It was another lunch at the Missoula Senior Center.

Ham with raisin sauce. Scalloped potatoes, if you wanted. Tomato soup or clam chowder. Side of peas. Cranberry-apple Jell-O to sweeten things. Strawberries, too.

Good food, but nothing special or out of the ordinary.

Then a pure, crystalline "bing." Then more. Then more and more. A chorus, in fact.

Suddenly lunch was a delight, filled with Christmas sounds from 28 hands holding 28 hand chimes, lifting the spirits of the folks who gather here every day to eat and mingle or read or piece together jigsaw puzzles.

The sounds came courtesy of the 14-member Potomac School hand-chime choir, which traveled to town Thursday to spread some holiday joy.

Teacher Sarah Schmill brought the fifth- through eighth-graders to Missoula, and has done so for years. Thursday's was the second performance at the senior center on South Higgins Avenue in two years.

They worked all year for three performances this day - at the senior center, Riverside Health Care and Southgate Mall.

"This is our annual tour," said Schmill. "And we just keep adding more and more venues. Sometimes I feel like their booking agent."

They've got the fan support.

"Deck the Halls" received polite applause, and "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" a healthy ovation.

"They're so good," said one senior, whispering to her friend. "They're sooooo good ..."

Things picked up for "Little Drummer Boy." The crowd stirred as their strawberries disappeared.

"I've heard of handbells before, but not these," said Donna Whitlake, as she lunched with three friends. "This is nice and soft, and it's good music."

Schmill announced that "Carol of the Bells" would be her group's penultimate song.

"This is their favorite song to play," she said. "They consider this their signature piece."

That got three laughs from the front row.

But "Carol" got a roaring ovation.

And after "Silent Night," the last song, there was a big cheer, a standing ovation of one, a brief call for an encore before all the thank-yous. The students packed up their bells, put on their coats and left for the mall.

By noon, the ham was gone, the strawberries eaten and every plate scraped clean, after another lunch at the Missoula Senior Center.

Reporter Jamie Kelly can be reached at 523-5254 or at


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