Mesa hand bell choir takes ministry to Disneyland - East Valley Tribune: Mesa

Mesa hand bell choir takes ministry to Disneyland

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Posted: Saturday, June 9, 2007 12:16 pm | Updated: 5:38 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Football teams take decades to become good enough to play in and then win the Super Bowl, and the team’s star invariably is asked what he’s going to do next. In the staged event at the end of the big game, he blurts, “I’m going to Disneyland!”

Football teams take decades to become good enough to play in and then win the Super Bowl, and the team’s star invariably is asked what he’s going to do next. In the staged event at the end of the big game, he blurts, “I’m going to Disneyland!”

With a couple of decades of experience, players in the Dei Gloriam Hand Bell Choir at First Presbyterian Church of Mesa were recently declaring, “We’re going to Disneyland!”

Mark Ramsey, director of music ministry, had coached his 13-member bell team to win the invitation to perform a 30-minute concert at the Carnation Plaza Garden Stage near Main Street U.S.A. They performed Thursday as part of “Disney Magic Music Days” in which a wide range of nonprofessional groups entertain visitors who descend on the “Happiest Place on Earth.”

The centerpieces of their musical selections were a medley from the blockbuster 1994 Disney animated film, “The Lion King,” plus the familiar music of another Disney cartoon, “Beauty and the Beast,” the 1991 Oscar winner for best original song.

About 2,000 groups a year apply to perform on stages, according to John McClintock, a Disneyland spokesman. Ten groups typically are invited to entertain daily on the Carnation stage.

“Two summers ago, I asked where the group would like to go this summer,” said Ramsey. “Did they want to go (to play) at a national convention? A regional convention? They said, 'We want to go to Disneyland.’ ”

The director told them they could produce an audition video and submit it, then see what happened. They recorded six pieces and waited. Sure enough, the Dei Gloriam group with alternates was invited.

“I have been to Disneyland and have seen other groups play and said, 'That would be kind of neat,’ so to be invited to go play there was exciting and unnerving at the same time,” said Steve Post, who has played the low-octave bells for about two years.

Commenting before the trip to Anaheim, Calif., bell player Ann Harbin recalled that her first trip to Disneyland was in the summer of 1955 when Disneyland opened. “I was there the summer between my junior and senior year of high school” in Iowa, she said. “My father was a doctor, and they had their osteopathic convention in Santa Monica.”

Except for the choir playing for an outdoor wedding at the Phoenix Zoo and again for holiday Zoolights, the bell players have not commonly performed outdoors.

Ramsey said he had not known of bell choirs playing at Disneyland. “Hand bells are still in their infancy, as far as being in the concert world and concert stage,” he said. “Any way that gets the hand bells into the public eye is terrific.”

“It’s a little frightening being outdoors in an open environment, rather than a closed building,” Harbin said.

Dei Gloriam Hand Bell Choir is one of nine vocal and instrumental choirs at First Presbyterian, 161 N. Mesa Drive, said Ramsey, who has led the music programs for 13 years and directs four choirs.

Their finale song was “All-American Hometown Band,” a spirited medley for which the ringers wore red, white and blue hats, blew whistles and played zany-sounding slides, then bowed at the end and came back up waving small American flags.

The director’s wife, Anita Ramsey, stepped into a bell slot when bell ringer Connie Gailfus got word that her son, Andrew, was being deployed to Iraq with the Army. She wanted to be in North Carolina to see him off.

“I’ve always wanted to work for Disney, and this is probably the closest I’ll probably ever come,” Anita Ramsey said. The choir, 11 females and two males, had high expectations and just wanted to make sure it would do its best, she said.

Altogether they shined up and packed 61 bells to lay out on their tables in Disneyland, plus “two or three extra,” Mark Ramsey said. Some players had as many as eight bells each to ring, routinely wielding several in each hand.

Sandra Clark, who has been ringing hand bells for 35 years, including 20 years at First Presbyterian, said she expected “we’ll be one of the more unusual acts. I think people will be pleased to see us.” Her daughter, Kelly Clark, is also in the choir.

At least 24 people, including family members and friends, made the four-day trip.

“I wished we could say it was a mission opportunity, but it’s simply that we like to perform” for the public, the director said.

As with all its church choirs, Ramsey said the emphasis is on ministry. “I want the members to grow spiritually with whatever vehicle we use,” he said. “The main goal is to increase their faith. If we do that by going to Disneyland or playing in worship, that is terrific.”

All the church’s music needs to fit the worship commission’s goals, he said. “Disciples making disciples. We try to make everything fit into that.”

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