Ruth Ulrich doesn’t describe herself as being especially musical, but with 12 years under her belt with the Siesta Key Chapel Bell Choir, she’s one of the group’s most established members.
Before moving to Siesta Key in 2000, she spent 15 years in her church’s bell choir in Michigan. Despite having earned veteran status as a bell ringer, Ulrich remains modest about her musical talents.
“I should be better,” she jokes. “I took piano lessons when I was young, but I never considered myself a musician. I could read music, but I couldn’t sit down at a piano and play something.”
She started playing when her church in Michigan was looking for bell ringers to revive its bell choir. Some of her friends decided to join. Always a music fan, Ulrich was up for trying something new.
Throughout the years, she has performed with choirs of various sizes. In Michigan, her group had as many as 13 bell ringers. The Siesta Key Bell Choir currently performs with six or seven regular members, and she’d love to see the membership increase. The church has enough bells to accommodate as many as 13 bell ringers, which would allow them to cover a wider range of octaves and tackle more complex arrangements.
“My all-time favorite piece to perform is “Blessed Assurance” arranged by Cynthia Dobrinski,” Ulrich says. “We’d need about five more ringers to play that.”
Ulrich is responsible for playing three to four bells in her position, and she enjoys mastering the various techniques.
“I love to see people’s reactions who have never seen a bell choir perform before,” she said. “It’s not just ringing a bell — it’s amazing how musical it is.”
Some of the ringing techniques include playing with mallets, shaking the bells, a full-range-of-motion swing, called the tower swing, and her favorite — a table-dampened mallet technique.
“It makes a thumping sound that always surprises people,” she says.
The choir plays a wide variety of sacred music, and the members practice once a week to prepare for their performances, which typically take place on a monthly basis.
Preparing for performances requires a lot of hard work and dedication, but to Ulrich, it’s worth it.
“Sometimes you flub, and you might have to skip a few pages to find your place, but you just keep going,” she says. “We have a lot of fun. If we didn’t, I wouldn’t still be doing it.”
IF YOU GO
The Siesta Key Chapel Bell Choir will perform during the 8:45 a.m. and 11 a.m. services Sunday, March 25, at Siesta Key Chapel, 4615 Gleason Ave.