Ding dong merrily

Oliver is a small town with plenty of talent. Filled to the brim with artists, it’s no wonder that two young musicians are getting set to represent the community this Christmas.

Nicole Thorp and Devin Riley are members of the Oliver Handbell Ringers (OHR). The pair have been selected to join the Okanagan Handbell Chorus, an elite group of ringers cherry-picked for their talents, to accompany the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra.

Both have musical backgrounds in piano, which is certainly an asset with the handbells.

Thorp’s ringing career began in 2007, as a charter member of OHR. Nicole began piano lessons at 8 years old, and carried that love for music throughout her entire life. She earned two separate music degrees in college. When asked about the differences between performing an instrument, such as the piano and performing with a handbell choir Thorp informed, “It is a VERY different experience than playing on a keyboard instrument. In an ensemble situation you may be responsible for 2 or 10 tones in the entire piece. You rely on body cues from other players and develop a real awareness of the entire group.”

Riley has been swinging the bronze since 2010. This was his grad year in high school and when his piano lessons, which commenced in kindergarten, also culminated by completing his grade 8 in the Royal Conservatory of Music program. 

When asked what draws Devin to this unique instrument he stated, “I find that handbells are deceptively complex. I might only have four bells in a piece, but once you add five or six different ringing techniques, or hand chimes it gets complicated in a hurry. I don’t think I’ve ever been bored playing bells…and then there is the added challenge of making it appear easily done to the audience.”

Okanagan Handbell Chorus (OHC) was organized in the early months of 2011 by ringer and director Nikki Atwell of Westbank, BC and directed under the watchful eye of Susan Carscadden-Mifsud, an Ontario ringer/ director (and president of OGEHR). Maestro Rosemary Thompson of the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra approached Atwell, knowing she had connections to musicians with enough passion and drive to produce high quality handbell pieces to be incorporated with the Christmas production. 

Unlike being a member to a regular choir, the ringers of OHC study and rehearse their music individually. There are no weekly practices to slowly brush up on the material. The group only gets together to ring as an ensemble two days prior to performance. The week of performance is gruelling both mentally and physically.  But, the pieces come together by show time to be absolutely top-notch. 

Okanagan Symphony Orchestra’s “Ringing in the Season” treats the public to a second insertion of the Okanagan Handbell Chorus on December 21, 22 and 23.

Nicole and Devin have busy lives with work and family commitments, yet both continue to ring with their regularly scheduled handbell group on a weekly basis. The members of OHR are busy preparing for their own big Christmas event. 

Christmas and bells will forever go together, hand in glove. Musicians dedicated to creating quality music to help others celebrate the season have no shortage of things to practice and brush up on. Let us all be thankful for the talent, commitment and passion of young people like Mr. Riley and Ms. Thorp. Look for the pair with their bright smiles and tinkling bells on Thursday, Dec 21(Vernon Performing Arts Centre), Friday, Dec 22 (Kelowna Community Theatre) and Saturday Dec 23 (Penticton’s Cleland Community Theatre).

The Oliver Handbell Ringers are working diligently on producing their own Christmas program entitled “One Winter’s Night” held at Christ the King Catholic Church (Oliver, BC), Friday, December 15th at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, December 17th at 3:00 p.m.