We are the Wesley Ringers from the Simbury United Methodist Church in Simsbury, CT.
We are comprised of 6th – 11th grade students and an adult assistant. Unlike adult groups, children and youth music groups change every year. Children grow into teenagers and teenagers into adults. Different outside activities pose different challenges every year. As a church group, we are always competing with, well, everything else. In danger of losing all members last year, we decided to try something new.
Now, if you work with teenagers, there are three universal truths:
- Teenagers want to be really good at what they do.
- They enjoy competition.
- They love to be social
We were, in fact, losing large amounts of rehearsal time to socializing. This is the main reason we were not as good as we should have been.
So, last spring, we organized a Youth Bell Festival with 1st Church Glastonbury and Trinity United Methodist Churches because we were interested in meeting other kids that ring. The festival included some mixer games in the middle as well as some food/chat time.
As it turned out, we were not the best group there….but my students found that inspiring as well as challenging. It saved my bell group. Before we went, the majority of my ringers had indicated that it would probably be their last year in the group. Afterwards, they could not stop talking about the fact that they really wanted to ring more difficult pieces, etc. I threw caution to the wind and asked them what they would like to do. We changed rehearsal to Sunday nights (not a week night which competes with homework.) We extended rehearsal to include dinner and social time, and, every week, one of our members researched and showed interesting YouTube videos of “Cool Things You Can Do With Bells” and/or talented bell groups from around the world.
Building the social time into the rehearsal – over “real food” – allowed me to negotiate more focus when we were actually rehearsing. Funded by the parents, kids choose the menus and often brought in extra desserts of things they had made.
It was such a positive experience that we set out to find other ways to go beyond the four walls of our church (….and the other two churches had decided they would like to hold the festival every other year anyway.)
We attended the CT Area 1 Spring Ring, where we all took classes and participated in the mass rings. Members had a chance to learn from some experts and work under an excellent conductor/clinician – Lawrence A. Berdensey.
Everyone who went thought it was well worth attending. They were excited about what they had learned and felt that they had “measured up” to the other groups and held their own in the mass rings.
Looking beyond the four wall of our own church, either through watching other groups on YouTube or by physically traveling and seeing/ringing with other groups in a live setting, really made a difference.
Other things we have done include, taking publicity pictures (for a “Come Ring With Us” campaign), purchasing tie-dye gloves, getting matching shirts and occasionally, seasonal gifts. Often, one of the members will bring a friend from school who rings with us for one or two years as well.
Simsbury United Methodist Church also has a beginner chime choir, the Celebration Ringers as well as an adult bell group, the Chancel Ringers. Most of the Wesley Ringers began and Celebration Ringers, and more than fifty percent of the younger ringers have parents who either ring in the adult group or are musicians in another church music ministry.
We hope to be a part of future of bell ringing!
Director of Children, youth and Contemporary Music Ministries
Simsbury United Methodist Church