Trinity’s Handbell Ensemble starts rehearsals with new restrictions


Nearest to Closest: Lily Slemp, Amberle Heuiser, Brylee Lavoie, Harrison Hall Photo credit: Kate Nuelle

Cool folks ringing cool tunes.

Ryan Gentry, a sophomore member of Trinity’s Handbell Ensemble, used these five words to describe the ensemble. Trinity University’s Handbell Ensemble provides a fascinating approach to composition by creating unique bell sounds with the ensemble essentially representing a singular instrument.

Since 1977, Diane Persellin has been the director of the Handbell Ensemble—an ensemble that now enjoys the luxury of practicing in the Laurie Auditorium.

“Dr. Persellin, our amazing director, fought to use the stage in Laurie Auditorium for the semester in order to still have in-person rehearsals but still do them safely,” said Ethan Jones, senior member and student assistant.

Although the ensemble is celebrating a notable victory, the ensemble, like other school organizations, had to cancel many of their plans due to the pandemic.

“Before we were sent home in the spring, we were hot off the heels of our performing tour in NYC. In November 2019, the ensemble performed at Carnegie Hall, Radio City Music Hall and Central Park, and the ensemble was the strongest it had been in a long time,” Jones said.

Grace Culp, junior member, and Jones recall the New York performing tour with much nostalgia, appreciation, and warmth.

“The trip is something I think about often. It was so fun and a bonding experience too,” Culp said. “It’s a special connection.”

“The amount of work we put into making the trip possible bonded the ensemble and helped us make incredible memories,” Jones said.

The next event they were preparing for was San Antonio’s Fiesta festival in April, where they would have sported golden robes and performed professionally. Unsurprisingly, the event was canceled alongside their end of year concert. Despite these unprecedented events, the ensemble’s ability to adjust to different rehearsal settings and measures showcases their determination to create music.

“We can’t have the same amount of variety as we had before,” Gentry said. “As a sanitary measure, we’re mainly only using our default set of Schulmerich bells. We’re ringing fewer bells and have a smaller selection of repertoire that we can play, but it’s still just as fun.”

Gentry, a former tone chime player, misses playing with the different types of bells and chimes and creating different, unique sounds.

Culp, who played handbells for her church when she was little, was encouraged by her friends Ethan Jones and Ciara McDaniel to join the ensemble. Culp misses hanging out with the other members, being able to see their smiles and making jokes and faces during rehearsal.

“I feel nostalgic thinking about my time ending with the handbell ensemble soon…It has been a place I could always feel at ease and a place I could always count on seeing friendly faces. Being able to make music with friends [whom] I genuinely look up to and love spending time with makes a world of a difference,” Jones said.

The ensemble encapsulates a community of passionate members who not only work towards creating music but meaningful friendships as well. Gentry, Culp and Jones all share the same favorite piece: “Toccata on King’s Weston.”

“It is so intense and intricate, and we learned it so well that it just felt amazing to play it all together while also hearing the beautiful sounds we were making,” Culp said.

“We all reach over each other and switch bells very quickly; it’s very dramatic,” Jones said.

When asked what people should know about the ensemble, Gentry provided an insightful response regarding the group’s versatility.

“We don’t just make church style music; we play all kinds of pieces with different sounds and styles, ranging from jazz to classical to spiritual and everything in between, meaning there’s really something for everyone in handbell music,” Gentry said.

If you want to audition for the Handbell Ensemble, you can email Diane Persellin. You can also find more about these cool folks ringing cool tunes on their Instagram, @tuhandbells.

Stay tuned for their Virtual Christmas Concert in December.