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Revival of the bells

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services
Published Monday, October 29, 2007

HAY RIVER - The joyous sound of bells may once again ring in Hay River this Christmas.

Jennifer Tweedie is reviving a handbell choir in the community after a year-long hiatus.

NNSL Photo/Graphic

Jennifer Tweedie has restarted Hay River's handbell choir at Princess Alexandra school. - Paul Bickford/NNSL photo

However, there will be a difference as Tweedie has moved to Princess Alexandra school after six years at Diamond Jenness Secondary school.

She is restarting the choir at her new school.

"Everybody is a beginner," she said. "It's a totally new ball game for me."

The new version will be known as the Princess Alexandra School Handbell Choir, at least for this year. In years past, it had been the Diamond Jenness Secondary School Handbell Choir.

Last year, Tweedie said many top players at the high school had graduated or moved away, leading to the hiatus.

She was willing to start the choir, but there was insufficient interest among students.

The new players at Princess Alexandra will be aged eight to 12, as opposed to the teenagers at the high school.

Tweedie has introduced the handbell choir among the exploratory programs offered on Friday afternoons. So far, 12 students have signed up.

"These kids are excited about the bells and they're excited to perform," she said.

Their first rehearsal was on Oct. 19 and the new choir's premiere performance will be at the Festival of Trees before Christmas.

"We'll see where it grows from there," Tweedie said, "It's baby steps right now."

She is considering opening up the choir to Diamond Jenness students sometime down the road. The high school is loaning the bells to Princess Alexandra.

The handbell choir is the only one in the NWT.

Despite her role with the handbell choir, Tweedie is not a music teacher.

At Acadia University in Nova Scotia, she earned degrees in English and education.

At Diamond Jenness, she taught Grade 8, and now teaches Grade 6 at Princess Alexandra.

"I have a high school music background," she said, noting she played flute, and sang jazz and in concert choirs.

Tweedie recalled she had to learn how to play handbells when she moved to Hay River.

"I'd never seen a handbell until I hit Hay River," she said.

In 2001, she became the third director of the handbell choir, which formed in 1999.

Tweedie took the choir to a different level.

Before she became director, the choir did small community performances, at the Festival of Trees.

Since then, the choir has played festivals in Ontario, released a CD, and performed at the Legislative Assembly and the Northern Arts and Culture Centre in Yellowknife.

Tweedie, originally from Nova Scotia, has been a teacher in the NWT for eight years, including two years in Rae-Edzo.

She and her husband, Alvin Pitre, moved North because Pitre hoped to get a job in the mining sector.

"He never did work at the mines," Tweedie said, adding he is now the physical plant and engineering services manager at the hospital in Hay River.

Tweedie said she continues to be involved in the handbell choir because it is gratifying to help young people build their skills and talent, saying, "You can see their self-esteem and self-confidence growing."

Tweedie, a 34-year-old mother of three, also loves the sound of handbells.

"It's just such a pure tone," she explained. "It's so precise."