- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 24, 2014

FORT BRANCH, Ind. (AP) - Derek Barton can’t remember a time where music wasn’t in his life.

Barton has directed Fort Branch Community School’s English handbell choir, the Bells of Harmony, for more than 20 years.

The music and eighth grade history teacher considers the English handbell choir one of his “proudest achievements.”

The 19 member handbell choir of sixth through eighth graders rehearses from 7 to 8 a.m. Tuesday and Thursdays. They get no grade. Some students already have music experience when they begin, but others don’t.

“They do it out of a love of making music,” Barton told the Princeton Daily Clarion (http://bit.ly/1HAWDCK ).

His own love of music making started in his family.

His biggest influence was his mom, Sue Ellen Barton, and his grandmother, Ruth Swain Atkinson.

“There was always music in our house,” the Pike County native said.

They would sing at church, in the car, and he began taking piano lessons as a child. In fact, his grandfather Lestle Atkinson helped purchase his first piano.

At Pike Central and later at Oakland City University, band directors Jim Bolte, Richard Bernhart, Jim Earnest and Paul Metzger influenced him, along with Glory Heyde.

“I was always singing. When I would mow the yard I would sing,” he said.

His music became a service when he performed during worship, and continued when he began directing Broadway Christian Church in Princeton about 20 years ago.

He still plays piano for his home congregation’s Sunday school class at Mount Tabor General Baptist Church, and also leads the vocalists of the area Melody Makers.

Today, Barton plays bass guitar with local band Styll Country, and in the Gibson Southern High School’s pit orchestra.

Fellow Styll County artist Jody Wethington says Barton is always busy, and multi-talented musically. He’s known Barton 12 years.

“He is probably one of the nicest men I have ever been around in my life, he is a very nice man, a very nice gentleman,” Wethington said.

Barton still plays saxophone, the instrument he played in high school.

“Mom and I still go out and sing, mostly gospel,” he said, then added, “she could harmonize with a squeaky door.”

He believes God has always provided someone to support, instruct, inspire, correct, and motivate him into the right direction.

When Barton was a student teacher, it was Rosemary Harbison who introduced him to the world of tone chimes with her church choir.

“I thought it was really a neat unusual thing,” Barton recalled.

So started his bell choir with tone chimes in 1989. The switch to Malmark handbells was made in 1993 after the choir raised $4,000 for the 37 three-octave Malmark English handbells, thanks to selling candy bars.

“The same set of bells would cost $14,000 today,” he said.

“He’s good inspiration for students, he’s a good person to work with,” Harbison said. “He likes getting (young people) interested in music.”

She’s enjoyed listening to the handbell choir in the past, and believes

Barton knows how to use his resources to their ultimate potential.

“He was a good student teacher—I’m always interested in what he does,” Harbison said.

Last week, the handbell choir performed for the Gibson General Hospital Auxiliary, and played in the holiday concert at Fort Branch Community School.

They played songs like “America” and “Christmas Joy,” which is based on “Joy to the World.”

Dressed crisply in white shirts and red ties, the choir members were on their utmost attention, counting the beats, turning the sheet music, crescendoing and ringing their handbells at the right beat.

And it wasn’t just one “ring.” The handbells are different sizes and musical keys. Some handles are white (just like the ivories on a piano) while others are black, indicating a sharp or flat to be played.

Barton teaches the students different techniques for diverse sound quality_hitting the table, holding the bell a moment longer, using the thumb to dampen the sound, or plucking the bells, all results in music that aims to bring a glad feeling to the ears and eventually, the heart.

“I feel a sense of accomplishment (when they perform) because it really is difficult. It’s a team,” Barton said. “If part of the melody is missing it’s very noticeable.”

The handbell choir also won first place during the Snowflake Christmas Parade for its musical theme. (They played “Here Comes Santa Claus” about 25 times during the parade, Barton said.) The group also performs for the school’s Veterans Day program, spring concert and eighth grade promotion.

A song performed by Bells of Harmony will be on WNIN for the second time this holiday season, on Christmas Day at 7 p.m.

“That’s neat to be on television,” he said. “I’m also proud that it’s a unique thing.”

Barton says the reason he still leads the choir after nearly 26 years is because of the joy he feels when they play.

“I love doing it. It’s just so much fun.”

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Fun facts:

Barton wants to record some of his own songs.

Traveling, golfing and reading are his hobbies.

He plays music at the Indiana State Fair’s pioneer village each summer.

He went to school again at University of Southern Indiana to get a history degree because of his avid interest. “I like visiting presidents’ homes and cemeteries, just always have had an appreciation for history.”

Amazing Grace is his favorite hymn.

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Information from: Princeton Daily Clarion, http://www.tristate-media.com/pdclarion

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