Twenty five years of bells

Published 11:39 am Monday, October 20, 2008

Ann Flisrand has been hearing ringing for more than two decades — and it is sweet music to her ears.

As director of Austin’s community performance group Ecumenical Bells for 25 years, Flisrand helped not only start the local bellringing ensemble, but has also taught the art to dozens of people of all ages in area churches.

In 1980, she heard her first bellringing concert. Intrigued, Flisrand enrolled in classes, eventually becoming a director for a bell-ringing group in a small rural church in Spicer, Minn. There, she started two adult groups.

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“I just fell in love with bells; it all involves teamwork,” she said. “You basically do two notes on the scale, and the people around you do the others.”

Flisrand has 20 years experience directing church choirs, and has taught junior high and high school band, as well as helping start the music program at Hollandale Christian School. She works with second- through sixth-graders at Westminster Presbyterian Church, where she is a member, and has taught lessons.

“It can be done at any age,” Flisrand said.

Flisrand has directed a group at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in addition to the First Congregational Church-based Ecumenical Bells, and solo performed at Grace Baptist, St. Olaf, Our Savior’s, St. Edward’s, Oakland Lutheran, Westminster and United Methodist churches.

She performs for nursing homes, organizations and events.

Her husband, Dick, is retired from teaching music at Riverland Community College. He sometimes plays bells as well.

“It’s nice to have a person like that come in and ring,” she said. Two daughters have also been ringers.

Bellringing is more difficult than it appears, with rhythm and technique essential to the group’s harmony. Ecumenical Bells has 11 ringers who play four and a half octaves.

“The bigger they are, the lower they are; the smaller they are, the higher they are,” Flisrand said of the brass bells.

Ringers wear gloves to protect the bells, which are wiped down after every performance to protect the brass from acids in the skin.

Ecumenical Bells rehearses weekly, and has members from various local congregations. One member, Judy Personen, has also performed with the group 25 years.

In its 25th year, the group was coincidentally asked to play the first concert in the Our Savior’s Lutheran Church Concert Series Sunday, Oct. 26. The concert, titled “Silver and Gold,” represents the groups “silver” anniversary, and “golden pieces of handbell repertoire,” Flisrand explained.

She said she contacted past ringers to return and see the anniversary concert, which will feature music from Argentina, Japan and “Phantom of the Opera,” and also classics like “This is My Father’s World.”

Ecumenical Bells will be accompanied by a brass quintet, flute and percussion. The concert begins at 3:30 p.m.; free will donations will be accepted.

“It’s open to the public and we’d love to have a lot of people come,” Flisrand said.