"Carol of the Bells" is ubiquitous this time of year, but in Columbus schools, you'll hear carols played by bells in only one place.

"Carol of the Bells" is ubiquitous this time of year, but in Columbus schools, you'll hear carols played by bells in only one place.

Whetstone High School boasts the only handbell choir in Columbus City Schools, said Principal Janet Routzong.

It's a proud tradition at Whetstone, said Josh Reynolds, now in his third year as the school's band director.

Reynolds previously taught at Beechcroft High School. He inherited the handbell choir from longtime band director Rick Burkart.

Speaking during a rehearsal of the choir as they prepared for their portion of the school's annual holiday concert Dec. 14, Reynolds estimated the group dates back to the 1970s.

One of the reasons so few schools have handbell choirs is the sheer expense of the instruments, he said.

Reynolds estimated the handbells owned by Whetstone are worth around $20,000.

Then there's the upkeep. Like anything else, time is no friend to handbells.

The Whetstone choir performs three times a year and has a few other gigs, all of which are necessary to raise $2,000 to send off the five octaves of bells for maintenance and professional polishing, Reynolds said.

The students currently in the handbell choir include Jamie Bossenbroek, Gabe Engle, Hallie Holdren, Hannah Lang, Pak McCollum, Rhiannon Newberry, Ronnie Olano, Lauren Peters, Anthony Porter, Lexi Spiropolous and Savannah Stuver.

During a break from rehearsals Dec. 14, two of the handbell choir members said the experience of performing is less like playing an instrument and more like being part of one.

"It's way different than anything," said Engle, a junior. "It's like a giant piano."

"It was kind of like playing a giant piano you had to work together on," said Bossenbroek, also a junior. "It was kind of cool that we're the only ones in the city."

Choir members learn much about music by playing handbells, Reynolds said.

"It works on reading much, much more than band or orchestra because you focus on small portions of the music," he said. "There are a lot of techniques to it."

McCollum, a senior, has been in the handbell choir all four of his years at Whetstone, the result of friends who were members when he came in as a freshman.

"I just like it's like being able to play more parts than I can hear," he said.

"I used to watch them and they always interested me," said Holdren, a junior in her first year with the choir. "It was definitely different from playing trumpet, which I do, but it was definitely something really awesome.

"I love to do it. It gives you goose bumps if you do it right. It sounds fantastic to me."