Thank You, Christi (continued)
“I was realizing, talking to my husband: ‘What are we on, 33 years of marriage? I have been doing handbells two years longer than that. I’ve been coming to church and playing handbells for 35 years now.’ Is that crazy?” she asks.
Not at all. Not to those of us who appreciate those ethereal chimes that grace our worship services — which is to say, not to the Ascension community as a whole.
Christi joined the Carillons bell choir in 1987, when Shirley Egertson was director. When Shirley stepped down, then-Senior Pastor Larry Wagner approached Christi and said, “’Can you please just do it maybe one year until we hire somebody to take it over?’ That was in 1990 and yup, here we are,” she says with a laugh.
“He has since retired. That’s not fair,” Christi adds. “You can’t ask me for one year and then retire ahead of me.”
But now, it is Christi who is retiring. That is, she is retiring as Carillons director, though she does intend to play with the beloved group. Christi’s friend and fellow musician, and former Ascension school teacher Matt Cahill will lead, at least for awhile, after Christi directs the postlude a final time Sunday, June 5.
Her years as Carillons director include such special moments as playing at the entrance of the Reagan Library at Christmas time, performing in concert with the Los Robles Master Chorale, and attending bell choir conferences as far away as the Sacramento area and Stanford. Classes, mass bell ringing and mingling with other ting-a-lingers made such confabs fun. Even so, they’re not Christi’s favorite Carillons memory.
“The biggest highlight, for me — what kept me doing it all these years — is that it was almost like a Life Group for us. There’ve been times when I didn’t feel like leaving the house on Tuesday nights. But once I get there, my mood lifts. It fills your soul and makes you feel good.”
She started out with zero experience as a director. She played the flute and she’d had a music scholarship to Cal Lutheran. (By the end of her first semester, though, she’d switched majors. “I knew I wasn’t going to teach music or be a performance artist, and I loved accounting,” she explains.)
With Pastor Larry’s approval, she signed up for a bell choir directors’ workshop at Concordia College in Irvine. “That literally taught me how to direct, beat patterns and all that.” Impressive!
“I make it work, but nobody sees my bad form,” she insists, smiling.
Carillons has provided an outlet for Christi’s creative side. Although she tends to be low-key about it, that’s a side rich with considerable gifts. Ascension has also benefited from her artwork, for example. Think of our Easter mural, décor for numerous events, even the office welcome cart.
Performing and artistry, math and science run in Christi and Mark’s family. Her son Mitch works in computers and is also a musician who occasionally has filled in as a bell ringer in our choir. Daughter Casey Joy has a brilliant history including international competitions as a champion ice skater on the Synchronized Skating and Figure Skating Team at Michigan’s Adrian College.
So why is Christi passing the baton after all these years?
“I realized it’s time for some new blood. I’m on to other things,” she says. “The biggest thing is that my husband is planning to retire at the end of the year and it’s hard to travel when we have to be here every Tuesday.”
She and Mark already have a trip planned to Ecuador, to visit relatives there.
She hopes that the bell choir not only continues and thrives, but increases its membership in the future — as bell choirs have grown more and more popular.
She explains, “English handbells were originally made for people who had to ring bells in actual bell towers, so they could practice. They were brought here [to the U.S.] sometime in the 1960s, and people started using them not only to practice, but to play music.
“It’s actually gotten huge. When I started, as far as picking music, you had very few options. Now there are thousands of compositions,” she shares enthusiastically. “If you looked up a hymn title, you might find 25 pieces of music, where in the past you had two to choose from. It’s changed quite a lot, even the techniques — you saw the stirring technique at Easter — those things are new.”
It’s good to know that, even as Christi is stepping down from her directorship, we’ll be hearing more from her. The handbells continue to have a peal.