Jill FiteThis article written by Jill Fite, Area 9 Education Chair

When our pastor and his wife volunteered to host two foreign exchange students last fall, I had no idea what kind of positive impact they would have on our handbell choir. Our pastor’s wife is a new ringer, very enthusiastic and willing. She informed me that both girls wanted to be in the handbell choir.

My first thought was a little negative, knowing that I would have to train them, they would barely figure out the basics, then leave. They were only in our community for one school year.

Two girls, Happy (from Vietnam) and Minori (from Japan), arrived in our community last August. Happy had some musical background and played the organ while Minori had no musical experience. The choir had one position open, E4F4. I assigned Happy to that spot with an excellent C4D4 mentor. Minori rang by our pastor’s wife, essentially ringing half a position. I gave them an introductory class before they joined the choir.

It is incredible how young minds absorb new things. Both of the girls learned everything “handbell” at a much faster rate than any of my adult ringers. They were both easy to work with, even though the language barrier was a bit of a problem in the beginning.

They attended Progressive Ring in the fall and have rung with our church choir every time it performed during the year. They also wanted to ring in our newly-formed community choir. Early in the year, we started working on “The Star-Spangled Banner,” arranged by John Behnke. Minori was really excited because she was learning the song in chorus at school. The plan was to ring at the opening of the new High School gymnasium, scheduled for February. Construction delays pushed the date back, so we rang at the last regularly scheduled high school basketball game in the old gym. The fans loved us!

Happy and Minori continued to learn and ring with enthusiasm. By spring, Minori had moved to a full position, G6A6, and sight read the music exceptionally well from her first try.

After Christmas, Happy and Minori wanted to learn to ring bell trees. They began working on a trio with their host mother and performed for our congregation at the end of April. The school year ended with the community choir ringing at our town’s “Celebration of Freedom,” a weekend celebration of patriotism and Americana. We rang a mini-concert of seven patriotic and secular songs.

These girls have been an inspiration to my ringers, a blessing to me as director, and a positive influence in our town. It has been a joy to have them ringing with us, even though they only got to be a part of the group for a short time.

I am going to miss these girls.