The Belfast Chime and Handbell Choir consists of approximately 65 children and young people aged 9-16 (approx. 50% Protestant and 50% Catholic) from inner city areas of Belfast. The choir is the main follow up programme for the Piedmont Irish Children's Summer Programme - a cross-community venture which takes primary school children, chosen by their principals and teachers, to North Carolina, USA for a six week visit during July and August each year. Whilst in the States, the children are introduced to the playing of choir chimes and when they return to Belfast they continue playing with the main group. When they have been part of the group for 3 years the children return to the States to learn to play the handbells.
The Belfast Chime and Handbell choir has been in existence since 1989 when it was set up in an effort to encourage the children to continue to meet on their return to Belfast thus cementing friendships which had been formed during their trip to America. It has grown steadily since these early days when 10 children were involved and first rehearsals were held in a room in the Linenhall Library. Now the children meet to rehearse at least once a week at the Belfast Institute for Further and Higher Education in the centre of Belfast or the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum were rooms are provided free of charge. The classes are taken by volunteer teachers who give their time free of charge. Since its inception the choir has undertaken many performances in venues such as shopping centres and old people's homes as well as holding annual recitals for parents and friends.
Special memorable performances have included TV Programmes such as Anderson on the Box, Kelly, the BBC's National Lottery Live and RTE's Echo Island as well as a performance at the residence of the American Ambassador for Ireland, Jean Kennedy Smith, in Dublin in 1996 and another for HRH Prince Andrew at the VJ celebrations at Carrickfergus Castle in 1995. The group also received a gold award at the BP/Gulbenkian Youth Awards in 1995.
The children are taken away each year on residential weekends to rehearse before special performances each year. These weekends also allow the group time to socialise together and therefore provides the opportunity for them to get to know each other better. The children who belong to the choir as it exists at present have become a very cohesive, happy, hard-working group of people who have shown a tremendous sense of dedication and teamwork when working together.
The PSEP funding has made possible the firm establishment of this
project, providing finance for much needed musical instruments
and related equipment as well as allowing the payment of nominal
expenses to the teachers and a part-time administrator.