Jingle All The Way to the Olympics
When the Mark Twain Ringers took the stage to perform at the Mark Twain Middle School spring concert last Thursday, they did so with the focus of a gymnast stepping on to a balance beam. The audience fell silent as the students began ringing a beautiful rendition of “Amazing Grace.”
“These kids work magic with sacred music,” said director Ron Theile. “Sometimes they just hit it. They know how to get the spirit of the bells to the audience. I’ve seen grown men cry.”
It is this unusual skill that earned this Mar Vista school’s handbell choir the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of performing in London during the 2012 Summer Olympics.
“These students have worked so hard that it’s just going to be an incredible opportunity for them,” said principal Rex Patton. “These students are empowering themselves as a community by connecting to something much larger than themselves.”
According to Patton, the Ringers are becoming a part of not only Olympic history but of a longstanding English tradition of handbell ringing; the Games will begin with every bell in England ringing simultaneously.
The Ringers will tour London for 10 days, performing in some of its most well-known cathedrals, including Westminster Abbey. They were invited by the Greater London Authority specifically to perform on four Olympic live stages. While they will stick to sacred music in the cathedrals, the Olympic live stages will allow the Ringers to showcase their signature “rock’n’roll bells,” as they did in Thursday night’s concert, playing their favorite pop songs by artists like Taylor Swift and Adele with guitar, drum and vocal accompaniment.
“They play spectacular music and we’re the only ones,” Theile said. “I expect to show the world how lucky Los Angeles is to have these kids.”
Most members of the group have never picked up a handbell when they join the choir in sixth grade but Theile said they are quick learners. They rehearse five days a week in a regularly scheduled class, but it is not difficult to motivate the students to practice.
“It’s like a busted piano. If a student does not play, it’s not complete,” Theile said. “They pressure each other do well.”
The journey to London, though, was not an easy one; the Ringers were invited last June, leaving them just about one year to raise over $100,000 to send Theile and 17 eighth-grade students on the trip.
Eighth-grade co-presidents Laura Antonio and Elizabeth Goldhaber spearheaded fundraising efforts on the part of the students and successfully raised about $30,000 from paid concerts, fundraisers at McDonalds and Albertsons and other efforts.
“It was hard finding money,” said Goldhaber, whose favorite fundraiser was a haunted house held in the auditorium for Halloween.
The rest of the money was the result of endless campaigning by Theile and Patton, who called upon many past donors.
“It took a lot of innovation to get the money,” Patton said. “It took a lot of calling on past contacts to help us do it.”
They also had the support of folk duo Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion, who started a campaign to raise money for the Ringers, and Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who is now campaigning to name the students official Los Angeles ambassadors. He presented the Ringers with certificates to recognize their accomplishments at Thursday’s concert.
“You’re truly ambassadors of the United States of America and I’m so proud of you,” Rosendahl said during the presentation.
But it will not be all work during their time abroad; they will visit some of London’s most iconic sights and take a day trip to Paris for more sightseeing, giving the students a break from the professionalism of international performing.
Goldhaber said she is excited to see the Eiffel Tower, but Antonio has her sights set on Buckingham Palace.
“I want to see he changing of the guards,” said Antonio. “I want to make them laugh.”
By: Alexis Driggs, LAUSD Journal Contributor
Posted: June 5, 2012