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Released April 14, 2005

SOUTHERN MISS HANDBELL CHOIR CELEBRATES 20 YEARS

Hattiesburg- The Carillon Handbell Choir at The University of Southern Mississippi has been a "one-of-a-kind experience for a state university," according to Dr. Larry Smith, professor of music and founder of the School of Music ensemble.

Celebrating its 20th year, the ensemble will hold its first-ever reunion of former members April 22-23, with a finale concert at 2:30 p.m. April 23 at First Presbyterian Church in Hattiesburg.

Smith said more than 50 current and former ringers will perform two numbers on the concert with three five-octave sets of bells and one seven-octave set, totaling "close to 300 bells."

Organized in 1985, Carillon has developed a regional, national, and international reputation and has garnered high praise and respect in the handbell world. In fact, the Southern Miss group is one of only two touring handbell choirs in the Southeast.

The group performs a wide range of handbell literature including familiar church hymns, traditional classical arrangements and original compositions for handbells.

"When I came to Southern Miss, I was aware that a handbell choir existed on campus," said J. D. Frizzell, a longtime member of the choir. "However, I had no idea that it would be one of the best choirs in the country. Carillon has become an integral part of my college experience--it is Southern Miss' best-kept secret."

For the other 13 members of the group, their sentiments about the choir are similar to Frizzell's.

"In my sixth year in Carillon as a master's student, I realized I could never get tired of playing handbells or being a part of an ensemble like this," said Mary Thrash, former member and a master's of choral music education graduate from Collierville, Tenn. "I marveled at all the wonderful travel and performance opportunities I shared with Carillon."

And travel is an operative word for this ensemble. The group performs 20-25 concerts annually and has performed 20 international concerts in eight foreign countries and in 20 states in total. In June 2000, they performed in Europe; in May 2001, they performed in Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia; and in July 2002, they performed for a national handbell event, Handbell Exploration, in Scottsdale, Ariz. Other previous tours include performances in England, Germany, Bermuda, and Japan.

"I've heard Carillon perform several times, both in the United States and Europe, and have been impressed by their consistently high level of musicality and technical mastery," said Fred Gramann, music director and organist at the American Church in Paris. "They are one of the top handbell ensembles in my book."

In March 2003, the group presented concerts in Vicksburg and in Bossier City and Shreveport, La., and was invited to perform at Princeton University in May 2003 for its 1958 class reunion.

Most recently by invitation, Carillon performed as part of the European Handbell Festival in July 2004 in Gouda, Netherlands; and Trier, Germany. They played a solo concert to a full house at St. Laurentius Church in Saarburg, Germany. After several encores, the ringers had to finally leave the stage to end the concert.

And, like all of their tours, Smith and the students raised their own travel funds.

Carillon has its sights set on participating at the 2005 European Handbell Festival July 5-14 in Italy. Smith has coordinated with Witte Travel and Tours to allow former members and the community at large to join the choir for this trip. A brochure may be seen at the travel company's Web site at www.wittetravel.com.

All former Carillon members are encouraged to contact Smith at ldsmith209@comcast.net or call (601) 266-5826 for more information.

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April 21, 2005 12:35 PM