In August 1999, Marisol Matos began to work in Ceiba at the Roosevelt Roads schools as a music teacher. Mrs. Matos met the E.S.D. (now CSCD) staff and students and became a volunteer at the school. Mrs. Matos offered to volunteer by teaching music to the deaf students using handbells which she had been awarded under a proposal from EDUCOOP. With some reservation and much curiosity on the part of the school director and friend, Elisabeth Hoke, Mrs. Matos was given time and assistance to work with the residential students in the evenings.
We soon learned that the students were enthusiastic and quickly learned to understand music. The Handbell Choir of E.S.D. was born. It was an effort that brought immediate satisfaction for all involved. Mrs. Matos learned some sign language while the students learned to read music and to follow the director of the bell choir to make music even without the ability to hear the music they were making. Also some of the children who had hearing aids but refused to use them, began to wear their hearing aids so that they could better hear the music they were making. Many other skills were developed including teamwork and visual-motor skills.
In October 2002, the children played their bells before the Senate of Puerto Rico and they delighted their listeners with El Coqui, Ode to Joy and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. It as a great opportunity for everyone including the 4 and 5-year-old students who participated.
When it was time for Marisol to leave Puerto Rico as she moved to the USA, the teachers of the school willingly accepted the challenge of continuing to teach music through handbells to the students.
Every school year, the students have been improving their skills with the bells. Students who have been playing the bells for four or more years are able to handle from 4 to 8 bells in some pieces of music. They enjoy practicing duets, trios, and quartets with their bells.
As we gain new students in the school, we incorporate them in learning handbell and music skills. As new younger children come to school or older students transfer to E.S.D. they quickly develop a desire to play music with our handbell choir. Everyone participates on a voluntary basis and the students who have developed better skills are jealous about their bells.
Since 2004, the handbell choir has played for church services, luncheons, weddings and graduations. It is a joy to serve through music and to show the abilities of the students in the handbell choir. In January 2005 and 2006, we played as part of the Whitefield Crusade in the Fine Arts Center of Guaynabo. In September 2008, the choir took their first trip to visit supporting churches in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
In January 2010, with the changing dynamics of the school population, the bell choir took a giant step backward. With new little children, we began again with Level 1 music, each student with one or two bells. Our older students moved into roles as director and playing the keyboard to accompany the bell chords and simple melodies being played
In 2014, we began the CSCD Adult and Student handbell choir. And in 2017, we were able to take our Adult/student handbell choir members to the World Mission to the Deaf conference in Toronto Ontario Canada where we borrowed a set of Malmark bells and performed sharing our talents and stories with Deaf and hearing friends. While in the area, we also performed at several churches and a nursing home. We visited a classroom for Deaf teenagers but did not play the bells there.
In the fall of 2017, due to hurricanes and lack of electricity, we did not often play the bells but we got back to them in earnest in 2018. Even during the season of Covid (2020- present), students and adult ringers would come to practice and enjoy a break from all things Covid.
Now, in December 2021, we continue to have a small handbell ensemble playing Level One pieces ( always with good ventilation and taking care to maintain safe practices). Several of our members are able to play four-in-hand while others are able to handle only 1 or 2 bells. We have several small group pieces we are preparing for Christmas and a few duets as well.