Bells are ringing at Riverview Retirement Community, thanks to resident Lois Iller.
In the fall of 2005, Riverview received a gift of 37 hand bells. Generous donors had purchased them from Our Savior’s Lutheran Church when the church closed its doors.
The bells may have lain silent if not for Iller. Fortunately, she had more than 10 years’ experience conducting a hand-bell choir at a North Side church. She graciously stepped forward and began recruiting and training members of the Riverview Ringers.
“They are a joy to work with,” said Iller. “They’re very dependable and take instruction beautifully.” Only four or five of the 16 members had prior hand-bell experience. “You don’t need to be able to read music. There’s only two notes on the staff,” she said. Each ringer is responsible for just two bells.
Each Tuesday afternoon the group meets for a one-hour practice. The melodic chime of the bells sounded like a heavenly choir. The soothing tones blended together seamlessly. Their trim conductor stood before them. “One, two, shake those bells,” Iller said.
In addition to being an audio delight, watching the hand-bell choir is a visual treat as well. The white-gloved ringers shake the bells in gracefully choreographed rhythms.
As the soft strains of an old hymn, “The Beauty of the Earth,” echoed through the room, the focus and concentration of the Ringers was amazing. “Eyes up,” Iller said as the last note faded.
A few months ago the Community Builders, a resident group within Riverview, funded the purchase of a three-octave set of choir chimes. Choir chimes are a close relative of the hand bells, but produce a more mellow sound.
It was hard to tell this was a new instrument for most of the group. The rich sound of the chimes created a churchlike atmosphere in the multipurpose meeting room.
Iller has patiently taught the technique of hand-bell ringing to even the most novice member. “They don’t come born that way,” she said, referring to the skills new ringers must master. “When we started I brought my guitar and asked anyone who wanted to play to pick up a bell.”
Gradually, she introduced the techniques. Members learned that dampening isn’t what happens when it rains, but a way to quiet the vibration of the bell, and that plucking isn’t just what happens to chickens, but a way to move the bell clapper. They learned the “tower swing” a motion that looks like the ringer is ready to launch a bowling ball. And they developed a close-knit community within the sprawling 450-resident complex.
Riverview Ringer Nadine Jackson was an elementary school music teacher for many years. “The fellowship is great,” she said referring to the weekly rehearsals. Many of the residents had never met one another before the choir was formed.
Don Bender is the newest member. “Lois cornered me and recruited me,” he said with a smile.
“Talk about keeping mentally active,” said Ringer, Kay Chew. “It’s a wonderful activity.” Chew had played in the hand-bell choir at Our Savior Lutheran Church.
Ninety-one year-old Dwight Aden had played saxophone, but never the bells. He said he enjoys the precision that’s demanded, as well as the fellowship of the group.
At the conclusion of the practice, each member carefully polished the bells, while Iller’s husband, Bob, helped put everything away.
“I couldn’t do it without him,” Iller said of her husband of 55 years. “He’s my anchor man.”
Iller said the goal of the Riverview Ringers is “to enrich the lives of the people who live here.” They don’t plan to be a “show” choir; instead, their focus is to add texture and vitality to the Riverview Retirement Community.
“It keeps us young,” Iller said.
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