With singing—especially singing in groups—deemed a high risk activity for the spreading of COVID-19, many amateur and professional choral groups are facing an uncertain future. They simply don’t know when they’ll be able to sing in public again. 

Church choirs and music directors are no exception. They are asking themselves what music at church might look like in the years ahead. Kevin Zakresky, music director at St. Matthias and St. Luke parish has one idea about how to pivot to a safe form of choral music: handbells. 

“I feel like a lot of people will, at the end of the summer, hit a wall because they’ll realize they can’t sing in their music groups,” Zakresky said. This realization made him revisit an idea he had been keeping on a back burner for some time: forming a handbell chorus 

“It’s an easy, non-breathing way to make music,” he says. 

While at Sorrento Centre, Zakresky had a chance to chat with the Cathedral’s Rector, Chris, who is in the process of forming a Cathedral Institute that will provide partnerships with outside organizations and the Diocese of New Westminster to provide opportunities to the Diocesan Churches, the Metro Vancouver Community and beyond for education, development and training. Pappas agreed that a handbell chorus could be a great thing to explore.  Thus was born the Handbell Choir – a sort of handbell school –  which will be one of the many new formation opportunities available through the Cathedral Institute this fall. 

Beginning September 19, Zakresky will lead a Handbell Choir training program through the Institute and located at Christ Church Cathedral. Participants will gather Saturday mornings in the church. “It’ll be very safe, socially distant, we’ll sanitize the bells before and after each session, and the music will be on a projector so no one is fussing with the score,” he said. 

All are welcome to sign up for the first term of handbell training. The first sessions will focus on building rhythm and timing, which is important when trying to make music while physically distanced. Then the sessions will move on to learning how to use the handbells and making music together. 

Zakresky is realistic about what to expect from the first few sessions. “The first few rehearsals of anything is usually a disaster!” he says, adding, “my goal is fun. It’s going to be a fun way to make music together.” 

It is also, he says, an ideal way for anyone who is shy about their singing voice, or intimidated by the idea of performing, to be involved in choral music. He says, “bells are always in tune, and not every tone is used all time so there are lots of places to hide. We’ll find a place for you!” 

Zakresky says the Handbell Choir is just one way of exploring new options for making music as we live with the COVID-19 virus. 

“You have to remember, music can be fun if you’re careful and do the right thing.”

Registration for the first term of Handbell Choir training is now open. For more details and to register, please click here.