The Sunday Magazine

A bell ringing group brings people of all ages and abilities together to make music

About once a month, retired teacher Diane Martello hosts a communal bell-ringing in memory of her late mother, Maureen, who loved music. Our music producer and bell-ringing novice, Pete Morey, joined in. His documentary is called Ring Joy.
Maureen's Bells is a community-based tone bell choir, focused on "ringing joy", and building community. The group uses a technique that makes it possible for people who cannot read music to participate, yet still challenges musicians. (Pete Morey/CBC)

As a teacher, Diane Martello introduced many generations of children to the magic of bells — or hand chimes, if you want to be technically accurate.

Now, she uses bell ringing as a way for people with little or even no musical background to make music together, and to create a sense of community. She wants people to rediscover a sense of joy in music, to "ring joy", as she puts it.

On a recent evening, about 20 people gathered in Martello's downtown Toronto condo for the last bell ringing session of the season.

Some were friends. One was an accountant. There was a grandmother-granddaughter duo, a music-loving young man with special needs, a curious neighbour and some seasoned pros who have been to every session.

The one person they all wish could be with them is Maureen Martello, Diane's mother, who died at the age of 94 in 2016. The group is called Maureen's Bells, named after her.

Communicating through music

Suzuki ToneChimes, lightweight aluminum tubular bells with an external clapper, used by the group Maureen's Bells. (Pete Morey/CBC)

"My mother was a fantastic person who really loved music. In her last couple of years, she had dementia and we were able to communicate with her through music," said Martello.

Martello's mother lived her last years in a care facility where, her daughter said, she would sing to the personal support workers and dance down the halls with her walker.

"If they weren't singing she'd say, 'Come on, life is too short. Sing with me,'" Martello said. "She just believed in celebrating life."

Martello said the group includes many seniors and first-time musicians, and she wants it to be a source of community for them.

"One of my ideas with Maureen's Bells is to recognize people's loneliness, and to bring people together to bring joy," she said. "So we ring in memory of my mother and we ring joy."

The Sunday Edition's music producer Pete Morey visited Maureen's Bells and tried his hand at bell ringing for the first time.

Click 'listen' above to hear his documentary, Ring Joy.

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