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Holidays in York: Hershey Handbell Ensemble

Blocks away from a newly-lit Christmas tree in York city on a recent Friday, the faint sound of bells dusted the air.

Visitors wearing the red and green of the season slowly filled the hallway and pews of St. John the Baptist Episcopal Church, anticipating the Hershey Handbell Ensemble's performance.

Traditional Christmas carols mingled with lesser-known tunes in the church's rafters, including one of artistic director Shawn Gingrich's favorites, "Veni, Veni Emmanuel," as nearly every pew filled with listeners.

"It's like a glimpse of God seeing a piece of music like that," Gingrich said. "As a musician, it's such an honor to see and play music like this."

In 2004, Gingrich held auditions for what would become the Hershey Handbell Ensemble. The choir, which he said has grown to include some of the most talented ringers in the region, has two more performances this weekend in Lancaster and Hershey.

The handbell performance is part of St. John's concert series, which earlier in the year featured a Russian vocal ensemble and the York Symphony Chamber Singers. Friday night's performance, which coincided with downtown York's First Friday event, was free.

Rodney Barnett, St. John's organist and choir director, said the performance's turnout was stellar. He said though they've had difficulty attracting crowds to the church in the past, which sits on Beaver Street about a block north of the White Rose Bar and Grill, recent turnout has been promising. Barnett said between 125 and 150 came to Friday's performance.

Local business owner Judy Orcutt, one of the performance's attendees, came across the event after perusing First Friday activities.

"How cool is this?" Orcutt said. "It's incredible to see that events like this are happening in York. Even compared to a few years ago. It's so exciting."

Later in the evening, attendees filtered out of the church and away from the handbell's songs, toward the newly-lit Christmas tree and back to the bells of school, weekly church services and daily life.

St. John's concert series pick up in January with a performance by Lawrence Golan, York Symphony Orchestra's music director and conductor.

Want to make a winter concert? Here's what's coming up. 

Christmas Eve at Asbury United Methodist Church

What: Asbury United Methodist Church has a wide offering of Christmas Eve services with handbell performances, including organ music at 2:30 p.m. and a choir concert at 10:30 p.m. 

When: 2:30 p.m., 7 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. Thursday, Christmas Eve (Dec. 24)

Where: Asbury United Methodist Church, 340 E. Market St. in York