Pikes Peak Ringers perform at local church

Garrison Wells Updated: January 27, 2013 at 12:00 am • Published: January 27, 2013

By day, Luke Nabeta is a mild-mannered mail carrier for the Postal Service.

Some nights, though, he dons a black outfit and morphs into a, well, mild-mannered handbell ringer.

Sunday, he was in bell ringing mode at Sunnyside Christian Church as a member of The Pikes Peak Ringers in a show entitled “Winter Renaissance.”

The group performed an eclectic mix in front of about 100 people that included songs soft as whispers to more rhythmic, upbeat stuff, like the Dave Grusin jazz classic “Anthem Internationale,” Enya’s “Orinoco Flow” and Transiberian Orchestra’s “Wizards in Winter.”

The 16 ringers were led by ringmaster Kevin McChesney, their director.

McChesney is composer and arranger and one of the few musicians who has been able to make handbells a career.

“I think it was wonderful,” said Betsy Fredrickson, a fledgling bell ringer. “They are just so in sync. It was excellent. Kevin has great taste.”

Nabeta, 31, has been playing for 16 years.

Zach Schneider, 26, Youth Director at First Lutheran Church, has been playing since he was 8 years old.

“I’ve been playing the majority of my life,” he said.

He even got a scholarship to play handbells at Hastings College in Nebraska.

Playing handbells, at least at this level, is about muscle memory, he said. The ringers read music and translate the notes into their hands and the bells.

On Sunday, the bells stretched the length of the altar, with the deeper toned bells that weigh as much as 18 pounds on one end to the smaller, higher pitched bells as light as seven ounces. They range six octaves from high to low.

A five-octave set costs around $35,000, Schneider said. The larger handbells can cost around $5,000 apiece.

“It takes a lot of equipment to do a concert,” he said.

It’s also a pretty hefty workout. Nabeta estimated that playing in a quartet they moved the equivalent of 10 tons during a performance.

While bells are associated mostly with religion — about 80 percent of them are played in churches — the fastest growing segment of bells is community groups, McChesney said.

They are an easy instrument to learn at lower skill levels, but difficult at the level the Ringers play. The group has released six CDs, including one with cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

This group has five new members, making this “a rebuilding year,” McChesney said. “We’ve done amazing things.”

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