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The Faculty of Education Handbell Ringers, A History

When Robert de Frece began his career as a music teacher at Archbishop Jordan High School in Sherwood Park, Alberta in 1971, he brought with him experience as a church organist and choir director. His last church position, as assistant to G. Douglas Millson at Robertson-Wesley United Church, had given him experience in handbell ringing, as a ringer, director and arranger of music for handbell ensemble. He continued directing the handbell ringers at the church until 1977, when he added handbell ringing to the music program at Archbishop Jordan High School.

In 1986, when de Frece began his work as a professor Music and Music Education at the University of Alberta, his teaching assignment included a course entitled Instruments for Children. He arranged to borrow a set of handbells from John Nelson, Canadian sales representative for Schulmerich Bells, to use in the course. A year later, in the fall of 1987, a group of his students in that class asked de Frece if he’d direct a group of them to prepare some Christmas pieces for performance at an afternoon concert. Among the invited guests was the Dean of Education, Dr. Robert Patterson. At the end of the concert, one of the ringers thanked Dr. de Frece and told the audience that this would be their final performance since the bells were on loan and had to be returned. The next day, Dean Patterson called Robert de Frece to his office and told him that he was going to purchase a set of handbells to be used for teaching preservice elementary music teachers how to use these instruments in their classrooms. There was one proviso however: Robert de Frece was also charged with forming a performing group that would bear the name of the U of A Faculty of Education. And so, the U of A Faculty of Education Handbell Ringers came into being in the fall of 1988, playing a set of 49 English handbells (4 octaves).

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Over the past 28 years, the group’s “arsenal” of instruments has grown, to include 75 English handbells (over 6 octaves) and 56 handchimes (4½ octaves). The U of A Faculty of Education Handbell Ringers are renowned for their outstanding musicianship and artistry. Since 1988, the ensemble has performed regularly with the University of Alberta Mixed Chorus and Edmonton’s Greenwood Singers and has made numerous guest appearances with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra.

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