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'A dance of arms'

Bells on Temple Square captivates audience

Whoever thought bells were meant only for cathedrals, meal calls and school houses was proved wrong when the Bells on Temple Square led a captivated audience through a magical fairyland, a prancing childhood circus and a wild celebration of sound in the "Ringing Praises" concert that took place June 10.

Organ reflected in the bells.
Organ reflected in the bells. Photo: Photo by Debra Gehris

The audience sat in awe and wonder as the choir of 350 bells, chimes and whistles played by 32 members of the Bells on Temple Square, which comes under the umbrella of the Tabernacle Choir. The bells varied in shapes, sizes and looks with the smallest bell weighing only six ounces and the largest weighing an astounding 13 pounds.

In an interview prior to the concert, Tom Waldron, conductor of the Bells on Temple Square, described ringing the bells as a dance of the arms and a dance of the faces. The faces of all the bell ringers "are animated with the gospel of Jesus Christ," he said.

The sound of bells was added to the Tabernacle Choir 10 years ago when a high school group of bell ringers from Brighton High School, directed by Brother Waldron, was asked to accompany a performance of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Later, Tabernacle Choir members began to play the bells themselves, and in 2005, an official bell choir was created as part of the choir organization.

Brother Waldron was named conductor after being a baritone in the Tabernacle Choir for 20 years. He had a music education degree from Utah State University and a master of music degree in conducting performance from Brigham Young University.

For the Bells on Temple Square to perform in the Christmas program before 20,000 people in the Conference Center surrounded by the Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square has been a thrill Brother Waldron will long remember. "We perform for the Savior," he said, "and we hope in doing so, the Lord will bless our souls."

Brother Waldron retired from his position as conductor following the June 10 concert of the Bells on Temple Square. Leanna Willmore, previous assistant conductor, took the baton as conductor of the Bells on Temple Square following the concert; Larry R. Smith will fill the role as assistant conductor.

The Bells on Temple Square, organized six years ago, performed a concert, "Ringing Praises," on June 10, the final program directed by Tom Waldron before he retired.
The Bells on Temple Square, organized six years ago, performed a concert, "Ringing Praises," on June 10, the final program directed by Tom Waldron before he retired. Photo: Photo by Debra Gehris

"The opportunity to be around people who consecrate their time to work for the Church is wonderful," Brother Waldron said, "That is going to be deeply missed."

Organ reflected in the bells.
Organ reflected in the bells. Photo: Photo by Debra Gehris

Volunteers who make up the bell choir are from different parts of Utah spanning Cache Valley to Payson. Brother Waldron said in order to be in the bell choir one must have some sort of musical background, although they don't necessarily need to have worked with bells before.

He said they hold a workshop every January where they teach people how to ring the bells and read rhythm. When the choir needs another bell ringer, they go to the people who attended the workshop and ask them if they would be interested in joining the choir.

The smallest bell weighs six ounces and the largest weighs an astounding 13 pounds.
The smallest bell weighs six ounces and the largest weighs an astounding 13 pounds. Photo: Photo by Debra Gehris

"They need to be ambidextrous, be able to change hands and ring two bells at the same time," Brother Waldron said, "It's definitely a skill that's developed."

According to Brother Waldron, the first audition the choir held, 204 people auditioned; 28 people made it into the initial choir. They also realized they would need substitute bell ringers when other ringers could not make it to performances and rehearsals, so they added five more ringers as substitutes.

For his final concert, Brother Waldron said he requested all the bell ringers be there so he could conduct all of them one last time.

A quilt featuring the handprints of the ringers.
A quilt featuring the handprints of the ringers. Photo: Photo by Debra Gehris

"I want to see all of those faces again," he said, "I want to be in front of all of those faces that I love."

Brother Waldron said he felt melancholy as he prepared for his last performance because he just had such a good relationship with the bell ringers and felt that this was a "wonderful way to serve in the Church."

When the last bell was rung on June 10, the audience gave a standing ovation and called for an encore that allowed Brother Waldron to lead the "dance of arms" one last time. As the sound resonated throughout the Tabernacle, the audience was once again captivated by the sound and spirit of the Bells on Temple Square.

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