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Shoreline Ringers handbell choir group revived as pandemic wanes

The Montville-based Shoreline Ringers are back.

Housed in the Stop and Shop Plaza at 2020 Norwich New London Turnpike, the community handbell choir took time off during the pandemic, but is now ready again to promote the signature bell instrument as a legitimate musical art form. The handbells and chimes used by the group require expertise in the hand gestures and movements needed to create a variety of sounds.

Established in January 2006 by Jane Nolan, musician and director of the group, the Shoreline Ringers were initially designed to be a new concert choir to perform outside of the Catholic churches that gave them support. Nolan later turned the new community choir into a group that would educate others about the art of handbells and chimes, making an establishment that would move away from the strictly religious areas and into the public eye.

The initial 14 turned 18 members of the Shoreline Ringers were a mixed group of men and women picked for their musical education and experience in the previous years, all coming from central and southeastern Connecticut. Each member also has to be a professional in the use of handbells, Nolan wanted an assembled group that took her mission with the utmost seriousness.

“People joined from all around Connecticut with handbell and chime experience,” Nolan said. “By the summer, we had about 18 members that were flexible with different music genres or instruments.”

The group’s activities snagged televised concerts such as “Christmas Time In The City” by the Continuo Arts Foundation and the “Joy for the Kids Concert” sponsored by WSFB in Hartford. Eventually, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the group into hiatus after its last December performance in 2019.

For an entire year afterward, the Shoreline Ringers went silent.

They continued practices at the Stop and Shop Plaza in Montville, as their former headquarters in Gales Ferry was now used only for emergency meetings.

“COVID-19 had definitely put our mission to educate others on the history of handbells on hold,” said Nolan, “While it did prevent any further shows from starting, it did grant an opportunity to practice and rehearse for our eventual return back to the community.”

They returned in June, invited by The Handbell Musicians of America to perform on July 14 at a national seminar and concert in Phoenix and Scottsdale, Arizona. They had another performance in Westerly on June 27.

“Our intention for this revival is to continue our educational goals,” said Nolan, “We’re the second handbell choir group to ever be invited to these events during the pandemic; many others have not returned due to the pandemic scare.”

The Westerly event has been noted by the group as the only local public concert this summer.

Viewers can see the group’s open concert in Scottsdale and the seminar in Phoenix through the group’s YouTube page, which also collects recorded events from the past.

“We aim to continue with our mission in the community,” Nolan said. “Shoreline Ringers will remain as Connecticut’s prominent handbell group.”

Matthew Rascoe is a Times intern and student at Mitchell College.

 

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