The nondescript address in a Tai Po residential block won't ring a bell - unless you're a music lover that is. That's where Kevin Ko Ho-yan and his choir practise with English handbells, ringing out melodies from church music to blues tunes and Chinese folk songs. Tuned handbells, which originated in 18th century England, may be unfashionable, but the 31-year-old is making a career out of teaching and performing with them and his music centre works with schools that offer bell choirs as an extra-curricular activity. Ko's interest in bells began in 1997 when he met Ralph Yoars - a teacher who introduced handbells to Hong Kong - while studying music composition at Baptist University. 'I thought it was fun but, more importantly, I thought it was meaningful. It taught me patience and how to co-operate with others.' When Yoars died in 1999, Ko staged a handbell concert to honour his teacher, and never looked back. 'In college, they used to call me 'handbell Kevin',' he says, laughing. Ko earned two masters degrees in music composition, one from Concordia University in Wisconsin, where he focused on church music and handbells. On his return, he set up a group with other handbell enthusiasts such as Elizabeth Tsui ying-yan, who teaches it at schools in the New Territories. She says, 'Watching students start an unfamiliar piece and progress to playing fluently and enjoying themselves gives me the most satisfaction. They inspire me.' Ko, who initially considered studying management, may have a knack for business too: his music centre now includes branches in Singapore and Taiwan. While the piano and violin might be the most popular instruments, he reckons handbells stand out for students who want something unusual at annual music showcases. 'The sound is unique; very warm,' says Yo Yo Chan Cheuk-yiu, a former member of the Chuen Yuen College Handbell Choir. 'It is sometimes solemn but can also be rhythmic and lively.' Handbells have a charm that grows on you, as students such as Gloria Chau Fei-fei, of Carmel Secondary School in Ho Man Tin, discovered. 'Initially, I wasn't sure whether I would like it but I found the music very delightful and have come to treasure handbells,' she says. 'The most special feature of chimes is that it turns the group into a giant piano, where each of us plays the role of a single key.' This not only gave her a sense of belonging but also taught her patience, she says. Ko is adding to the repertoire of handbell music with his own compositions, many of which have a Chinese folk flavour. His latest work, Rain Fantasy, is a complex piece requiring six octaves of handbells. 'When I was composing that piece on my piano, it started raining when I struck the first note and continued till I finished,' he says. 'It has rained every time we performed that piece, so it's a joke in our group that we should remember to take an umbrella regardless of the weather.' Group performances aside, Ko often gives solo recitals (including one at the Baptist University tonight) and in 2005 toured Singapore, Taiwan and the US. Being a soloist is especially challenging because the performer must manage a full set of bells. Ko typically arranges three octaves of bells on a table in a keyboard formation and darts between them, sometimes grasping several in one hand. The challenge isn't so much being able to pick up the bells quickly as conveying emotion, which is harder with bells than other instruments, he says. 'Without emotion, the music would simply be rhythm and melody.' A performance of Via Delorosa at Tai Po Civic Centre last year has become a highlight for Ko: he found an internet posting by an audience member describing how the man's young son asked why the musician was so sad. 'I realised I was able to convey the emotion even to a small child, so I was very satisfied.' The Embellishment Handbell Solo Recital; 8pm tonight; Hong Kong Baptist University chapel, Kowloon Tong. Free admission. To reserve seats, call 2650 1248.