The personal enjoyment he got from playing English handbells in churches over many years led Charless Getchell to bring the art of bell ringing to the masses.
It might be a little intimidating at first - walking into a church and, along with your regular program, receiving a songbook and a bell.
Yet Getchell, a former mathematics professor at Lycoming College, makes celebrating the Christmas season with music easier by presenting everyone with songbooks. Each book corresponds to a bell's note. When the bell needs to be rung, the word is highlighted in the songbook.
Charles Getchell, of Woolrich, shows attendees of the weekly United Churches Ecumenical luncheon how to ring a bell and read the music sheets at the Pine Street United Methodist Church.
He even gives tips to produce the best sound with the bells: hold it upside down and give it a sharp flick of the wrist. For those who might want a quieter ring or do not want to hold it, they can place it on a surface and click it, like ringing a button. To hold a note, he suggested shaking the bell.
It took just a few minutes to instruct, but it produced a number of smiling people at a recent Ecumenical lunch at Pine Street United Methodist Church.
"I've enjoyed playing the English handbells in churches for many, many years," Getchell said. "One day, someone brought these Kidsplay bells to church. I looked at them and thought 'Those are inexpensive enough, you can get a lot of people involved with bell ringing for much more cheaply.'"
He tried various strategies over the years. First he wrote out the music and people would play on the circled notes.
"Not everyone reads music and that makes it difficult," he said.
Through the years, he thought it would be nice to have congregations ringing with no practice and no experience.
With his songbooks that do not need the player to have any knowledge in reading music, it has happened with congregations up to 100 people.
However, getting it to that point took a long time.
"Months," Getchell said. "Not weeks. Many, many months."
He explained he has 104 books and bells. All of the books have 80 songs. He had to decide which bells would be rung when for the best sound. He had to type in the lyrics, copy and fit them to the books.
"It was a lot of work," he said.
There are 18 notes he has for the bells.
It took a long time to prepare and it seems to be worth it.
"There have been very many enthusiastic reactions," he said.
Often people like to sit and listen for a moment while everyone else is playing so they can hear the harmonies.
"It's particularly nice on 'Silent Night,'" Getchell said.
He started out including songs from hymnals, such as Advent hymns, Christmas carols and some children's songs. He also added a few commonly available songs from books, such as "We Wish You a Merry Christmas."
He worked with the senior circle at Lock Haven Hospital. The seniors already had a set of Christmas songs they normally sang, so he also added those.
"Some songs don't work very well," he said.
That includes songs like "Angels We Have Heard on High," where the word "Gloria" is held, even though the note changes. It is difficult for people to know when they have to ring their bell.
Most of the songs he had listed are ones people enjoy.
"It's surprising," Getchell said. "You get some groups who really want to focus on Advent. Others ... go back to their childhood and sing 'Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer' and 'I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.' Some go in that direction. I never know in advance which way groups are going to go. I've decided not to have two or three different sets. I let them choose."
Those at the lunch, held Dec. 5, picked songs based on their favorites or songs that featured their specific bells.
Getchell also named a few of his favorites at the luncheon.
He picked "Good King Wenceslas" and added an additional challenge to the group. Since it was a play in a song, he asked the men in the group to sing the king's part, the women to sing the page's part and everyone to sing the narrator's part.
In addition to his holiday songs, he also has a set of about 40 hymns that can be used year-around.