and handbell groups. Rick has also included students from other ensembles, like percussionists and woodwind players, to give more depth to his handbell choirs' performances. The WMHFA ensembles have also had the opportunity to ring in the community at local churches and at Clark on Keller Lake, a local retirement community.
One of the most exciting performances Rick and his choirs have been involved in was a performance with the Grand Rapids Opera of Benjamin Britten's Noye's Fludde (or Noah's Flood). The one act opera uses a large cast of child performers and musicians backed up by a few professional actors and musicians. Handbells are incorporated at the end of the opera as the Rainbow unfurls across the stage. You can catch some behind the scene videos of costume design and the Rainbow's construction on the Grand Rapids Opera's YouTube page.
We wish these talented student musicians (and Rick) happy ringing as they start their new year. If you're in the area, be sure to look into their Christmas performance at 7PM December 17th at Sunshine Church. It's sure to be a very interesting evening of a lot of varied performances. Find them on Facebook and at their website www.wmhfa.org.