Hockanum Valley Ringers

* Denotes Charter Member

Lawrence A. Berdensey

Lawrence A. Berdensey is currently the Band Director at West Side Middle School, in Groton, CT. He has taught band for the Groton Public Schools since 1985, where he has served as an elementary school band director before being appointed to Fitch Middle School in 1991. His bands have won superior ratings at adjudication festivals. His symphonic band is often invited to perform at the Naval Submarine Base, in Groton, for special occasions and events. Lawrence is the recipient of the 2020-21 West Side Middle School teacher of the year.

Lawrence has been directing handbells since 2004 and was the former director of handbells at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, in Gales Ferry, CT. His music ministry included two youth ensembles, an adult choir, as well as, an adult and teen quartet. Lawrence is a bronze level ringer, who formerly rang with the Shoreline Ringers, a community based handbell ensemble in Southeastern, Connecticut. In January 2012, Lawrence became the director of the Hockanum Valley Ringers, a five octave community handbell ensemble based in Vernon, CT. Lawrence has been a clinician throughout New England. He has taught classes at the Area 1 Festival Conferences, the Directors Seminar, Spring Rings, and the Fall Skills Building Workshops. Lawrence has been a guest conductor at the CT, NH, MA, and Maine Spring Rings, and the Family Handbell Camp. During his spare time, when he takes a break from teaching and directing, Lawrence enjoys traveling, hiking, and creating gourmet meals with his three daughters.

Lawrence holds a Bachelors of Science degree in Music Education from the University of Connecticut (Storrs) and a Masters of Science degree in Education from Southern Connecticut State University. Professional memberships include the National Association for Music Educators, Handbell Musicians of America, Groton Education Association, Connecticut Educators Association, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, Learning Disabilities Association, and the NAACP. Lawrence resides in Gales Ferry.

Katy Barno

Katy by day is an average teenager, but when night falls she becomes The Ringer, a crime-fighting handbell player. She has played with HVR for four seasons and is the youngest member of the group. Katy is very musically talented. She has played bells for 5 years in addition to 8 years on the clarinet. This fall she is entering her sophomore year of college. In her spare time, Katy loves to read books, listen to music and mess around with friends.

Lisa Bielesz, President

Lisa began ringing handbells in 2001 at Saint Mary’s Church in Newington, CT, and joined the Hockanum Valley Ringers in January, 2012. Lisa has been the president of HVR since August, 2012, and she manages the promotion and publicity of the handbell concerts each season. Lisa worked as a childcare provider in her home for 18 years, and currently works as a preschool paraprofessional for the Manchester Public School System. In her spare time, Lisa enjoys attending musical and theatrical performances, planning and going on vacations, and spending time with family and friends.

James Burr

New to HVR, James has been a church organist for twenty-six years, first in Andover and currently at First Congregational Church of Vernon where he also conducts their bell choir. He sings bass with the Vernon Choral and has previously sung and played harpsichord and recorders with the Uconn early music ensemble, Storrs Collegium Musicum. His early music interests have also been enriched by many years attendance at the Amherst Early Music summer festivals. Other interests range from electronics to literature.

Rachel Embree

Rachel first played bells during her undergraduate years at DePauw University and has recently picked them up again with HVR after a four year break. Rachel began her musical studies at the age of 5 with piano lessons, followed by violin lessons at age 9. In 2011 Rachel graduated from DePauw University with a B.M. in Violin Performance. Rachel has worked closely with musicians such as cellist Dr. Eric Edberg, pedagogue and performer; violist Dr. Nicole Brockmann, pedagogue, performer, and former president of the Dalcroze Society of America, composer Dr. Carlos Carrillo, whose works she has premiered; international concert pianist Dr. Nariaki Sugiura; and with renowned performers such as Stephanie Sant’Ambrogio and Grammy Award-winning Eighth Blackbird. Rachel has been a member of many orchestras, including the Willimantic Philharmonic Orchestra, The UConn Symphony Orchestra, the Hendricks Symphony Orchestra, and the DePauw Symphony Orchestra, as well as, performing in Austria and Germany with the DePauw Chamber Orchestra in 2009. Rachel is a recent graduate from the Connecticut Center for Massage Therapy, and enjoys reading, crocheting, singing, ballroom dancing, cooking, and spending time with her husband David and their two kitties.

David Embree

David Embree, affectionately known as David 2, has been with HVR since 2016. His musical career started with trombone in 4th grade and continued through high school. He participates in his church choir and is an aggressive do-it-yourselfer. In addition to his day job as a programming and system administrator, he is an avid hiker with his loving wife, Rachel.

