Snow crunches under foot on a crisp winter day in downtown Regina. Overhead, the sound of bells joyfully peels through the air.
In the Knox-Metropolitan United Church, high above the altar and pews, Carol Benesh seemingly waltzes between a circle of ropes connected to 12 bells.
Her performances, for the most part, lasts less than 30 seconds — but the power of the performance sends sound throughout downtown Regina.
Benesh has been conducting these performances for the last 22 years and on Monday, she graduated the bell ringing apprenticeship program.
“Once you’re done your senior bell ringer page, you can set your graduation at any time,” Benesh said. “That’s the test.”
On Monday, she rang the bells at every hour, quarter after, half hour, and quarter to for almost 12 hours to mark her graduation.
She explained that through the apprenticeship program, bell ringers learn the ropes that control the bells and slowly learn how to ring more of the bells in the tower.
The program gets more complex the further along a bell ringer goes, according to Benesh.
By the time someone reaches a senior-intermediate level, they’re expected to learn 12 complex songs that are signed off by two other bell ringers.
Bell ringing community look for more graduates
She noted the bell ringing community is aging, and they’re looking for more people to graduate different stages of the program.
More graduates means more people can advance through the program, because there are more people with the skills and knowledge needed to ensure everyone’s abilities are up to par.
Benesh estimated Regina’s bell ringing community consists of 13 to 14 graduates, but they aren’t always active.
There are currently four people apprenticing as bell ringers.
“With my availability, and with their availability, we haven’t progressed too much on those ones,” she said.
“There’s a few that have completed their beginner, and they’re well on their way to completing their intermediate.”
She said people as young as seven and as old as 70 ring the bells in the Queen City.
“Mostly, the last few years is more due to your physical ability to get in the tower — it’s not limited at 70, but it’s kind of neat to be able to say seven to 70.”
The ‘Stone Lady’
Paper sheets used to keep track of where individuals are in their apprenticeship are tacked and stapled all over the walls where Benesh does most of her work.
They’re graced with names like “Pita,” “Diamond,” “Toad,” “Windy,” or “Mother Giraffe.”
Because bell ringers are sometimes under the age of 18, they often choose a nickname to represent themselves.
When they host a public performance, those ringing the bells are often referred to by their nickname, or “tower name.”
Some choose to re-name themselves over the years, but many stick with their first tower name.
The tradition has carried on for the older people who ring the bells as well.
“My name is Stone Lady, and it still is, so I’m affectionately known as the Stone Lady in the tower,” Benesh said.
She said she went through a period in her life where stones and crystals resonated with her and when she met new people, she would give them a stone.
Benesh was remembered by Wayne Tunison, another bell ringer, and his wife as “the Stone Lady” for her gifting of stones. The nickname stuck, and Benesh’s own playsheet is graced with the title.
A family affair
Benesh said she hasn’t been in the tower every weekend in about four years, but she’s making more of an effort to get some ringing in.
Benesh said it also gives her an opportunity to spend time with her granddaughter.
She also spent time a lot of time in the tower with her daughters when they were growing up.
Sometimes, the girls would play the bells and then play hide-and-go-seek when they were done their duties for the days.
As they got older, the roles would change, and when Benesh needed a break, her daughters would take over bell duties.
“This is something that those kids will have that’s part of their life forever, they’re good memories of grandma, I didn’t even realize that,” she said. “That was our traditions that we built when they were growing up.”
She said she would love for her grandchildren to have an opportunity to play the bells as well, and she said they are learning.
“My immediate children realize how special it is that they got to grow up and do that and they would support the grandchildren doing that too,” Benesh said.
She said it’s mostly family, and the friendships that she’s built with other bell ringers that keeps her coming back to the bell tower.
“After having some time away, it’s hard to convince yourself to come back,” she said. “Having family that wants to learn, you look outside yourself. I do it more for them than I do for myself.”
She said sometimes she feels as though her fellow bell ringers don’t need her, but she knows her seven-year-old granddaughter will need help learning the craft, and she’s more than willing to step in and provide her knowledge then.
Azure Benesh, her daughter, prepared a sheet of music for Benesh to play to mark every half hour during her graduation.
“I’ve written some music for fun here and there, but I haven’t really played any in the tower,” Azure said.
“It was nice, I struggle a lot, because she’s my mom, so she means a lot and I wanted it to represent a little bit of her spirit but also not be too strenuous to pull the ropes.”
Azure said making the music is about finding balance with the sound and the neighbourhood.
There are apartment buildings across the street from the Knox-Metropolitan, so bell ringers have to be mindful of the noise according to Azure.
She lives in Vancouver now, but Azure said she tries to visit the bell tower every time she visits the Queen City.
Azure said she misses playing the songs the most.
“There’s a lot of songs that we have up in the tower that are only in the bell tower, because they were written for this tower,” Azure said.