The talented musicians of the dynamic group known as the Bayou Bell Ringers have begun their bi-weekly gatherings on Mondays and Thursdays.
At 3:45 p.m. nearly 40 performers fill the Masonic Lodge with glorious, melodious sounds produced from their nearly 245 brass and spun brass bells.
They have 127 songs and are always learning new ones. Their venues always change, but they always perform Christian songs and hymns. You know the Bayou bell Ringers, but you really don’t know the Bayou Bell Ringers.
The Bayou Bell Ringers is a group of mentally and physically handicapped individuals who have learned to take the DIS out of disability and have the ability to perform with hand bells. Their group is open to anyone with a disability and their members are diverse, ranging in age from 12 to 77 years old.
Directing this group of talented bell ringers is Aaron Champagne. He is a music therapist and educator that recognized his students’ God-given talents.
Champagne arranges all music using a unique system of hand gestures he created. The hand gestures are extremely complex looking to an outsider. Each bell ringer knows exactly which hand signal is their cue to ring which of their bells.
For those members that are deaf or blind or both, Champagne signals them through the use of pedals at his feet.
He pushes a pedal and the bell ringer is signaled through a vibration device attached to his or her arm or leg.
Champagne and a few locals developed the system years ago as a way to showcase each member’s talents.
The non-profit group formed parent 401-(c)3 corporation “We Can All Ring, Inc.” in 1995 and travels anywhere they are asked to play. Their trips are funded through donations and fundraisers.
This Saturday, October 18, they will host their first 5k run/walk. The race begins at 9 a.m. at the Lockport Bayouside Park.
Brenda Gaudet has been involved with the Bayou Bell Ringers for some time and has been an avid runner for nearly 30 years. She figured why not try a 5k as a fundraiser.
“We have received such a wonderful response from the community,” she says. “We have nearly 120 people pre-registered for the event already.”
“A lot of our support comes from corporate and local businesses. Support for our premier run/walk has been outstanding and so well received,” she says. “The Lafourche Parish Sheriff’s Office will be on site fingerprinting children. Ochsner St. Anne will be providing health screenings and holding a raffle. And food … white beans, jambalaya and hamburgers,” she added.
This is an event she is really looking forward to.
“I have been putting in 8 hour days this week on the event finalizing everything. It’s a ton of work,” she says. “It has been fun though and I am really excited about it. The public is invited and we’d love to have everyone come out to support us!”
The benefits of the first ever Bayou Bell Ringer Fall Fun Run are two-fold – a much welcomed financial increase for the non-profit and a huge awareness campaign.
The Bayou Bell Ringers play anywhere they are asked, if their budget allows. Their entire yearly budget made up of donations, goes to insurance, maintenance and purchase of bells and travel expenses.
“Renting a bus is $2,000 a day. For a three-day trip you’re looking at $6,000 and that’s not hotels and meals,” says Champagne. “We’ve been invited to play in North Arkansas and North Texas by some huge churches, but we just can’t afford to because we just can’t afford the travel.”
“We are a unique group and our venues are limited,” says Champagne. “This run will hopefully help to increase our awareness in the community among people that may otherwise not have ever heard of us. More awareness leads to more support and more support leads to more awareness through increased performances,” he added.
Many of us have never heard the Bayou Bell Ringers perform. The Christmas season is their busiest and they have several performances already scheduled. They begin their season December 3 with a performance at the Center in Cut Off, December 17 at Victory Life in Lockport, December 13 at St. Hillary in Mathews, December 14 at Golden Meadow Baptist Church, December 17 at St. Mary Catholic School in Raceland and December 20 at the LA Salette Center in Golden Meadow.
“When people watch us perform for the first time, they look with amazement,” says Champagne. “People are truly amazed by what these talented bell ringers can do. This is really unique … special needs and regular needs people coming together to perform with hand bells,” he added.
To learn more about the Bayou Bell Ringers or their first Fall Fun Run, visit bayoubellringers.org or call Brenda Gaudet at (985) 855-6895 or Pam Schexnayder at (985) 691-7239.
Posted on Tue, October 14, 2014
by Marc Kimball, Contributing Writer