First UMC Westborough handbell ministry thrives


By Christine Galeone, Contributing Writer

Cynthia Hamburger addresses the audience as her adult handbell choir prepares for the ministry’s annual Christmas concert. Photo/Submitted

Westborough – Each year, at the Handbell Musicians of America (HMA) annual National Seminar, something extraordinary happens. A familiar song, like “Silver Bells,” is brought to life in a unique, enchanting way. Hundreds of handbell musicians, from all over the country, work together to perform the song. Among the performers have been members of the First United Methodist Church Westborough (FUMC).

“It’s very exciting,” said Cynthia Hamburger, the founder and director of the FUMC Westborough handbell ministry. “It’s a huge undertaking, logistically.”

The HMA ringers have been able to participate in HMA conferences, as well as FUMC concerts, events and services because of Hamburger’s dedication. The recently retired Westborough Public Schools music teacher has been sharing her time and musical gifts with the ministry since 1984.

Although Hamburger has played the piano and has loved music since she was a child, she didn’t develop an interest in handbell music until shortly before she, her husband and their two children moved from New Jersey to Massachusetts. At that time, the church that she and her family attended was in the process of starting a handbell ministry. Her curiosity was piqued again when she heard the instruments played at the Congregational Church of Westborough.

Soon after, when a friend and fellow member of FUMC asked her if she would start a handbell choir, she immediately embraced the idea.

“We were able to raise money for a two-octave set of bells,” recalled Hamburger. “Now, we have five octaves of bells.”

But it isn’t just the number of octaves that has increased over the years. The ministry now includes two youth and two adult bell choirs (one of which is led by FUMC member Alice Morrison). Each choir practices regularly and plays during at least one service every month. In addition to the four choirs’ popular annual Christmas concert – which is performed for the community and raises money for the church’s outreach ministry – they play at some ecumenical services, special events, weddings and funerals.

Hamburger admitted that playing at the latter of the four is challenging.

“We, sadly, had a member of our choir pass away,” she said. “It was difficult but also meaningful for us to play for her.”

Hamburger, who has a B.A. in music education from West Virginia Wesleyan College and was the chair of the Massachusetts chapter of the HMA for six years, has been dedicated to the ministry and is proud of the ringers – including many who have been playing with the choirs for years and two members of the original choir.

“They’re very committed,” she said. “I think they find it meaningful to play and be part of worship in the church.”

Likewise, Hamburger finds it fulfilling to be part of that worship. And she enjoys knowing that many of the youth find it rewarding as well, since many join the adult choirs after returning from college.

“That’s always very heartwarming to see that they want to come back,” she said.

Having heard from church members that the music from the bell choirs is inspiring and knowing the joy the handbell ringers’ experience, Hamburger said she hopes the thriving ministry will continue to grow.

“I love all the music that we play; it’s just very unique,” shared Hamburger, who said that she also enjoys the camaraderie with the other ringers. “It’s very uplifting to be part of.”

Short URL: http://www.communityadvocate.com/?p=90295

Posted by on Jul 10 2017. Filed under Byline Stories, Neighbors in the news, People and Places, Westborough. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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