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December 06, 2016
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Let it be Christmas

The Wesley Bell Ringers are just one of a handful of bell choirs from Wayne County churches that will play during services this month.
Photo by Sue Graziadio

WAYNE COUNTY, PA — It’s December, and holiday music is filling the air throughout Wayne County, thanks to a number of church and community-based musical groups who spend months rehearsing for this time of year.

Handbell ringers

Central United Methodist Church (CUMC) is just one of three churches in Honesdale that has a bell ringers’ choir, and there are bell choirs at Hawley and Bethany churches, too. The Wesley Ringers at CUMC are members of the American Guild of English Handbell Ringers, according to the group’s director Tammy Ebert. She also directs a teen group called the Hallelujah Ringers and a beginner’s group (fourth, fifth and sixth graders) called the King’s Ringers.

Monique Lautenschlager, a retired school teacher of 37 years, has been a member of the Wesley Ringers since the group was founded in 1983. She remembers when there were only eight bells and eight people. Now there are about 14 ringers in the Wesley bell choir. Over the years, Lautenschlager has played many of the different sized bells (each size tolls its own note), though she has avoided the largest ones as being too heavy for her. “I just like it,” she said of her 30 years in the bell choir. “I never was a good singer,” she smiled, so bell ringing was a way to participate in church, to make friendships and to enjoy the camaraderie.

The ringers meet once a week for 90 minutes to practice, to learn new techniques to coax special sounds from their bells (trilling, damping, plucking, shaking, mallets and echo) and to master the more challenging pieces.

This season, here are no public bell choir concerts scheduled, but there will be several good chances to hear a bell choir in church.

Central United Methodist Church, 205 Eleventh St. at church services: Sunday, December 22, 11 a.m. and Christmas Eve, Tuesday, December 24, 8 p.m.

St. John’s Lutheran Church at Seventh and Church streets, Honesdale will hear their bell choir on Sunday, December 15, 6 p.m. at the church’s German language Christmas service and twice on Christmas Eve, during 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. services.

The Presbyterian Church at Tenth and Church streets, Honesdale, welcome their bell choir on Sunday, December 15, 11 a.m. service and during the church’s second service on Christmas Eve at 7 p.m.

The Hawley Methodist Church, 315 Church St., will hear its bell ringers on Sunday, December 15 at 10 a.m. and on Christmas Eve at the 7:30 p.m. service.

Bethany Methodist Church will feature a bell duet at its 8:45 a.m. services on December 8, and its full bell choir at December 15 services.

The Wayne Choralaires

Last Sunday, The Wayne Choralaires kicked off its annual series of holiday concerts with two performances at CUMC in Honesdale. Tonight, Thursday, December 5, the approximately 60-member community chorus will travel over Moosic Mountain to Carbondale for a 7 p.m. concert at St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church. And this coming Sunday, December 8 there will be an afternoon concert at Hawley’s Blessed Virgin Mary Queen of Peace Church at 2:30 p.m. Admission to all concerts is by free-will donation and helps pay for the purchase of sheet music.

The chorus has been rehearsing since just after Labor Day to prepare for these concerts, an annual holiday tradition that begins early in Advent. “So many people tell us, ‘You start off the season for us,’” choral director Patricia Spoor reported. “‘It just wouldn’t be Christmas without it.’”

This year’s theme is “A Christmas Tapestry,” and includes both sacred and secular music.

Members in the Choralaires range from 14 years old to 85, and some travel a fair distance to attend rehearsals, from the far north and far south in Wayne County, as well as from Hemlock Farms in Pike County and from Carbondale in Lackawanna County.

The Choralaires have been around for more than 40 years, having been started in the late 1960s at the instigation of Art Fasshauer to sing in Honesdale’s summertime concert series of musical events in Central Park, where the chorus still performs every year.

Anyone who thinks he/she can carry a tune is welcome to join, according to Spoor. The only auditions are for solos.

Spoor expresses real pride in the singers and personal joy in being able to direct them. “This is something I always wanted to do… I love to plan the programs, I love teaching music, I love people and the singers are wonderful.”

She also spoke of the rewards of singing in a group like this. “New friendships are made,” she said. “There’s great satisfaction in learning the music, plus there’s the euphoria of performing together and seeing the joy on the faces of the people who come to hear us.”

Sunday’s concert offered a taste of the joy that the Choralaires will be spreading this season.