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Featured Group: The Melmark Joybells
A little breathless, Sue Graves introduces herself on the phone, “Hi, it's Sue with the Joybells. I'm sorry I was away from my desk when you called.” Her breathlessness is par for the course; Melmark is a busy place. Melmark is a “comprehensive multi-service agency, providing residential, educational and therapeutic services for children and adults with autism, intellectual disabilities, brain injuries and other neurological and genetic diagnoses.” Sue has been directing handbells at Melmark for 24 years. Along with her assistant director Katie Parker, Sue keeps 3 different handbell choirs ringing year round. Each of the choirs has its own unique purpose. There is an enrichment choir open to any student; they play on 3 octaves of Suzuki Tonechimes. The Ringer-in-Training group is designed to develop potential substitutes and replacement ringers for the touring group, with the highest skill level, the Joybells.
What began as a simple activity for students developed, through more complex music, more handbells, and added direction, into the popular choir the Joybells are today. You have probably heard of the Joybells; they have been performing in Pennsylvania and beyond since the 1970s. They have two seasons during the year and spend a lot of each season traveling. Locally, they visit schools, retirement homes, churches, and larger venues. Further from home, the Joybells have toured the Atlantic Coast and the Midwest for weeks at a time. Most recently, you've probably heard of their performance on the 2014 Christmas Eve episode of the Today Show. Sue told me how their performance with the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia was the springboard for the Today Show spot. During their partnership with the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, the Joybells performed twice at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia and released a CD of their performance. Some of Sue's favorite other performances have been performing the National Anthem at a Phillies baseball game and at a Philadelphia Soul football game. They have also performed twice at the White House and at Pennsylvania Governor Dick Thornburgh's inauguration in 1979.
You don't get to where the Joybells are today without a lot of practice. They usually practice for two hours twice a week. However, if they are getting ready for their next season or a big show, they may step it up to all day practices. From nine thirty in the morning to three in the afternoon, these dedicated ringers put in the effort to make their performances as flawless as possible. They practice the twelve titles that make up their normal repertoire and ten special Christmas titles they keep for their Christmas programs every December. Currently they are hard at work preparing for the upcoming Music, Art and Film Festival hosted by the ARC of Delaware County on March 28th. If you are interested in learning more about the Joybells, their performance schedule, or purchasing their CD, please visit melmark.org.