About 20 years ago, school-age musicians delighted local audiences with the stirring, intricate dance of hand bell music at St. James the Fisherman Episcopal Church.
In 2011, nine of those girls and some new friends are reviving the art in Isle Bells, a community hand bell choir preparing for a November concert premiere.
“We have 13 ringers,” said Isle Bells director Ella Saltonstall. “That’s ideal for five octaves.”
The yoga teacher and mother of two learned to ring with the St. James group and has loved the sound ever since.
“They touch your spirit, touch your soul in a way no other instrument does,” she said.
Saltonstall decided to get serious after she heard a concert by several skilled bell choirs in Maine.
“I left there thinking, ‘I’ve got to do this,’” she said.
She and a friend put together a group in Maine, holding rehearsals in her cabin.
When Saltonstall moved back to Kodiak this summer, she brought the 14 cases containing 88 perfectly tuned bells and set about creating another group.
She found lots of fellow ringers from the old days who shared her vision of a top-notch community ensemble. The group practices every Tuesday in the Green Room under the Gerald C. Wilson Auditorium, setting up their shining instruments on 36 feet of padded tabletop.
To overcome one hurdle, Saltonstall had to give up her own place at the tables.
“I love to ring,” she said, but “it’s hard to find a conductor.”
Two years ago in Boston, she started training to lead a musical ensemble.
“I came here ready to try the art of conducting,” she said.
Baton in hand, Saltonstall steps into the shoes of Susan Oliver, who led the St. James group. Susan’s daughter Katie is one of the Isle Bells, fitting rehearsals into her schedule as a mother, local museum director and school board member.
“You know, you have to make time for recreational pursuits,” Katie Oliver said. “And playing music together feels great.”
Isle Bells ringer and treasurer Theresa Miller agrees the social atmosphere is a special bonus.
“It’s a fellowship of women that’s very supportive,” said Miller, a counselor with the Kodiak Island Borough School District. “We encourage each other musically and otherwise.”
Saltonstall said the ringers favor a repertoire including festive, familiar music to leave their listeners feeling happy. They have already scheduled their first concert, titled “Holiday Bells,” for Nov. 27 in the Gerald C. Wilson Auditorium. The program is under development, but it probably will include other local musical groups and possibly a sing-along, Saltonstall said.
The musicians’ first goal is to make a place for themselves in Kodiak’s arts community and attract an audience, Miller said. Further along, they would like to take their bells on the road to participate in bell choir events Outside.
“We’re thrilled so far and we’re just having a lot of fun with the music we’re making,” Saltonstall said.
To learn more, look up the Isle Bells group on Facebook.
Contact Mirror writer Drew Herman at email@example.com.