“Bells Choir’s Testimonies Ring Clear,” Ensign, Feb. 2011, 77–78
Twenty-eight pairs of eyes focus on the leader. Muscles tense; fingers flex; attention sharpens. At the signal, the group springs into a well-designed blur of color and sound. Their work requires total concentration—the uniting of many minds to a single effort. Their goal is lofty: to invite the Spirit of the Lord through the use of their talents. For these performers, bells give voice to the skills they’ve worked hard to develop.
Every Wednesday night, the members of the Bells on Temple Square rehearse in the Tabernacle on Temple Square. Their music represents a wide range of genres, and all of the pieces are demanding. The visually thrilling “Holiday for Strings” requires complex high-speed maneuvers, while the slower, more contemplative notes of “Amazing Grace” need perfect timing.
There’s a lot of work involved in bringing the individual bells into harmony, especially with a group this big. Rehearsing can be difficult and even frustrating, but, like living the gospel, the result is worth the effort.
During one rehearsal, within only a few measures, conductor Tom Waldron stops to coax more volume from the B notes. He has plenty of technical experience, both from his 28 years as a high school bell choir director and as the original conductor of the five-year-old Bells on Temple Square, but he also recognizes the spiritual aspect of what the bell choir does.
Bell ringer Scott Hixson says that rehearsals led by Brother Waldron are similar to devotionals. “Tom stops and shares his testimony, he shares stories from the scriptures. … He really knows the mission of this organization.”
The ringers respect their conductor and admire him for what he helps them accomplish.
Bell ringer Jennifer Probert says, “We rely heavily on following our conductor … because the moment that clapper strikes, we get the sound of the bell.” The conductor has to coordinate the ringers so that the bells sound at exactly the right time. The ringers trust Brother Waldron to let them know what they need to do.
The bell choir has a strong feeling of camaraderie. Sister Probert describes the group as a family. In some cases the sentiment is literal. The bell choir boasts two married couples, an engaged couple (they met in the bell choir), a set of fraternal twins, and a pair of sisters.
The good relationships are necessary because the ringers, all volunteers, have a difficult job to perform. They have to watch their conductor, the music, and their bells at the same time, while switching between bells. The music requires a variety of playing techniques, such as plucking or malleting.
Occasionally the ringers even have to ring a neighbor’s bell on a difficult part. Trust has to exist between the ringers in order for them to perform well.
In spite of the challenges, the ringers are able to blend their individual parts into a whole that is not only cohesive, but beautiful.
Creating this harmony is only one part of the bell choir’s purpose, but it is important to achieving their main purpose—bearing testimony of Jesus Christ and serving Him through their music.
Just as members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir are set apart as musical missionaries, so are members of the bell choir.
Brother Hixson calls performances opportunities to “bear our testimonies through the use of our talents,” explaining that performances are “all about the Savior.”