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Photo courtesy of Kiriku

Kiriku, the premier handbell ensemble from Japan, will visit Bakersfield for a concert Aug. 1.

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Photo courtesy of Upside Productions

Shelia Robinson and Cre Lebron appear in a scene from “Church Folks and the Things We Do.”

Jenell Mahoney, who's a veteran hand bell ringer, has high praise for Kiriku, the Japanese ensemble that will perform this evening at St. John's Lutheran Church.

"Stunning, awesome, unbelievable complexity and technical brilliance ... simply superb."

Those are the words she used in an email to describe her feelings about Kiriku's performance last Friday in Portland, Ore. At the time, the Bakersfield resident was attending a national seminar of the Handbell Musicians of America, and the Japanese ensemble was among the featured artists.

And based on my own experience, I'd say Mahoney is a good judge of hand bell expertise. About a year ago, I had the pleasure of hearing the Rhapsody Ringers, a group that Mahoney leads, and it was fascinating to see the precision with which the musicians handled their particular collection of bells to produce lovely music.

Kiriku, which was formed in Japan in 2004, has been described as a "design team" of hand bell music.

One way it differs from other bell choirs is the number of musicians it employs. While it is common for a choir to need 10 to 12 members to play five octaves of bells, Kiriku's ensemble plays six octaves with only six to eight members. Their repertoire includes religious, jazz, western popular music and traditional Japanese music.

Currently, the group is on a tour of Oregon and California.

"I believe St. John's was selected for their concert location because it has been the host to our region's 'Spring Ring,'" said Mahoney. "First Congregational's hand bell choir, the Rhapsody Ringers, are regular participants and soloists in that concert."

Dianne Bryant of St. John's said the Spring Ring has been held at her church annually for the past 10 years. The next one is scheduled for April 5, 2014.

"Hand bell choirs from all over Kern County and beyond gather for one day, a Saturday, and practice the music as well as have workshops to help them learn more about hand bells," Bryant said. "At the end of the day, we all put on a concert for the public."

Mahoney said the Kiriku concert will last about one hour with a short intermission to collect a free-will offering to offset the group's travel expenses.

'Church Folks' at Stars

For the second time in less than a year, "Church Folks and What We Do," a locally written and produced play, will be presented on Sunday at Stars.

"We sold out the first time last October so we're doing two shows this time -- one in the afternoon and one in the evening," said Bakersfield native NaTesha Johnson, owner of Upside Productions.

Billed as a Christian comedy, the play was written by Dejon "The Deacon" Jernagin, who formerly lived in Los Angeles but recently moved here. He also appears in the show.

The story is about a congregation that's been meeting in a rented gym and hopes to raise enough money to build a church. As ideas are being tossed around on how they can raise money, a new member with a questionable past tests their faith, commitment and dedication to doing the work of God.

Though it's not a musical, Johnson said the show does have scenes that feature live music performed R&B artists Cre Lebron and Stacey Lee. The cast is made up of local actors who represent a broad range of ages.

It includes Dorothy Evans, Ernesto Gomez, Janell Turner, Keith Jones, Shelia Robinson, Kristan Dinkins, Anjela Dixon, Greg Tatum, Vina Jefferson, Fredlisha Copeland and Katherine Jordan.

Wakayama student group

A group of 24 students from Wakayama, Japan, will arrive here Friday for a six-day visit. And for their leader, Hidieaki Hayashi, it's a return visit.

Hayashi first came here in 1969 to attend Bakersfield College and got a nickname in the bargain.

"It was during that visit that Adeline Frasch christened him 'Henry', when she had difficulty pronouncing his first name," said Sue Stone, a past president of the Wakayama Sister City committee.

Many longtime residents will recall Frasch as a cheerful, outgoing person who was extremely active in numerous community organizations during most of her long life.

The study program was started by Dr. Nobutada Iwahashi, current president of Wakayama's Sister City Affiliation Committee. His adult son Hideki Iwahashi is one of the chaperones for this year's group.

This is the 23rd time the local committee has hosted a summer group. While in Bakersfield, the current crop of Wakayama high school students -- 21 girls and three boys -- will be staying with host families who will introduce them to various historic and cultural sites in town and throughout the county.

On Monday evening, they'll all gather at Emerald Cove Park in northwest Bakersfield for a potluck and splash party. During the day on Tuesday the students will visit Murray Family Farms and that evening there will be a dinner at Chalet Basque honoring Hayashi and Iwahashi, who also came here first as a member of a study group.

On Wednesday the students will head to Southern California, where they will visit various tourist spots including Disneyland.

"But their 'study' does not end there," Stone said. "Each is required to write an essay about his or her experiences, and these essays are all bound together in an annual book called 'My Friends.'"

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