Five-year-old Bronson O’Dell Wadley and 86-year -old Roseland Barton may well be apart in years, but they have at least one thing in common - they love the crisp clarion sound of their handbells.
The two are part of a multigenerational class comprising members of the Ahwatukee Preschool four-and five-year-old classrooms and residents of Mountain Park Senior Living/Spectrum Retirement Center, also in Ahwatukee.
Their first monthly gathering was held in the Mountain View Lutheran Church, where the school, active for 37 years, is located.
Under the direction of Ahwatukee Preschool music teacher Leslie Franzmeier, the first rows of the sanctuary ‒ packed with seniors and youngsters sitting side by side ‒ wore expectant and ebullient smiles as the bells were distributed.
Everyone received a colored bell, some of them, two. Despite what could be a complicated learning curve for hand bellringing, this class makes music from the start after the group gets familiarized with their bells and the color-coded cards Franzmeier holds.
“We use the Kristal Bell Method that has a CD playing the melody,” said Franzmeier, also the church bell director. “We’re really just following the melody and ringing chords.”
The system uses seven color coded bells - red, orange, yellow, green, light blue, dark blue and purple. Each colored bell is rung when Franzmeier reveals the colors on the cards held above her head.
“When you see your color, you have to ring,” instructed Bronson O’Dell Wadley didactically. “It’s fun and it’s not very hard.”
For Roseland Barton, a member of Mountain Park Senior Living and Mountain View Lutheran Church, the bell ringing along to “Amazing Grace” and “Take Me Out the Ballgame” was a simple way to make music from the get-go.
“There really isn’t anything to it unless you’re colorblind,” she said, adding:
“I sat next to one very personable boy and another one was a little shy and introverted. But this is good for the children who have no grandparents in the area to get a little grandparent experience. Likewise, it’s good for those who don’t have their grandchildren nearby.”
Barton moved from northeast Illinois to Arizona in 1977 and with her husband, located to Ahwatukee two years later. She was a teller at Valley National Bank at 48th and Elliot, now Chase Bank.
For Franzmeier, a handbell aficionado and talented teacher/player, the multigenerational program is more than just another way to entertain the preschool children or give the seniors an outing.
“It’s so beautiful. The joy on their faces is priceless,” she said, tears springing to her eyes. “They just have to know a color, they don’t have to read a note, and they’re making music immediately.”
She said watching the preschoolers and the seniors interact throughout the class is eye-opening.
“A lady comes in with an oxygen tank and that is kinda scary to little kids who don’t know what it is, but before you know it, it disappears and they’re making music together,” said Franzmeier.
“Another woman is in Memory Care and she may not even later remember what happens today, but she had so much fun. She had her arms around the kids and told them what a great job they were doing and encouraging them, and for that moment she was contributing and helping the little guy next to her.”
With only one session behind them, enthusiasm to continue the elder/preschool handbell sessions is already high.
“It ends in May when school ends, but we hope it starts up again in the fall,” said Franzmeier, who is already planning a concert.
Linda Henderson, director of fun at Mountain Park Senior Living/Spectrum Retirement Center said this year’s theme throughout the Spectrum Retirement Communities is Engaging in Music.”
“Our residents just loved getting together with the Ahwatukee Preschool for this,” Henderson said. “They each sat between several children and sitting and interacting with them was very special. They enjoy every opportunity to see and be with children.”