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Westchester Handbell Choirs Ring in the Holidays

Pleasantville and Katonah-based musicians will host a charity concert on Sunday.

Ashley Carter of Ossining has been playing the handbells for almost a decade.

The 17-year-old is one of 10 musicians in Pleasantville's Emanuel Ringers who will be performing in the annual "" charity concert at this Sunday.

"It's a really nice, different kind of music," said Carter.

Kimberly Bartzick of Croton, who has been playing alongside Carter since third grade, said "making friendships" with her fellow musicians is a big reason why she's stuck with the ringers for so long.

The choir, directed by Eiko Cornelius, often performs—and travels with—the Katonah Celebration Ringers, a fellow handbell choir from the hamlet's .

"We are really sister choirs," explained Eileen Laurence, who has been directing the Katonah Celebration Ringers for the past 32 years. "Eiko and I get along really well."

When the two choirs come together for Sunday's concert, 133 Schulmerich handbells and Malmark handchimes will fill the Pleasantville church with holiday tunes.

"Each bell is like a note on a keyboard," said Cornelius.

Both churches have four groups of ringers, which cater to musicians' experience and age, consistently of musicians from within and outside the churches.

"We begin our ringers in the third grade," said Laurence. "The Celebration Ringers are more advanced—they read music and play more complicated chambers."

The Katonah Celebration Ringers, made up of 11 musicians, have even produced two albums, available on iTunes.

The churches' most advanced groups perform at community events and special settings like weddings often, said Laurence, as well as the International Handbell Symposium and festivals abroad.

For Bartzick, learning increasingly difficult songs and arrangements keeps things interesting.

"Eiko will rearrange an entire piece to make an old song sound new," she said. "It's just a lot of fun."

The ringers have recently traveled to such places as Great Britain, Japan, Korea, Canada, Australia and Hong Kong to perform.

"The travel is amazing," said Bartzick.

While the frequent travel can be pricey for the choirs made up mostly of high school students, year-round fundraising efforts help offset expenses.

This Sunday's holiday concert, however, gives the groups a chance to focus solely on giving back to the community.

Each year the two churches alternate playing host for the concert and decide who to send the proceeds to. Though admission is free, donations will be accepted Sunday. This year, Emanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church has chosen Charity: water as the beneficiary.

"None of the money from the concert will be used for administrative costs. It all goes toward making it possible for people to have clean water," said Laurence. "We think that at least one concert we give a year should be for somebody else."

The "133 Bells to Celebrate Christmas" concert begins at 4 p.m. on Sunday at Pleasantville's . The concert is free and open to the public. Donations will benefit Charity: water.

gail burlakoff December 19, 2011 at 04:36 PM
Thanks to all for a perfectly splendid hour! The music was beautiful--the ringers awe inspiring. A real gift to those of us who were lucky enough to be there.

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