Departing choir director hopes bells will keep ringing Teacher founded award-wining group SOUTHEAST--Sykesville * Eldersburg * Gamber

June 15, 1993|By Ellie Baublitz | Ellie Baublitz,Contributing Writer

For the past six years, in June just before school closes, Larry Henning has taken the Carrolltowne Elementary School fifth-grade handbell choir to Washington to play for people waiting to tour the White House.

"I try to make it the last event they do, so they go out with a bang," he said. "Plus it's a more relaxed concert for the kids and it's outside and warm."

The group also tours the White House, which the students enjoy, he added.

Today's trip, however, may be a little sad for the teacher who has taught at Carrolltowne for 11 years and began the handbell choir shortly after he arrived -- the concert today at the White House will be the last one he will conduct with Carrolltowne students.

Recently, Mr. Henning learned he had received his requested transfer to the new Runnymeade Elementary School near Taneytown. And while he eagerly looks forward to his new position as fifth-grade team leader in a brand new school, he leaves Carrolltowne with mixed feelings -- the only handbell choir in Carroll County is left, at least for now, without a director.

"I already asked the two music teachers at Carrolltowne if they would take it over, and one said no, and the other is up for a transfer," he said. "If the one teacher gets transferred, the school could try to get a teacher who would take the choir over, but that would be difficult."

The school wants to continue the program, he said, and the Handbell Choir Booster Committee already has its program ready to go in September.

At Friday night's final handbell concert for the parents, Mr. Henning was surprised when the school administration and Booster Committee each presented him with a plaque for his work with the award-winning group.

Mr. Henning ends this year with his own bang as well.

"This year we were recognized by the American Guild of English Handbell Ringers as an exemplary program," he said. "Only seven or eight handbell choirs in the country got that recognition, so it's quite an honor."

The 33-year-old teacher got started in handbells through his wife, Debbie, who has played the handbells since she was in fourth grade. He was in his first year of teaching at Carrolltowne when he approached the PTA about starting a handbell choir.

"They said 'what?' Then I gave them the clincher that it would cost $6,000," he recalled. "I went in with all the statistics what would be needed."

But the PTA was uncomfortable with supporting a program that would involve relatively few students. So, Mr. Henning started a Parent Booster Committee. One year later, the group had enough money to pay for a three-octave set of 37 bells for the 32 fourth- and fifth-grade students who had signed up for the choir.

"It varies how many are in the group each year," he said. "This year I had about 20 in each grade. I start in the third grade the last month of school to give them a taste if they want to do it.

"Then we start in September with the fourth grade practicing once a week for 50 minutes, and they play three or four songs at the Christmas program and again in June," he said.

It is the fifth-grade students, however, who do the traveling to give concerts at other schools, the White House and maybe an occasional handbell festival.

Carrolltowne also, for the past several years, has been the host for a handbell festival at the school for choirs from surrounding states.

Mr. Henning already has talked to Runnymeade's principal, Barbara Walker, about starting a handbell choir at that school. If he can get the community support that he has had at Carrolltowne the past 10 years, there's no doubt Carroll County will have a second handbell choir.

"The parents were very generous and very supportive," he said. "The choir wouldn't be where it is today without them. Whatever we needed, they gave us. I had one parent who set up concerts for us, one who got the bus, one who paid the bills and I directed -- it was definitely a team effort and the boosters made it easy."

As much as he hates to leave Carrolltowne, Mr. Henning feels it is necessary to reach his future goals.

"I requested the transfer with the idea that I wanted to be a team leader, and it was closer to my house," he explained. "I have the ambition to eventually go into administration, and felt the need to get into some leadership positions."

Carrolltowne Principal Nancy Chapin is looking at several options to keep the handbell choir going "because the children love it and the parents are very supportive."

One idea has been to structure the handbell choir as an extra-curricular activity, in which case a director could be brought in from outside the school system. Another option is to try to start a regional handbell choir among the four Eldersburg elementary schools.

Anyone interested in helping Carrolltowne Elementary keep its handbell choir by taking over as director is urged to contact Nancy Chapin at 795-5585.

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