Peggy Haney*

Peggy is from Manchester, CT. She has been ringing bells since she was 13 years old as a member of several different choirs, trios, duets, and solo performances. Peggy currently works for an insurance software company. She loves to learn new instruments and has been involved in music most of her life. Her favorite hobby is making music with friends.

Emily Lamancusa

Emily lives in Willington and has been ringing with HVR since January 2016. She is a special education teacher, and during the summer she enjoys teaching robotics to gifted middle school students at an academic summer camp. Emily first began ringing as an undergraduate at Bucknell University and has had a passion for handbells ever since. In her spare time, Emily enjoys reading, gaming, camping, and spending time with family and friends.

Suzanne Neafus

Suzanne lives in Rocky Hill, CT. She started playing handbells as a teen with her former church in Long Island, NY. Since moving to Connecticut 15 years ago, she has played with a number of bell choirs, including the New England Ringers. She currently rings with the Wethersfield United Methodist Church, in Wethersfield CT. Suzanne works as a technology consultant, running data report and teaching various computer applications to adults. She lives with her husband and an adorable cat. In her spare time, she plays bassoon with local community bands, loves to read, and trades and collects postcards.

Tracy Oates*

Tracy is from South Windsor Ct, where she lives with her husband Paul and her daughter Lauren. She currently works at Manchester Community College as an Educational Assistant. Tracy first played handbells in high school, but didn’t play in a formal handbell choir until after she was married. Since then she has played in two church choirs before joining HVR. Tracy is our secret weapon, by way of her husband. Paul has been known to step in at a moment’s notice when one of our ringers is unable to perform at a concert. We appreciate his musical talents as well as his devotion to his wife (and the success of our choir.)

Erin Strickland

Erin has had a long career in music, beginning with piano lessons at age 7 and continuing with various woodwind and percussion instruments in assorted middle school and high school bands. She learned how to play bells in 2005 under the direction of Larry Berdensey at Our Lady of Lourdes in Gales Ferry, CT, where she also had the opportunity to play in a quartet. She took a break to attend Eastern Connecticut State University, where she graduated with a B.A. in History and a B.A. in Spanish. She has been ringing with HVR since the fall of 2017. Erin currently resides in Ellington, CT with her boyfriend Patrick and her cat Pete. Presently, she works for a financial advisor, but loves to program when she’s not exploring nearby cities.

David Rauscher

David has lived in Manchester his entire life. He is free-spirited, talkative, and not to mention, a bit off his rocker. He has recently started attending Manchester Community College for general studies. David has played piano for eleven years, bass clarinet for ten, and several more instruments that he learned during his spare time, most notably, the bassoon and tuba. Unlike many of his peers, he has found a love for ringing handbells. David officially joined HVR in February of 2012 and enjoys ringing the “buckets.”

Marissa Shanbaum

Marissa joined HVR in the fall of 2007. She began ringing bells at Emmanuel Lutheran Church when she was in high school and has rung on and off ever since. In her time with HVR she has played a variety of bells spanning the highest and lowest notes. When she’s not playing bells, she enjoys knitting, crocheting, and even winding tangled yarn into a fresh ball.

Joy Toll-Chandler

Joy joined HVR in 2017, and has been playing and directing handbells since 2000. One day she and her mom went to hear an area 1 festival concert and she was so intrigued, they went home and raised funds to start a handbell choir in their church. Handbells became such an interest and such a ways of uniting people with God and with one another, she went to Concordia University to study for her Masters in Church Music, with an emphasis in handbells. She is delighted to be ringing with the strong ringers in HVR, and is learning more about solo and ensemble ringing. Joy loves the challenge of composing music for handbell choirs, and has two pieces published by AGEHR.

For the last 10 years, Joy worked in music and worship arts at churches in Florida, but she has now “returned home” to New England. Joy is a United Methodist pastor in Belchertown, MA, where she lives with her husband Paul. Between them, they have 4 children and now are enjoying the wonderful world of grandchildren! Every Friday is spent helping to take care of the youngest one – truly one of the greatest joys of life!

Jonathan Westerlund

Jonathan joined HVR in 2019, and has been ringing handbells since middle school. He has played in multiple choirs over the years where he started at Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Rocky Point, NY. Most recently, he has filled in with Long Island reSound community bell choir when they’ve needed a substitute (and he was in the state). Jonathan moved to CT in summer 2018 and is a Lutheran Pastor in Newington CT. On Sunday mornings, in between preaching and leading worship, he also plays bells when he can make it back to the bell tables.