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Ringing, in the spirit of the season

SALISBURY — The Salisbury Congregational Church Handbell Choir rang their bells last weekend in support of a new bell tower for the Church of St. John in the Wilderness in Copake Falls, N.Y. The church, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, hosted an afternoon performance of the bell choir on Sunday, Dec. 11. Located off Route 22 in Columbia County, the church is not quite in the wilderness, though when it was built in 1852, it probably was. The smallish, wood-frame structure sited on a hill looking down on the tiny hamlet of Copake Falls has a warm and welcoming interior atmospherically lit, in part, by real candlelight. The congregation is raising funds to restore its bell tower. Salisbury Bell Choir members came to help with that project, wearing their black fleece gloves, which keep the oils from their hands from getting on the bells and affecting the sound. Choir members hold the bell handles, thrusting them up and out, when they play them. One musician might hold two bells in each hand, playing four bells at once. And then of course they have to turn the pages of their sheet music, a sometimes challenging task with a handful of bells.The bell choir has been in existence for close to 30 years, and many of its members have been there since the beginning. Bell-ringers range in age from 14 to 89. Steve Ohlinger, whose enthusiasm has not dimmed in the 25 years he’s been with the group, said they rehearse about once a week. “We enjoy the play and the practice. We just like to do it.”The bell choir’s 11 members and its director, Mary Davidson, are much in demand at this time of the year, though they also make frequent appearances during the Easter season and on Mother’s Day, and even have played at weddings and a funeral or two.

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