Waukesha woman leading successful handbell choirs

Gerry Elliott
Some members of the Lake Country Ringers, a community-based organization, include Gerry Elliott (front row, from left), Diane Pudlosky, Janie Riese, Barb Nickels, Jennifer Franjevic, Sandy Zeilinski; Don Elliott (back row, from left) Matt Van Hattem and Elizabeth Ahlgren. The group was founded by Gerry Elliott and Jean Miller.
Published on: 12/24/2013

If you meet Gerry Elliott, chances are a handbell isn't far away from her.

That's because wherever life has taken her, the instrument is typically close by.

'I've always been into handbells,' Elliott said.

So it's no surprise that she is the Bells, Carol and Junior Choir Director at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Waukesha and a co-director of the successful Lake Country Ringers.

With a music education degree from the University of Kansas and after doing some graduate work at the University of Texas, Elliott started a handbell choir at a church in Cleveland. She remembers how she first got involved.

'There were people cleaning out the closets and were putting them in leather bags,' Elliott said. 'They were saying 'what are these things?' I said we can play with these.'

Play she did.

And when she and her husband moved to Wisconsin in the early 1980s, she helped start up a handbell choir at Southminster Presbyterian Church.

'The choir master wanted to add a handbell choir and asked if I've ever done this,' Elliott said.

She has led the handbell choir ever since.

Ringing more tunes

But Elliott spreads her talent around the area.

When she was at a church musician leadership conference more than a decade and a half ago to learn new music to 'find the latest and greatest (trends) in church music,' she met Jean Miller of Pewaukee, who serves as the handbell choir director at Wauwatosa Presbyterian Church.

The two hit it off and began playing together with some other musicians.

'We said 'hey this is pretty fun,'' Elliott said. 'So we wanted to play with more accomplished musicians that are further along than their church choirs.'

They formed the Lake Country Ringers, an auditioned community handbell choir that gives seasonal concerts in communities across southeastern Wisconsin.

Hold seasonal concerts

The group, made up of 15 musicians who are all at an advanced level, also holds private concerts.

The group plays a wide range of genres.

'It's a community group from all over the Lake Country area,' Elliott said. 'We play classic, folk, some sacred, but a lot of contemporary and ethnic. It's quite the variety.'

Elliott's husband is also part of the Lake Country Ringers and not surprisingly, he has a rich music background and the two played in a symphony together in Texas.

The Ringers practice at Southminster Presbyterian Church on Sunday evenings, while the Southminster children and adults practice Monday evenings.

Complimenting church

These choirs are different than the Ringers and are a nice compliment to the services.

'Everything in a worship service should help people connect with God and that's what we do,' said Elliott, who can be seen at times playing the violin during concerts. 'It's another aspect to the service.'

Elliott praised the children who are part of the handbell choir.

'They pick it up very quickly,' she said.

And she continues to lead the group 'because I enjoy seeing the kids do well as they read and understand the music.'