To say the nationally famous Wesley Bell Ringers, made up of more than 30 high school-age youths from the Christ United Methodist Church, 2375 E. 33rd South, have been busy this Christmas season would be an understatement.
The popular group, celebrating its 25th anniversary this month, has been entertaining groups, large and small, at local churches, schools, hotels and motels, stores and shopping malls.Under the direction of Ed Duncan, a physics teacher at Cottonwood High School, the group uses 400 bells of various sizes, performs nearly 100 times during the year and annually goes on a 35-40-day tour of the United States and sometimes Canada.
On 23 annual concert tours, the group has played in all the states except Hawaii and in nine Canadian provinces.
This summer, the group toured across Canada and down into New England. Next year, they will visit the Southeastern states and from Florida to Washington, D.C.
The Wesley Bell Ringers, originally formed by Duncan, has become the cornerstone of the church's high school ministry, according to the Rev. Thomas H. Cross, one of two ministers at the church.
He said the youths who become bell ringers learn to work together and learn that they are important to the success of the group.
"In Utah, Methodists are a minority and our youths have an opportunity, through being bell ringers, of feeling they belong. They make lots of friends and have many great experiences," Cross said.
Parents of youths who have been Wesley Bell Ringers say they are proud of their children for making the commitment to be in the group. Mary Ann Allison, who is a chaperone, said her two children, Tia Mittelstadt, 24, and David, 27, were bell ringers for four years and made up their minds to be in the group while they were still in junior high.
"It takes a great deal of time, study and practice,' she said. "My son David was in Canada once and called me and said, `Mom, you can't believe how wonderful it feels to be part of something great, part of something that is the best.' "
Duncan said members of the group are from high schools from all over the Salt Lake Valley. "We practice regularly at least seven hours a week and then there are special practices. Each bell ringer is responsible for learning to use from five to 17 different bells."
In the past 25 years, the Wesley Bell Ringers have raised more than $55,000 to purchase all their equipment and have raised money each year for their major tour. "We are entirely self-supporting," Duncan said.
When originally formed, the group used 25 bells that covered two octaves. Today, the group uses 197 precisely tuned bronze English hand bells that cover six octaves, a 25-note set of silver melody bells, a 64-note set of hand chimes, a 25-note set of cup bells, a 25-note carillon, a 25-note set of tuned cow bells, assorted orchestra chimes, tone bars and a bass boom-a-gong that provides tones lower than the group's biggest 22-pound bell.
The ringers, who played their 1,800th performance Friday night at the church, have produced 12 recordings and have been the demonstration choir at conventions of hand bell directors and bell ringers.
"The youths learn more than about music and traveling," Cross said. "They learn how to create worshipful experiences in church and elsewhere and they learn how important music is to the worship of God."