Betty Fletcher Mast remembers she had a week to organize a handbell choir in an African village.
While traveling with her husband on business years ago, she looked for something to do. When someone suggested that she teach young people to ring bells, she latched on to it.
To make a long story short it worked, even though a local photographer documenting the event nearly derailed the final performance. He arranged the performers by height — shortest to tallest — disrupting Betty’s placement of ringers.
It’s a memorable but by no means singular challenge faced by Betty over more than 50 years of leading ringers.
Another came when she took a group of Minnesota boys whohad never seen the ocean to a national handbell convention in Maine.
Betty remembers the boys wanted to stop. One after another they ran into the water — with their clothes on.
Betty Fletcher Mast has led boys, girls, men and women ringers. Here she is admiring her novelty bell collection from around the world.
She also founded a touring group called the Ding Dong Dollies, ringers who dress in ethnic costumes from around the world.
As a ringleader, you should pardon the expression, Betty has had quite an impact.
One of her early students, Cammy Carteng, now leads her own group, the Plymouth Church handbell choir in south Minneapolis.
The reason Cammy’s ringers aren’t looking at the camera is they’re busy.
Counting. Then ringing.
Unlike piano players who can touch all the keys for the pieces they perform, ringers are assigned a note or two or three and wait their turn.
Ringers with the busiest parts are responsible for several notes so their hands fly as they place bells on padded tables and grasp the next one with gloved hands.
Gloves so as not to tarnish the polished copper and tin bells with nasty body oils.
The metal recipe for making the bronze bells is 80 percent copper and twenty percent tin, more or less.
That doesn’t really do much to explain, though, the science and art of making the bells.
Statewide readers can take an affordable Web trip to the Whitechapel bell foundry, in London, England, the world’s oldest handbell manufacturer, to get a feel for the process.
A trip to hear ringing is much closer, often a nearby church. Scads of houses of worship around Minnesota feature handbell choirs.
But not all. You not only need a dedicated director and corp of ringers willing to take on the peculiarities of the music.
You need some cash. It can cost upward of $50,000 to buy a five octave set of bells.