The Tabernacle Choir Blog

Ringing in 10 Years with the Bells on Temple Square

Ten years of bell ringing is something to celebrate. This year, the Bells on Temple Square marked the milestone of its creation in 2005 with special performances with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and concerts at BYU-Idaho and in the Tabernacle. “The 10th anniversary is a great tribute to the 32 musicians,” Leanna Willmore, conductor of the Bells says.

Willmore, who has been associated with the bell ensemble for the entire ten years, first as associate conductor and now as conductor, remembers that the early ensemble was made up of some bell ringers who had experience in high school and community groups and a few good musicians. “They rang like a high school group but we wanted a phenomenal group,” she explains. “That was expected. Our first concert was average quality but awfully exciting.” As time has gone by, ten years of weekly rehearsals, two concerts each year and several performances with the Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square, the Bells on Temple Square has significantly improved its musicality. Today, she can give the group—now numbering 32 with a few substitutes—the most advanced music and they can play it at the highest level, with repertoire ranging from classical to contemporary. Associate conductor Larry Smith joins Willmore in leading the ensemble.

Watch the Bells on Temple Square’s amazing performance of Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee.”

Playing the bells is very different from sight reading note after note like an orchestra, she explains. Bell ringers are not playing every note; they have to work really hard as a team to bring the music together.  “A new piece takes about five months to get ready for performance. The key is that our musicians come to rehearsal with an attitude of service and a spirit of cooperation. That’s what the organization is all about,” explains Willmore. “Mack Wilberg, music director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir who oversees the work of all the Choir organization ensembles, has made sure the Bells get exposure and performance opportunities such as playing at the American Choral Directors Association convention concert last February to Music and the Spoken Word broadcasts, and of course, the annual Christmas concert. Everyone loves playing in the Christmas concert.”

So committed are the Bells on Temple Square ringers that no one leaves. Willmore has not held auditions for three years. When she does bring in new members, they join as substitutes, attending every week learning to become part of the team. Attendance is between 90% and 95%. Like the Choir and Orchestra, all the bell ringers are volunteers.

The Bells rehearse Wednesday evenings in the Tabernacle at 7:00 p.m. and the public is welcome.