Trolleys, Parades and Candlelight Dinners

Ring of Fire, a handbell choir based in Hillsboro, Oregon, and composed of academy-aged youth, traveled to the nation’s capitol to play for three official events during the 55th presidential inauguration on Thursday, January 20, 2005. Their second inaugural trip—Ring of Fire played for the first inauguration of George W. Bush—Ring of Fire was the only organization to represent the states of Oregon and Washington at the inauguration.

Three candlelight dinners given for major political donors were scheduled the night before the inauguration, and each had a handbell choir to welcome the guests. Of the three handbell choirs, two of them were made up of Adventist young people. In preparation for their performance at the candlelight dinner at the National Building Museum, Ring of Fire practiced for several hours at Columbia Union College where they were housed during their stay in the Washington, D.C., area.

They left the college early Wednesday afternoon to make it through the first of many security checks. Then as the guests arrived, they entertained them, performing their fiery brand of handbell ringing. “During a performance the kids have their eyes on me,” says Jason Wells, Ring of Fire director, “but with 2,500 celebrities going by—men in tuxedos and women in their ball gowns—it was hard for them not to watch the people.”

They were playing Tempest by Kevin McChesney when Rudy Gulianni, former mayor of New York City, paused to listen. Tommy Lasorda, former Los Angeles Dodgers manager, also came by, and Jo Ann Davidson, co-chair of the Republican National Committee, introduced herself.

Thursday, inauguration day, dawned sunny but cold. After a light breakfast, Ring of Fire members were bussed to the Pentagon for another lengthy series of security checks, and then were taken by a secure route to the parade staging area near the Capitol.

Finally, almost an hour late, the parade began. It took about an hour for the Ring of Fire members to travel the 1.7-mile route along Virginia and Pennsylvania Avenues from the Capitol to the White House. On the north side of the White House was the reviewing stand where the president and his party viewed the parade.

The Ring of Fire was playing Capriccio as they approached the reviewing stand, and the president gave them a “thumbs up.” Joel Brown, a sophomore from Portland Adventist Academy, smiled and nodded his head at President Bush, and the president acknowledged the greeting and returned it. “Then he kind of danced, keeping time with the music,” Joel said. “It was cool having the president notice me.”

As soon as the Ring of Fire completed the parade route, they rushed to their bus with their bells to make their next appointment to play for the Constitution Ball at the Washington Hilton. Not having much time, they all changed from their warm parade clothes to their formal wear as the bus was in transit. Then struggling once again to clear security with all their boxes of bells, they finally got to the ballroom lobby where they played for about 45 minutes. They were able to take a break, get a little food, and see President Bush, his wife Laura and their daughters.

Despite the hardships of seemingly endless waiting, strict security, little to eat or drink for almost 12 hours, and the cold, they did not complain. “I was very proud of them,” Jason said, "they went out and played like pros."

For seven years the Ring of Fire was based at Tualatin Valley Junior Academy (TVJA) where their director and founder, Jason Wells, taught. They played their way to the top of the handbell world, and through the years 40 students have cycled through the group.

This current group of 13 ringers are attending schools throughout the Northwest, including Auburn Adventist Academy; Century High School in Hillsboro, Oregon; Portland Adventist Academy, where Jason now teaches English; Upper Columbia Academy; and TVJA.

“Ring of Fire is not about fame and glory,” Jason says, “its about how we can brighten someone’s day and how we can make a difference. My goal now is to provide a way for these kids to stay connected, to come together to ring and touch people with what they do, whether it is 50 people or 5,000. Yet ultimately, it will be one day in Heaven, where we finally finish the adventure that we started here on Earth."

March 01, 2005 / Feature