First Person Singular: Ringing endorsement

Handbell ringer Peter Rich at Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington
Handbell ringer Peter Rich at Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington (Benjamin C. Tankersley)
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Sunday, June 20, 2010

Ringing bells is like sitting down to play the piano with 44 of your closest friends, because every one of us has two to four bells. So it is clearly a team effort. The challenge is you're the only one who has those notes, and if you don't play those notes, those notes don't get played.

It's not like a church choir where, if the soprano is sick that Sunday, there are three other sopranos who can fill in. Those are your bells, your notes. It's a commitment. You need to show up ready to practice intensely, and you need to be there come Sunday morning. I've always been reliable and very self-reliant; typical only child and typical Capricorn: I've never had lots of friends, but the ones I do have, I keep.

This really is the perfect pursuit for an introvert. It lets me -- kind of forces me -- to be social and involved without all the chitchat. We perform as one unit; we have to get to know one another without having to say a lot. I'm still able to connect with people and yet be up there with my bells, concentrating.

You can really tell when we've, pardon the pun, struck a chord with the congregation when they start humming along. It's just beautiful. I get chills. I remember once when there was just three of us, and we played 28 bells. When we came out, everyone was looking at us like, "Where's the rest of you?" But once we started playing, the music was like a river coming out of us and flowing through the church. They gave us a standing ovation, but really it was as if the entire room was part of the hymn, not just us.

Of course, it can get messy. Bells don't ring, notes don't get hit, people lose their place. But all that really matters is that we all have to start together and end together. We can fall apart in the middle. When it does fall apart, I don't like to leave with that mess still in my head. We'll go back over it after the service just to prove to ourselves that we can still come together and have that be the music memory we go home with.

I work full time as an auditor. It's my job to go back and figure out why things don't add up, what went wrong, so I can see how this attention to detail comes in handy. Music is precise. Math is precise. I like being precise. That's another similarity with hand bells and auditing -- things all have to ring true in the end.

Interview by Amanda Long

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