Christmas Bells are ringing for Lake Point’s Diana Hatch.In just a few short months, Hatch, 38, bought a set of old handbells, then recruited and taught 12 Tooele Valley residents how to play them. Now, the new bell choir is spreading holiday melodies both locally and at the Joseph Smith Building on Salt Lake City’s Temple Square over the next two weeks.
The Oquirrh Mountain Bell Choir is Hatch’s brainchild.
In 2004, Hatch’s mom, Marcia Gridley, began ringing (the term for playing handbells) in the Bountiful Bell Choir. Gridley told her daughter about the group and since the choir had another opening, Hatch joined. That is where Hatch’s love for bell choirs began.
After ringing handbells with the Bountiful Bells for a year, Hatch then tried out for the Bells on Temple Square. There she performed for another four years, only stopping after finding herself busy with children. But when she stepped away, her desire to bring a bell choir to Tooele County began.
Hatch graduated from the University of Utah with a degree in journalism. She has also always loved music and plays the piano, flute and has dabbled with the accordion and the guitar.
In February 2016, Hatch bought a 25-year-old set of Sculmerich English handbells for $7,700 after watching for deals on e-Bay for a year.
“These are really old bells but the casting and metal is good,” she said. “You don’t have to replace that if you treat them good.”
The handbells are cast of 80-percent bronze and 20-percent copper. The bells were in bad shape, so Hatch spent another $1,000 to refurbish them. Her husband gave them to her for her birthday and she couldn’t have been happier.
Hatch thought it would be difficult to charge for a bell choir, since most choirs are community or church choirs. So, she filled out the paperwork to establish the group’s non-profit status.
The group practices Sunday evenings at Hatch’s home from 6-7:30 p.m. For performances, the only dress code is black polo shirts and black gloves.
“There’s a new-age thinking that you can hold the bells better without the gloves, but I like to stick with the gloves because they look fancy,” Hatch said.
Gloves can be bought for only $5 and they help keep dirt and oils from hands off of the bells.
Currently the choir is full, but Hatch is open to the possibility of having a beginner choir or youth.
“I would love to have more teens, they really pick up on the music and give it energy that I like,” Hatch said. “I require that they always come. They can have 10-percent absences. It’s too hard on the rest of us if someone misses. Think of it like you are playing the piano, but if you are missing three fingers, then you can’t really feel how the song is sounding and it affects everybody.”
Hatch has plans to expand her program. She is thinking of offering a free basic bell workshop, which would be open to the community.
She said when it comes to practicing, that can be done at home with kitchen whisks or anything that resembles bells.
“You know as ringers what your tough spots are,” she said. Members “are always welcome to come and ring in my basement.”
The majority of her current ringers often stop in and practice at her house. She said she would even take the time to ring with them.
Hatch has 12 ringers in her choir and the bells span four octaves. The choir on Temple Square is eight octaves, she said.
Hatch said she is willing to work with anyone and doesn’t want to turn anyone away. The group’s mission statement is “to promote and educate the community.”
“If I have to privately educate someone to help them be in the choir, I am willing to do that,” she said.
The group’s age requirement is from mature teen on up. It is important that members are able to focus and stand for at least 45 minutes, since during concerts they stand and play up to an hour without a break.
Three of Hatch’s children, Lily, Sarah and Ethan, participate in the choir. Sixteen-year-old Lily Hatch said playing bells has made her a more well-rounded musician.
“The first time you play, it is hard, but it gets easier,” she said.
Sarah Hatch, 11, is the youngest member of the choir, but she enjoys participating with her siblings and mother.
Ethan Hatch is one of the only two boys that are in the choir.
“I am so ready for the spotlight,” Ethan Hatch said, laughing.
During this Christmas season, the three siblings will have the opportunity to ring with the choir at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building on Dec. 23 at 1 p.m.
Hatch said handbells were introduced to the U.S. in the mid-1800s. It brought the sound of church tower bells to the people.
“Anybody can do a handbell choir, but I decided to certify through Handbell Musicians of America,” she said. “It is the only guild that teaches and promotes ringing through the U.S. You certify in technique, music theory and conducting.”
For four days last summer, Hatch attended a certification clinic in Anaheim, California. At the same time, Lily and Ethan Hatch participated in youth handbell classes at the convention.
Aside from Christmas concerts, Hatch plans for the group to participate in Utah’s Spring Ring with a movie-themed summer concert. Utah’s Spring Ring rotates around several high schools and includes 10-15 other bell choirs.
Hatch’s choir has already performed before the Christmas season, including a concert Monday night at a local nursing home.
She has two goals for the Oquirrh Mountain Bell Choir: First, she would love to have members who stay with the group, and, second, she hopes that someday the local bell choir becomes well known.
Hatch said, “Every person I know who has come to ring the bells has loved it.”
When she hears the bells perform, Hatch said she feels “pure joy.” And she loves to play them more than direct. Hatch really wants to share her love of music with the bell choir’s players and audiences.
Hatch said she especially loves helping people reconnect with music who have not played in quite a while.
“I would love to have people who have not read music since they were 12,” she said.
The Oquirrh Mountain Bell Choir will perform a free community concert at 7 p.m. on Dec. 17 at the Utah State University Tooele Science and Technology Building at 345 S. Tooele Boulevard in Tooele. To find out more about performances or about joining the bell choir, visit the group’s Facebook page, Oquirrh Mountain Bell Choir.