Amanda Kosloski of Harwich had been ringing with the Handbell Choir at the Pilgrim Congregational Church in Harwich Port for about 13 years when she and a church group went to hear the Back Bay Ringers perform in West Barnstable.
That day in August 2014 was the first time Kosloski had heard professional ringers perform, and when she learned the group was holding tryouts for new members, she said, “I have a music degree, I should be utilizing it somehow.” She was accepted into the Back Bay Ringers, which is based in Boston, and began performing with them the following month. “That was it,” she adds.
The Back Bay Ringers’s only Cape Cod performance of “An English Christmas” will be held at the West Parish of Barnstable Church on Dec. 10.
“It’s a different way of listening to your Christmas carols,” Kosloski says.
The Back Bay Ringers, a handbell ensemble founded in 2003, is made up of 16 ringers under the direction of artistic director Griff Gall. Each musician is responsible for up to 12 individual bells. Each bell has an assigned pitch, like the keys on a piano. The three pitch ranges are treble, battery and bass. The bells are arranged chromatically on foam-covered tables that protect the bronze surfaces of the bells and prevent the bells from rolling when placed on their sides. A notable aspect of the Back Bay Ringers is that for each piece the group performs, the ringers themselves move around to different bells—in other words, a given ringer does not always ring treble bells, for example.
This system “plays on our strengths,” Kosloski says, adding, “I find it a lot more fun to move around.”
In addition, the musicians use a variety of techniques, including occasionally employing mallets, to create many unique sounds. The ringers wear black uniforms and hold the bells with black gloves.
This holiday season’s theme of “An English Christmas” features traditional holiday carols first published in an 1833 publication called “Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern” by William Sandys. That was the first year many familiar English and French carols, including “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” “I Saw Three Ships,” “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” “Good People All,” “The Sussex Carol,” “The Coventry Carol,” and “The First Noel,” were published. The Back Bay Ringers will play modern arrangements of all of these as well as favorites from past holiday concerts such as “O Holy Night.”
Kosloski describes the program as “a different spin” on “very traditional English Christmas carols, very cool arrangements with percussion, flute.” In addition to the handbell ensemble, “An English Christmas” will feature Kosloski on flute, Greg Urban on percussion and soprano Patricia Kopko on select songs. “It’s something different to hear at Christmas when you’ve heard the same carols 670 times by Dec. 15,” Kosloski says.
In 1995, Kosloski’s family moved from Western Massachusetts to a circa 1840 house in Harwich that has remained in the family for nine generations.
“We are Cape Codders,” Kosloski says, noting that her Cape Cod family names are Doane and Kelley. The year the family moved, Kosloski took up the flute. Her mother was a bell ringer at Pilgrim, and after accompanying her mother to rehearsals, Kosloski joined the bellringers, too. After graduating from Harwich High School in 2004, she went on to earn a degree in music performance at Keene State College in New Hampshire. Upon returning to the Cape, she taught at Cape Cod Conservancy. A couple of years ago her former Harwich High teacher Rosemarie Richard approached her about teaching at Monomoy Regional High School. She now works with Richard in the music department and is involved with school plays. She also teaches private flute and bassoon lessons.
The Back Bay Ringers was founded as the nation’s first handbell ensemble dedicated to members and friends of the LGBT community. It performed during the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston as well as at the Boston Marathon. It performs annually at the Boston Handbell Festival and is available for private bookings. The group has made three recordings – “Merry and Bright,” “Perpetual Motion” and “Comfort and Joy” – that are available for download through its website.
Boston has a long connection with handbell ringing. In 1902 a resident of Beacon Hill first brought handbells to the United States from England and founded the Beacon Hill Ringers, the country’s first community handbell ensemble.
The Back Bay Ringers will perform “An English Christmas” on Saturday, Dec. 10 at 1:30 p.m. at the West Parish of Barnstable Church, 2049 Meetinghouse Way (Route 149) in West Barnstable. Tickets are $20 adults, $15 seniors/students and may be purchased online at www.backbayringers.org or at the door. For more information call the church at 508-362-4445.