Oklahoma Baptist University

Handbell Reunion to Say Farewell to Founder

Oklahoma Baptist University's 10-member handbell ensemble, The University Ringers, will present its final concert under founding conductor Mary Kay Parrish next week after a weekend of reunions and rehearsals.

The concert, April 20, at 8 p.m. in the university's Yarborough Auditorium, will feature performances by the university's current members and 42 returning alumni of the choir. The group is celebrating 19 years of existence on the eve of Parrish's retirement from teaching. Parrish, associate professor of music, will retire from OBU in May, after 38 years at the university.

The University Ringers are recognized as one of the top collegiate handbell programs in the nation. They have presented feature concerts at the Southern Baptist Church Music Conference, the American Guild of English Handbell Ringers' Director's Convention and have appeared on Diane Bish's syndicated television program, "The Joy of Music."

The group has toured in 31 states and several foreign countries.

They were awarded AGEHR's highest award as one of two collegiate ensembles designated as "Exemplary" in the first edition of their Handbells in Education publication. The plaque was presented during an OBU Homecoming event by John Faris, a 1957 OBU graduate who was chairman of the Bells in Education committee.

The group has performed on campus annually at OBU's Homecoming Gala, the Hanging of the Green, and has participated in worship in chapel services and in churches throughout Oklahoma and Texas. They also have presented programs for banquets, conventions, and conferences on and off campus.

Eighty-five alumni have been a part of the handbell program since its inception. Members of the choir have haled from Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas and 12 other states.

The first auditioned handbell ensemble was formed in the spring of 1983 when Parrish requested that it be added to the fine arts curriculum. Dr. James Woodward, dean of the college of fine arts at the time, allowed it as a topics course and promised to recommend its addition to the curriculum if things went well.

The group presented a full hour's worth of music at the first concert with only a semester of two rehearsals per week. They wore robes borrowed from a local church. Their equipment amounted to one three-octave set of bells.

Today, the program has expanded to it's own rehearsal suite and two five-octave sets of Schulmerich handbells, a three-octave and five-octave set of Malmark hand chimes, case covers, foam covers, foam carriers, and a complete set of mallets.

Parrish is widely known as a handbell clinician and composer and was recently elected to serve on the national board of AGEHR. She was named 1992 composer of the year by the Jeffers Publishing Company.

The ensemble is part of OBU's Warren M. Angell College of Fine Arts, which has been recognized for its outstanding music programs. More than 175 music and non-music majors participate in the ensemble program at OBU.

The concert is free and open to the public.

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