Any high school student may participate in Allegro, with preference to those with prior handbell music experience. Commitment to weekly rehearsals, regular performances, and ensemble activities is required. There are no membership dues.
About the Ensemble
The handbell music program at the Union Church of Hinsdale was started 1967 by Mr. John MacDonald with the purchase of three octaves of handbells with memorial funds. Known first as simply the "Union Church Handbell Choir," our mission has never changed: We are an organization of learning and growth for high school musicians with a goal to delight audiences around the world. We are the Allegro Handbell Ensemble.
Throughout the its history, the Allegro Handbell Ensemble has been a pioneering force in the world of handbells, and has commissioned and premiered several new works for the instrument, including Donald E. Allured's advanced Suite for Cello and Bells and Symphony for Bells, which have never been published since editors deemed the works too challenging to be marketable.
Under the direction of Mr. Dwight K. Menard from 1971 through 1978, the Union Church Handbell Choir began its popular program of regular recording and annual summer tours. It was from one of those early tours that the ensemble received its Allegro name.
"Allegro," as an Italian musical instruction, means "fast." It was also the name of a toy alligator belonging to Shereen Noon, a member of the ensemble, who performed on the group's second tour in 1976. The mascot's name stuck, and the ensemble had a new name: The Allegro Handbell Choir.
The first album was released in 1977, and the group embarked on their first European tour in the summer of 1978, visiting France, Switzerland, Germany, Holland, and England. Since 1977, the European continent has hosted the ensemble every fourth season.
Mr. Menard also started the adult handbell ensemble at Union Church, Union Bells, and the junior high bell choir, then called Joyful Bells before eventually becoming The Allegretto Handbell Ensemble.
It was also at this time the Mr. Menard accumulated additional memorial funding to purchase the two additional octaves to create a five octave set of Schulmerich handbells—all that was available at the time—and the standard instrumentation of many handbell ensembles today. The ringers now perform with five octaves (61 bells) of Schulmerich handbells made in Sellersville, Pennsylvania, and with a matching five octaves of Malmark handchimes made in Plumsteadville, Pennsylvania, which were kindly donated in 1998.
Mr. Michael Surratt succeeded Mr. Menard as Director of the Allegro Handbell Choir and Music Ministries and as Organist of Union Church in 1979. At the time, Allegro performed fifty to sixty concerts each year (that's more than one a week!) and was generally regarded as a professional level ensemble. The change in leadership marked the only interruption to the traditional annual summer tour schedule.
In preparation for the 2003 European Summer Tour, the choir renamed itself once again. "The Allegro Handbell Choir" tended to cause confusion in European churches, taking the word "choir" to mean voice choir and therefore expected a group of thirteen singers! The choir now performs under the banner of "The Allegro Handbell Ensemble," suggesting an instrumental group instead. (Interestingly, Allegro is still recognized locally by the initials ABC rather than AHE, and Union Church's middle school group, Allegretto, is still known as a choir.)
With the retirement of Mr. Surratt in August 2008, the Allegro Handbell Ensemble is conducted by Ms. Elizabeth Jung, an alumna who has previously served as Assistant Director. Mr. Surratt is now Director Emeritus.
Currently, there are twelve members ages 15 to 18 who have been ringing one to seven years. In addition to participating in the music program at Union Church, the group performs for a variety of civic, charitable, educational, and professional organizations, on nationally-broadcast television programs, as well as guest appearances at other churches and local area elementary schools. The choir also tours annually throughout the United States and parts of Canada and Mexico. Their concert programs include sacred and secular music ranging from the 17th to the 21st century.
Hinsdale is a suburban community of 18,000 residents with 18 separate churches, located seventeen miles west of Chicago, Illinois. Union Church is a congregation of 1,500 members and is affiliated with the United Church of Christ, a Protestant denomination of about two million members in 6,500 congregations around the United States.