Canadian Mennonite
Volume 9, No. 17
September 5, 2005


That has a nice ring to it:
B.C. bell ringer sets world record

Abbotsford, B.C.

Joe Defries, the handbell choir director at West Abbotsford Mennonite Church, B.C., is awaiting confirmation from the Guinness World Record organization that his nearly 29 hours of continuous handbell ringing is, in fact, a world record.

Ding-a-ling.” “Dead ringer.” “It rings a bell with him.”

Joe Defries of Abbotsford has heard all the bell jokes and puns, but he doesn’t mind. In fact, to a man who collects jokes, they are music to his ears.

The 54-year-old handbell choir director at West Abbotsford Mennonite Church recently rang his way into the record books by playing handbells continuously for more than 28 hours. Currently, he is awaiting official verification of his accomplishment by the Guinness World Record organization in London, England.

“What I’m trying to do,” says Defries, “is to promote an awareness of handbells, a truly unique and beautiful instrument.”

He became intrigued with record-setting when looking through a Guinness World Record book last fall and thought, “I could do that.” His passion for handbells inspired him to pursue setting a handbell-ringing record, which he was surprised to learn had never been done.

Defries then began the lengthy process of making an official application with the Guinness organization, which eventually led to his marathon ringing session at the B.C. Guild of English Handbell Ringers convention in Penticton, B.C., on July 5 and 6.

“Now I know why no one’s ever done it,” says Defries in retrospect. “It’s very demanding.”

Much preparation was required for such an ambitious feat. To assure he was in the best possible physical condition, Defries lost 52 pounds in the months before his record attempt. He also practised playing handbells for hours at a time. And with the largest bells weighing about 20 pounds, he practised lifting weights.

Rules for qualifying for the world record attempt were exact and inflexible:

• A maximum of 30 seconds between compositions played.

• One 15-minute break every eight hours.

• The pieces played had to be published, recognized compositions at least two minutes long.

• No piece could be repeated in a four-hour period. (Defries took it one step further, deciding not to repeat any piece at all during his entire marathon. He had 1,300 selections prepared.)

• There had to be two witnesses present at all times and constant documentation, which was done through live feed on the Internet. Defries and his team had to supply a videographer to film everything and purchase timing equipment to conform to Guinness’ standards.

Defries began playing his bells at 8 a.m. on July 5 with “O Canada” and just kept going, one piece at a time, through hymns, Christmas carols, and popular, classical, children’s and folk songs. All his careful preparation worked. Defries had methodically arranged the order of pieces by key to make transitions more smooth.

During his allowed pauses he did stretching and finger exercises in order to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome.

He credits his team of assistants with taking care of the external details to make his marathon ringing session possible. In addition to making sure the washroom was available for him with no line-ups at breaks, the team supplied energy drinks and a bucket of ice water for Defries to plunge his head into for rejuvenation.

Another source of rejuvenation came at about 24 hours of playing, when he learned that his third grandchild had been born. Defries had known that his son Joel, youth pastor at the West Abbotsford Church, and his wife were planning to name their son Elijah, and he was prepared with the chorus “Days of Elijah” to honour the new baby.

After about 28 hours of playing, Defries felt the bells were truly taking their toll on him.

“I was starting to clink bells together and that’s bad,” he says. “Also I started to reverse bells. That’s when I knew enough was enough.”

Realizing he had reached his limit, Defries decided to end the session with the song he had pre-selected to be his last, “Jesus Loves Me.” His final time: 28 hours 50 minutes 21 seconds.

With all the paperwork submitted to Guinness, Defries now has to wait to see if the organization will officially acknowledge his feat. He knows there is no guarantee. But no matter what the decision, Defries knows what he has accomplished and has gained tremendous satisfaction from his effort.

Defries has always asked himself how his bell ringing could be used for God’s glory. He feels he has achieved a “higher communion with God” through his playing. “It’s been a great experience,” he says. “All things are ‘possibell’!”

(Visit to learn more about Defries and his bell-ringing record.)

—Amy Dueckman

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