The Penobscot Bay Ringers will perform in the prestigious annual Boston Handbell Festival, which will take place at Old South Church in Boston Tuesday, May 18. Local residents who would like to attend the Boston Handbell Festival concert can purchase a seat on the charter coach that will be transporting the Penobscot Bay Ringers.

Founded in June of 2008, Penobscot Bay Ringers is one of the most recent handbell choirs to form in Maine, but the group’s music is already striking a chord, both locally and regionally. Shortly after its second annual appearance at the Maine Pro Musica Holiday Pops Concert in December, the group was invited to participate in the prestigious Boston Handbell Festival.

Boston is regarded as the hometown of handbell ringing in the United States, thanks to a woman named Margaret Shurcliff, who returned from a trip to England with a set of eight English handbells in 1902. Over a span of fifty years, she introduced many friends to the joys of handbell ringing; and her Beacon Hill Ringers became well known for its annual Christmas caroling on Beacon Hill. The Boston Handbell Festival continues to honor Shurcliff’s legacy through the playing of glorious handbell music and through a gift of handchimes presented to a local school each year. The gift is made possible largely through audience donations received at the Boston Handbell Festival concert.

“We are so thrilled to be invited to play in Boston this spring,” said Ella Saltonstall, co-founder of Penobscot Bay Ringers.

“As a community handbell choir, Penobscot Bay Ringers has two missions: to provide exceptional handbell performances; and to provide handbell education. By participating in the Boston Handbell Festival, we honor both of these objectives,” she said.

Penobscot Bay Ringers consists of 13 full-time ringers, several permanent substitute ringers and a director. The group rehearses weekly between March and December and performs in a variety of public and private venues throughout the year. Many of the members also ring in one of the four church handbell choirs in Knox County, which are located at Aldersgate United Methodist Church of Rockland, the First Congregational Church of Camden, Rockland Congregational Church and the Second Congregational Church of Warren. The group is always on the lookout for new ringers.

The choir owns five octaves of Malmark handbells and five octaves of Malmark Choirchimes, which means that there is a total of 122 different instruments at hand, each representing a pitch on the musical scale. Each choir member is responsible for ringing between four and eight bells and/or handchimes, depending on the musical score that reads like piano music. There are many sounds to be made with a handbell; ringing, plucking, shaking, and striking the bell with a mallet or on a foam-padded table are a few examples of the various techniques. Adding dynamics, rhythm and speed to the mix makes ringing a real challenge at times.

“The music that we will play in Boston features several unusual bell techniques. We will play two pieces on our own and two pieces as massed rings, which means that every choir present will be playing as one. The audience in the Old South Church sanctuary will literally be surrounded by the music,” said Bunny Stanley, director of Penobscot Bay Ringers.

Leigh Smith, co-founder of Penobscot Bay Ringers, is the only local ringer who has played in the Boston Handbell Festival before. When she retired from her nursing career in Boston and moved to Camden, she hoped to continue with bell ringing.

“I feel so blessed to have connected with Ella, Bunny, and all of the talented people who make up Penobscot Bay Ringers. To find myself in the position of returning to the Boston Handbell Festival as a performer this year is so gratifying. I can’t wait to share this experience with all of them,” she said.

Other choirs participating in the Boston Handbell Festival are the Back Bay Carillon, the Back Bay Ringers, the Merrimack Valley Ringers, the New England Ringers and the Old South Ringers.

The First Congregational Church of Camden has organized this full-day excursion, which includes round trip transportation between Camden and Boston on May 18. The bus will leave Camden at 10 a.m. (with one additional pickup on Route 90 in Warren), allowing for an afternoon of shopping, dining and exploring Boston sites before taking in the concert at Old South Church, Copley Square, at 8 p.m. The cost of this bus trip is $45 per person.

For more details on the bus trip and to reserve a seat, call Cate Lamb at the church office at 236-4821. For more information about Penobscot Bay Ringers, visit

VillageSoup Art/Entertainment Editor Dagney Ernest can be reached at 207-594-4401 or by e-mail to