For more than 25 years, Ed Duncan has been hearing bells. From tiny silver melody bells to the biggest - a thunderous 22-pounder - he loves them all.
Even the answering machine at Duncan's home has a message telling callers they've reached the Wesley Bell Ringers, the nation's largest handbell choir.It all began in 1963, when Duncan's pastor at the Christ United Methodist Church asked him to establish a group to give the congregation's teenagers something to do.
"One day I was idly thumbing through a catalog of church supplies and my eyes lit on this set of 25 bells you could buy," said Duncan, who plays organ and piano and teaches high school physics.
"I thought it seemed like something the kids could do right off the bat," he said.
Over the years, the group has had as few as nine players to its current 30, the numbers changing because Duncan never turns away a potential player.
"That may be the thing I'm the most proud of, anybody can play that wants to. They don't have to be musicians," he said.
Duncan arranges nearly all of the music for the group and said it's like scoring for three keyboard instruments and a percussion ensemble. There are several octaves of bells, and at least three sets are playing all the time.
"Each kid in the section has the same music, then we assign them a certain number of bells and teach them where the notes are located on the staff," he said.
White-gloved, the bell-ringers perform in a complicated choreography that produces a rich sound sometimes reminiscent of a pipe organ.
"Spectacular!" one listener was heard to say at a recent performance.
The group has played at Disneyland, Disney World, the U.S. Capitol, Yorktown Victory Center and in every state in the nation.
Christmas programs are devoted mostly to carols, but the choir's repertoire includes popular, sacred and classical music.
Last year, the bell ringers were guests of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir for a Christmas performance and recently were chosen to perform at a convention of bell choir directors.
"I really can't say with certainty, but as nearly as I know it's the biggest choir in sheer volume of bells and largest number of people. So I keep saying it's the biggest," Duncan said. "And the bell manufacturers say its true."
For the players, the group has come to represent an important bond with other members of their faith.
Because of the Mormon Church's predominance in Utah, the group's teenagers sometimes are the only Methodists in their school, and the choir offers a comforting sense of community.
"It's nice knowing you're not the only Methodist in town," said May Thomas, 19, who has played with the group for two years.
Jerry Moore, 18, a four-year veteran, said the ties run so deep between the players that he likens them to a big family.
"This definitely brings friends closer. You become lifelong friends," he said. "You meet people in this group and you'll always remember them."
Participation in the group means giving up at least three evenings a week for rehearsals and performances. In December, the group limits performances to two during the week and two on weekends and often have to turn down invitations to perform.
"If we minded the time commitment, we really wouldn't be here, " Moore said. "We really wouldn't rather be doing anything else."
Every summer, the group tours for five weeks. Fund raisers and proceeds from sales of their recordings help finance the trip. Linda Gross, a parent volunteer who handles publicity, said the church has a fund set aside to pay Duncan and help with the summer tours, but he never takes the money.
"He pays his assistant a little and uses the rest is used for scholarships to get everyone on tour," she said.
This summer the group will travel to the eastern United States and the tour will include a performance at the wedding of a former bell ringer.
In addition to daily performances, Duncan's wife, Trudy, a history teacher, makes sure the group sees the historical sights.
Duncan said he's willing to give countless hours to the group because he loves the music and the music makers.
"I think it really gives them something to be proud of," he said. "From year to year they get so much better, the old kids teach the new ones. Whenever we go someplace to play, I can almost stand around and do nothing.