They look and sound like ordinary middle school kids. They laugh, joke and text their friends on their phones. But once they don their pristine white and blue gowns and position themselves behind their hand bells, these school children instantly turn into serious musicians: musicians who can create angelic sounds merely by raising their wrists.
They are, of course, the Mark Twain Ringers. The hand bell ringers are all students at Mar Vista’s and are a regular fixture in and around the community. They’re a regular fixture on the performance circuit and they never fail to impress audiences with their dedication, precision and, of course, their beautiful music.
And it’s not just local audiences that have fallen under their spell. The kids have performed at the Hollywood Master Chorale, Disney World in Orlando, Florida, the Hollywood Bowl and Knott’s Berry Farm to name a few.
In 2006, the LAUSD Board of Education recognized the ringers as the official Youth Ambassadors for Southern California.
Now, their impressive talents have been recognized overseas and the ringers have been invited to perform at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. Right now they’re working diligently to raise the $100,000+ funds they’ll need to take them there.
The man behind the music (and the students) is their teacher and Director Ron Thiele, who has been ringing hand bells since he was 10-years-old.
Thiele told Patch he’s not surprised at all that his kids have been invited to such a prestigious event.
“The reason people want them is because they’re remarkable musicians,” Thiele says. “And because we have a larger than normal choir.”
A “normal” choir, Thiele explains, usually consists of 9 to 12 individuals. “But we have 24 to 26 kids and when you put that much power behind these bells it really moves people.”
Thiele is also proud of the fact that his students all maintain excellent academic standards with an average GPA of 3.6, despite the amount of time, effort and energy they put into rehearsals, performances and raising funds for their trips.
More importantly, though, Thiele says, is how the children all have great values and strength of character. It would be easy for their performances on the national and now possibly international stage to turn their heads, but Thiele says they are all down-to-earth.
“The older kids teach the younger kids how to play,” Thiele notes. “I don’t. I just conduct. Once you get this furnace burning it builds itself. For us, this is all about being together, taking care of each other and travelling together. It’s really not about the music at all.”
Thiele has also made it clear to the students that the trip to London won’t be handed to them on a silver platter. Together, the kids themselves will have to raise $10,000 towards the trip. “We think asking them to raise 10 percent of the funds is fair,” he says.
That’s why this current holiday period – between Thanksgiving and Christmas - is the busiest season for the 29 bell ringers, and they have a lot events lined up.
From private parties to corporate holiday lunches, along with a candy fundraiser for Hanukkah and Christmas, you’ll be hearing the Mark Twain Ringers all round town. And, Thiele points out, it’s not like they can do this full time.
“They still have to go to school,” he says.
Thiele says he’s been playing hand bells for 49 years, and the classic bells can get old. But he’s excited again, noting the Schulmerich Handbells have come out with a new device called a melody wave – a chime-like device that duplicates the sound of an orchestra electronically.
“When we get those going there is going to be no stopping these kids,” he enthuses, adding that the kids themselves want to play more than just classic bells. “They want to play Taylor Swift,” he notes. “And with the melody wave and rock and roll bells that’s what the Olympics wants from us too. It’s so exciting.”
For now, though, the Olympic dream is still a dream for these kids. Come support the Mark Twain Ringers at the following upcoming events:
Friday, December 9 6:30-8:00p.m.
Redondo Beach, CA
Paid event. Ringers provide atmosphere music.
Thursday, December 15 5:30-8:00p.m.
Mark Twain Holiday Concert
Mark Twain Middle School
Arts Academy presents holiday music, dance and art to student body, staff, family and friends.
To make a donation or to learn how you can help the Mark Twain Ringers fulfill their Olympic dream, email Director Ron Theile at firstname.lastname@example.org for an information packet. You can also learn more by visiting www.handbellringers.com