Bells of the Lakes, a community handbell ensemble which represents the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, was founded in the fall of 1996. The group was formed in response to the need of a challenging ringing experience for local ringers and directors. Legend has it that Paul McKenzie approached Bill Mathis, who had recently moved to the Twin Cities from Oklahoma, and encouraged him to start a community bell choir so “he (Paul) could play in it.” The name Bells of the Lakes was chosen to reflect the many lakes in and around the Twin Cities and Minnesota, Land of 10,000 Lakes. With the choices of name, director, meeting place and time and a core group of ringers decided, the group applied for non profit status and filed the paperwork to become incorporated. Jerry Southwick, son of founding member Su Southwick, designed the group’s logo.
The first public concert for Bells of the Lakes as a ringing ensemble was at Handbell Exploration at the Thunderbird Hotel in Bloomington, MN in 1996. They performed at the International Symposium of English Handbell Ringers in Birmingham, England in 2000 and were a featured concert ensemble at Pinnacle, a symposium of community handbell ensembles in Orlando, Florida in 2002. In the summer of 2006 they performed the closing concert at the AGEHR National Directors' Seminar in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Over the years weekend tours have taken the ensemble to the north, south and western edges of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, North and South Dakota, Iowa and Indiana. They performed with the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus for their annual Christmas event in 2003 and 2010. Bells of the Lakes continues to bring the art of handbell ringing into the surrounding community with an active concert schedule.
The first recording for the group was for Augsburg Fortress publisher's demonstration CD of new releases in 1998. Since that time, there have been additional publisher demo recordings and the release of “Bells of the Lakes” which was recorded in the McKnight Auditorium of the Minnesota History Center in 2000, and “Ring the Bells of Christmas” which was recorded at Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church in 2002. "Bells of the Lakes Celebrates 10 Years" was released in 2006 to mark the ensemble's tenth anniversary. And "Hymns" was released in 2011 to celebrate the history of handbells in worship and the first Handbell Musicians of America Director's Seminar held in Minneapolis, MN.
Bells of the Lakes seeks to commission original compositions for handbells from known and emerging composers. Their first commission was Froelich Tanze by Karen Lakey Buckwalter in honor of Su and David Southwick’s 40th wedding anniversary in 1999. Cathy Moklebust was commissioned and wrote Vision Quest in the fall of 2005 in celebration of the group’s tenth anniversary. Other commissions have been penned by Michael Helman, Hart Morris and Kevin McChesney.
Bells of the Lakes organizes two major educational events each year. Bellfest! is a one day massed ringing event for over thirty handbell ensembles. Held each winter, it features nationally known and local guest conductors. The Seminar for Handbell Ringers and Directors is a summer event featuring classes to encourage and educate new handbell ensemble directors and ringers.