Mountain ‘bluebells’ bloom again this Christmas
Marble church resurrects dormant hand bells for Christmas Eve
Call it a Christmas resurrection story. Or, maybe the miracle of mountain wildflowers blooming in late December.
However the story gets played, it’s a special one to close out a year that has seemed especially void of feel-good stories.
It was spring 2016 when longtime Carbondale hand bell and chime choir director Rosemary Clark was unable to continue bringing music to the western Colorado valleys, due to declining health.
For more than 25 years, she and husband Dave Clark shared their hand bell and chime set with community members who volunteered to play in the choir.
“They invited all who were interested to share in the process of learning to play the bells and chimes,” recalled choir member Sherry Herrington in a March 2016 article written for the Carbondale Community United Methodist Church newsletter.
The “Mertensia Bell Choir” was named after the alpine wildflower — also known as the “Chiming Bell,” she explained.
Under Rosemary’s direction and with Dave handling the low octaves, the Mertensia Choir rehearsed, performed and gave workshops from Basalt to Grand Junction.
“Hand bell music was showcased in schools, churches, care centers and meetings of benevolent groups,” Herrington wrote. “The choir experienced the thrill and satisfaction of playing complex music with hundreds of other ringers and professional musicians at hand bell festivals throughout Colorado.”
Rosemary had purchased the three-octave hand bell set in the late 1980s with money from an inheritance. Later, Dave bought a set of hand chimes for her as a Christmas gift.
Herrington described the Clarks as “lifelong learners” of music, among other things, having played recorders and crumhorns over the years.
The couple met while folk dancing in Ohio before they came to Colorado, and both went on to become science and math teachers at the primary/secondary and college levels.
Dave Clark taught many different courses at Colorado Mountain College before his retirement.
Both were also avid birders, often leading the local Audubon Society chapter’s Christmas Bird Count field trips.
BRINGING THE BELLS BACK
Fast forward to this fall, when Redstone resident Alyce Meredith went looking for the bells she remembered hearing at the Carbondale Methodist Church many years ago.
Now regulars at the Marble Community Church, Meredith, who had directed several hand bell choirs herself over the years, wanted to put together a few bell carols for their church’s Christmas Eve service.
“I started making some phone calls to see where they were and if they were being used,” she said.
Those phone calls led her to Dave and Rosemary’s son, Tom Clark, who is now their live-in caregiver. Tom asked his mother, and she was happy to loan the bells out for a Christmas rebirth.
“The bells and Christmas are just such a good combination,” Meredith said. “I’ve directed a lot of bell choirs, and there’s just a very special quality about it.
“It’s a lot harder than people realize, and it takes someone who can read music, and count,” she said.
She and her husband, Larry, had been frequent visitors to the Roaring Fork and Crystal river valleys over the years, skiing and visiting family here.
After three decades living in Emporia, Kansas, they moved to Gunnison in 2006, where Larry had gotten a job with Western Colorado University. Three years ago, they retired and moved to Redstone and began attending the Marble church.
Earlier this year, Meredith got to talking with longtime church members and musicians Peter and Becky Bone about putting together the bell carols for Christmas Eve.
So, for the first time in many years, the modest Christmas Eve gathering at the Marble Church (limited by the coronavirus restrictions) got to hear those special bells come back to life.
“Every Christmas Eve since we’ve been here, the church has had a presentation around one character in the Christmas story,” Meredith said. “So, we decided to weave our music around that, with the bells, guitar and piano.”
She is hoping it might lead to more hand bell performances in the future, though the size of the Marble church is limited and can only accommodate so many of the larger set of bells.
“Two octaves is perfect for this little church,” she said.
Herrington said she is happy to see the bells make their beautiful music again.
“The opportunity to play the bells and experience the music has blessed us all,” she said. “Rosemary always maintained that the bells were a gift to be shared. How appropriate for them to be used in this season.”
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There are a few extra stories being shared around the tables at the Village Smithy restaurant in Carbondale this week following the death of restaurant founder and longtime community leader Chris Chacos.