BY MOLLY CONGDON
SCHENECTADY — There are many traditions that are sacred at Christmastime. Sipping hot chocolate while cozy on the couch as snow falls outside the window, blasting “Jingle Bell Rock” and “Happy Holidays” while driving in the car and — this one should at least be on your to-do list — hearing the ever so sweet sound of bells, chiming together to create an entire composition. (And no, it doesn’t count if you simply watch the Hershey’s kisses commercial, which they seem to reuse each year.)
At 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 6, the Thursday Belles, a community bell choir, will be performing in their 91st annual Carol Sing at First Reformed Church, at 8 N. Church St. in Schenectady.
The Belles were first established in 1960 by Helen Henshaw. It is a volunteer group consisting of 12 ringers (plus a list of vital substitutes) from many communities within the Capital Region. They use Schulmerich Bells, which were cast in Pennsylvania, as well as Malmark Choir Chimes, mallets and various ringing techniques to add even more dimension to the mesmerizing melody.
Judy Moore took over as director of the Belles about a half-dozen years ago. “I’ve done bells for a number of years,” she said. “We lived in North Dakota prior to here and my daughter was playing in a bell choir and their director left. The group was in jeopardy. The ringers came to me and asked if I would consider doing it.”
She had just completed a music degree at Mary University in Bismarck when she was in her 40s. “They called us OTAs,” Moore said with a laugh. “I know I’m older than average, but why do you feel the need to label me?”
Her passion for music has never lessened. “As a wee one being lifted on top of the piano to sing Christmas carols to playing the piano my entire life, it was time to back that up with some solid credentials,” Moore said. “So I went back for the music degree.”
Moore moved to Clifton Park in 1989 when her husband, a federal employee, was given a new job opportunity.
“The bells are often associated with the holidays,” Moore said. “We have a huge holiday program and that also includes, ‘Let There be Peace on Earth,’ which is there a more timely thing, especially with [the Paris terrorism]?”
In the springtime, they will do a swap out the Christmas spirit theme for a completely different repertoire. They have performed at the Clifton Park-Halfmoon Public Library and a number of places throughout Schenectady, Albany and Southern Saratoga County.
The key to a successful bell choir is teamwork. “You play the equivalent of two adjacent white notes on the piano,” Moore said. “Then you have all the surrounding accidentals that go with that. You have to find your place in a music score; you’re not just playing melody.”
It all comes back to trust.
“I know each of these gals, I know their personalities, their strong points and I know the points that need strengthening; that’s just part of the leadership, it goes with the territory,” Moore said. “I rearrange a lot to accommodate what’s needed for a ringer.”
This holiday bell performance will help you get into the spirit of Christmas because, after all, the true spirit of the holiday resides your heart.
And get ready for some fun during the sing-along portion of the concert — “12 Days of Christmas” will never be the same.