Penobscot Bay Ringers commissions work in honor of group co-founder, Leigh Smith written by Amy Rollins

Penobscot Bay Ringers, a community handbell choir based in Camden, Maine, recently commissioned a new handbell arrangement, entitled Ringing in the Season, in honor of Leigh Smith. The dedication on the arrangement masthead reads, “Commissioned by the Penobscot Bay Ringers in honor of Leigh Smith on the 10th anniversary of her concert, ‘Ringing in the Season’, and as a tribute to her 38-year commitment to the art of handbell ringing.”


This new handbell composition was arranged by Sarah Palermo, who also hails from Camden. Palermo is a 2015 graduate of Westminster Choir College, where she received a Bachelor of Music in Music Theory and Composition. She was a member of the Westminster Concert Bell Choir, a nationally touring group ringing on eight octaves of handbells and seven octaves of handchimes. Sarah is currently the Music Director at Vernon United Methodist Church in Vernon, New Jersey.

Ringing in the Season is the first piece I’ve written which was commissioned in honor of someone. It’s a very different and motivating experience, writing music with a real person in mind and trying to make artistic choices that will resonate in them,” said Palermo.

“Not only surprised, I was deeply honored by this wonderful tribute. I never imagined Sarah, who I oriented to handbell ringing, would one day author an arrangement dedicated to me!” said Smith.

Originally scored for an ensemble of three bell choirs, Ringing in the Season is an arrangement of two familiar Christmas songs. In the opening, the melody of I Saw Three Ships is passed among the different choirs, as each of them approaches the shore on Christmas morning. Modal harmonies accompany the theme and lead it into Angels We Have Heard On High, in which the key is forced from major to minor. The piece’s drama peaks when minor bell peals crash like waves into the clanging chords of accompanying choirs, until finally the dissonances resolve back into an echoing round of I Saw Three Ships, culminating with a joyous unison from all three groups.

The version introduced on December 5, 2015 was a consolidated arrangement for one bell choir. Given Leigh’s active participation in this concert, it would have been virtually impossible for three choirs to rehearse without her finding out about this secret commission, which was six months in the making. Doris Krueger, Director of the Pine Tree Academy Bell Ringers, of Freeport, Maine, graciously agreed to have her ringers debut the selection at this year’s ‘Ringing in the Season’ concert.

Leigh Smith, a retired R.N. who lives in Camden, with her husband Ron, co-founded Penobscot Bay Ringers in 2008. Introduced to bells in 1977 by one of the original Beacon Hill Handbell Ringers, Leigh has rung in several Massachusetts handbell choirs, including the Grace Chapel Handbell Choir, of Lexington, whose music was regularly broadcast live on Boston radio. In 2006, Leigh established ‘Ringing in the Season’, a charitable handbell program staged each year at Camden’s First Congregational Church. She also plays with the church’s Choral Bells. Leigh is a member of Handbell Musicians of America and supports its vision and goals for the art of handbell ringing.