The Slatersville Congregational Handbell Choir has had a busy musical year! In its second full season post-covid, we have been very active in the church’s ministry. Our group has a full complement of players, filling out 3 octaves of bells (and occasionally hand chimes!). About half of our players are new to the art of bell ringing, but they have come to the tables ready to give it a
try, demonstrating an enthusiasm and motivation to learn, improving every week!

Our goal was to perform monthly during service which we have done, including extra music during holidays. We have collaborated with the Senior Choir, violinist Jessica Calarese, and Rev. Yeo, and we played our first “gig” at Milford High School’s Spring Concert in May!

Handbell musicians belong to a national organization called “Handbell Musicians of America.” ( Its motto is: “Uniting people through a musical art,” and includes  over 5,000 member ensembles and individuals, including both religious and community-based ensembles. The organization is divided into 12 “areas” throughout the United States. We are in “Area 1” because American handbells started in New England! Margaret (Nichols) Shurcliff is considered to be the “Mother of American Handbell Ringing.” Hailing from Boston, MA, “Margaret was passionate about quite a few things: tennis, teaching inner city children, women’s suffrage, and bell ringing.” ( In the early 1900s, after returning from a trip to England, where handbell ringing originated, she started the Beacon Hill Ringers in Boston. Handbell ringing became more and more popular throughout New England and eventually the country. In 1937, she began the New England Guild of Handbell Ringers, followed by the American Guild of English Handbell Ringers in 1954, which is now known as Handbell Musicians of America today. Margaret’s family home is now the Nichols House Museum, which one can visit in Boston!

During the last weekend of June, Sally, Martha, Margaret, April and myself ventured to Worcester State University to participate in the Handbell Musicians of America, Area 1 Festival Conference  from June 23-25th. This was an opportunity to take workshops and classes to learn specific ringing techniques, music theory concepts, and history of handbells, to name a few. The conference was filled with showcase concerts, rehearsals, roundtable discussions, and social time. We rehearsed handbell pieces with hundreds of other ringers from around New England all in one place!

Our handbell choir rang with a group called “Tins” which is geared toward choirs that are at the beginning stages of their ringing careers. The other two tiers were “Coppers” (medium level ringers) and “Bronze” (experienced ringers). We also rang with the entire group of 300 or so participants in the “Massed Ringing.” The conference culminated in a final concert on Sunday, June 25, that was open to the public. April said about the conference: “I am just so glad that I was able to go. Even though at the beginning of the conference I felt overwhelmed, I walked away with a sense of wanting to just be better at ringing bells.” We felt that the weekend was educational, challenging, tiring, rewarding, and motivational, all at the same time! Our members said they had a great time and will return to the next one. Martha said, “As we started ringing at the first practice I thought ‘I’m in way over my head.’ But by the final concert I felt like I could hold my own on at least some of the pieces we played. That was a huge accomplishment.” And Sally stated, “The biggest thing I learned this weekend is there’s so much more to learn!” We plan to attend more workshops and conferences in the future and hope more of our members will join us.

Motivated by this conference and our enthusiastic ringers, I am so excited for the future of our handbell choir! We have some great ideas and music planned for the year ahead. We are going to continue to improve our skills, confidence, and musicianship. As Margaret said, “The conference inspired me to take my bell-ringing to the next level.” I’m so proud to direct this group and feel fortunate to have been given this opportunity. I look forward to expanding our handbell choir and hope YOU may consider joining us in the near future!