The Southminster Ringers, founded in September 1969, continue to abide by the membership precedent designed by the eight young people of that first team and their founder, Thomas C. Flynn. Eligibility is determined solely by one’s interest in ringing and commitment to rehearsals and performances.
Currently, the team consists of 14 high school students who are members of Southminster Presbyterian Church. They rehearse for two hours each week and give a number of performances in the local area in addition to providing regular leadership in worship services.
As membership increased, more bells were required than the original 25. Southminster Church now has an extensive collection of handbells and chimes given by members of the congregation in recognition of Southminster’s music ministry: 5+ octaves of Schulmerich handbells (and a second set of two octaves), 4 octaves of Malmark bells, 3 octaves of Malmark handchimes, 3 octaves of Schulmerich handchimes, 16 Petit-Fritsen Dutch handbells and several Whitechapel bells to augment the sets.
The newest addition to the bell collection at Southminster is a set of eight tower bells cast at the Whitechapel Foundry in England. The oldest bells were cast in 1814 and the newest were cast in 2000. The lightest bell weighs just under 500 pounds and the heaviest about 1000 pounds. They are rung each Sunday and for special occasions by a band of eight ringers.
In the spring of 1976, the ringers adopted the kilt and plaid as their uniform, accenting the Scottish heritage of the Presbyterian Church. Through the generous gift of Sandra and Tom Orr, kilts in the Royal Canadian Air Force tartan were purchased in 1981 and are still used today giving the ensemble their distinctive look.
The Southminster Ringers present a varied repertoire, including classical and popular melodies, folksongs, seasonal tunes and compositions written especially for the medium of handbells. Their performance venues encompass churches, schools, civic, governmental and for-profit organizations where they play for worship services, benefits, and cultural and charitable events. The Ringers have appeared on American television, performed by Presidential invitation on four occasions at The White House, were guest musicians at the Pennsylvania Governor’s Mansion and have toured extensively throughout the United States, Canada, and in 28 European countries.
The Southminster Ringers travel abroad biennially as a mission outreach of the church. The theme for their tour is “Ring in the Christ” as they reach out to people of many different cultures, countries and backgrounds. That theme is illustrated beautifully in the stained glass window (shown above), which was dedicated in honor of the ringers and their founder for the 25th Anniversary of the ensemble. The Southminster Ringers look forward to continuing the tradition of reaching out to others through music and the art of handbell ringing.
Southminster Presbyterian Church is located in Mt. Lebanon, a suburb of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It serves not only the immediate community but contributes much to the religious, social and cultural life of the city. Southminster’s membership presently numbers 1,500 and the Reverend Dr. Dan Merry serves as Pastor.
Mr. Richard B. Pinkerton, Minister of Music and Fine Arts, and Director of The Southminster Ringers is responsible for the handbell, vocal and instrumental ensembles as well as serving as organist for all worship services. His undergraduate degree is from Bucknell University where he majored in mathematics, music and computer engineering. He holds a Master of Music degree in organ performance from the Cleveland Institute of Music and in 1989 he received the Associateship Certificate by the American Guild of Organists. He has taught organ at Kent State University and music theory at the Cleveland Institute of Music, has served on the faculty for Pipe Organ Encounters and has been a clinician for local and regional handbell, organ and church music workshops. He currently serves on the board of the Pittsburgh Organ Academy (for young organists) and the board of the Pittsburgh Concert Society.