Handbell choir director retires after 33 years at Port Clinton’s St. John Lutheran

Aug 11, 2021 | Around Ottawa County | 0 comments

PORT CLINTON – When Lisa Rider started the handbell choir at St. John Lutheran Church 33 years ago, she had never played bells and knew nothing about them.  She had just finished her bachelor’s degree in music education at Bowling Green State University and was  a band director.

The church’s pastor at that time knew she was a talented musician and asked her if she might be interested in starting a bell choir.

“The idea intrigued me,” Rider said. “Not only was I excited to try something new, but I was also glad to be able to give back to my church in such a unique way. After much research, I learned what equipment we needed and how to organize the group to begin rehearsals.”

Members bought handbells for the church in memory of loved ones, and volunteers joined to play in the choir. Over the years, the bell choir has been an integral part of the church’s music ministry and has highlighted regular and special services.

Rider is ready to turn the choir and its carefully-selected equipment and music over to  new director. She retired as director this summer but will remain a member of the church and continue to play her saxophone for special music at various services.

“We have good quality equipment, three octaves of choir chimes, four octaves of handbells and a well-organized music library full of a nice variety of music,” she said. “It is all waiting for the next person.”

St. John is in the process of searching for a new handbell choir director. Anyone interested is asked to call the church at 419-734-5548.

“We have all been very blessed to hear the choir’s performances, which added so much to our services,” said Jim Sass, president of St. John’s church council. “The congregation thanks Lisa for her work and wishes her the very best.”

A lifelong musician who focused on band instruments, Rider learned the bells by playing them and reading about them. The bell choir participated in clinics, workshops and festivals and learned by experience and watching other ensembles perform.

“Over the years, we have had many ringers of all ages and musical backgrounds,” she said. “We have always welcomed new ringers and have also been fortunate to have a core group of ringers who have played together for many years.

“Anyone who has rung can tell you it is very different from performing in a band or choir.  Rather than each musician carrying an entire musical line, each ringer represents only four notes and must work to fit their bells into the ensemble to create a musical line.”

Some highlights through the years were doing some things out of the ordinary, such as playing the bells with other musicians, including singers, pianists and players of other instruments.

The bell choir also has incorporated a variety of ringing techniques and used hand chimes in addition to the bells.

The choir also performed with more than 300 ringers in a mass bell choir performance at the Bowling Green Handbell Ring and played for residents at area nursing homes. Rider also enjoyed the choir playing for the candlelight service each Christmas Eve.

“The true joy of directing the handbell choir has been working with so many wonderful people over the years,” she said. “I smile as I hear the whispers, ‘She wants us to do what with these?’  The flexibility and openness to learn new ringing techniques and laugh with each other has gotten us over the humps to many fine musical performances.

“It is rewarding experience to hear what a new piece sounded like the first time we sight read it, and then work to shape it into what the congregation hears in church.

Whether it was with the bell choir or playing the saxophone for special music, Rider has always enjoyed playing at church because it serves a different purpose than other performances.

“Rather than entertaining an audience, the music sings praises to God and enhances the worship service,” she said. “The focus is on worship, not performance.”

Rider continues to teach band and general music for grades 6-8 at McPherson Middle School in Clyde.

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