New group helps ring in the holiday season

— Created November 30, 2022 by Kathy Reed

By Kathy Reed

A new musical group will literally help ring in the holiday season on Whidbey Island this weekend.

The Bells of Whidbey will perform the program “Christmas Bells Are Ringing” at 3 p.m. Saturday at St Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Oak Harbor, a benefit for SPiN Café, which operates out of St. Stephen’s. The program will consist of several familiar holiday classics, along with a guest narrator, a tribute to Hanukkah with a guest vocalist, and will include other instruments as well. There is no charge to attend, but donations to SPiN Café are encouraged.

This will be the debut performance of The Bells of Whidbey, which just formed in September. According to director Cheryl Waide, the group can’t wait to ring for an audience.

“This is basically our premier performance and the ringers have been working diligently,” she said. “We want the music to be a festive kick-off to the holiday and that all will enjoy the sound of the bells.”

Waide, a classically trained pianist and church organist who was occasionally asked to be a substitute in church handbell groups, said The Bells of Whidbey just kind of came together.

 “[Playing handbells] was a relaxing and enjoyable way of creating music and a completely different experience from being at the keyboard,” she described. “I began directing handbell groups in 2004 with extensive training through the Handbell Musicians of America and have continued directing or ringing since then.

“My most recent position was at the Coupeville Methodist Church and after retirement about a year ago, I really missed being involved with a handbell group and so the idea of a community group on Whidbey emerged,” Waide continued.

The Bells of Whidbey is made up of 11 ringers who play 35 bells, or three octaves.

“The joy of making music with others is always a thrill,” Waide said. “A handbell ensemble is like a sprawling music instrument played by, in our case, 22 hands!  Every member has a different part and is essential to the overall music-making. While there’s a lot of equipment and work involved in setting up for a handbell rehearsal, the ringers take it on willingly.”

Because The Bells of Whidbey  only began rehearsing together a couple of months ago, it seemed only natural its first concert would be for the holidays.

“Since we just started our group, presenting a community holiday program was a given,” said Waide. “Who doesn’t like to hear joyful, ringing bells at Christmas?  We do hope to continue and use our musical skills as a way of sharing and helping others, possibly a program/benefit in Coupeville in the spring.”

This concert, as noted, will benefit SPiN Café. (

“I think that we all are looking for ways to reach out to help others,” Waide said. “I attend St. Stephen’s and was so inspired by this ministry that occurs in their space five days a week, the staff of SPiN, and to learn that other area churches collaborate with this program. It takes a community to provide for those less fortunate.”

Members of The Bells of Whidbey include Cheryl Coleman, Kathleen DeVos, Eric Hopkins, Florence Livingston, Roland Livingston, Rich Melaas, Teresa Melaas, Jennifer Palmer, Scott Palmer, John Waide and Joan Wilferth. Three of the members also add diversity to the group’s sound with their talent on the concertina, the mountain dulcimer and the folk harp.

Waide said new members are always welcome and there are always churches on Whidbey Island looking to add members to their handbell ensembles.

“We want to encourage new ringers and ask that you attend a rehearsal to see what happens,” she said. “Our group consists of experienced and new ringers. It is not difficult to ring the bells, but proper techniques and special effects do take work. Commitment to regular rehearsals is most important, since the ringers cannot practice at home with bells. Although many have devised ways to practice, from knives and spoons to wine glasses!”

The Bells of Whidbey practices each week at Whidbey Presbyterian Church in Oak Harbor. The group will also perform there during the 10 a.m. service on Dec. 18. In the meantime, members look forward to making their debut this weekend at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, 555 SE Regatta Drive, Oak Harbor.

“Make the beginning of the holidays meaningful,” said Waide. “Come and support SPiN Café, either through monetary or other needed types of donations, then sit back and enjoy The Bells of Whidbey ringing a holiday program.”