EVANSVILLE, Ind. (AP) _ The Melody Bells won't be ringing in the White House this year.

The 37-member children's hand-bell choir declined an invitation to first lady Nancy Reagan's White House Christmas party this week because the whole group was not invited.

The White House asked the Melody Bells to limit the choir to 18 or 20 members.

''We're saying, 'Thank you, but we're not going to do it,''' said Joe Fox, manager of the choir of children from Vanderburgh and Warrick counties.

''We feel it's an honor to be invited, but we just don't feel it's going to work out for our group,'' Fox said Tuesday.

The Melody Bells, who performed in full force at White House Christmas celebrations in 1982 and 1986, received an invitation last week to perform at the party for thousands of White House workers and executive staff members. Sometimes the president and first lady attend.

Wendy Toler, an aide to Mrs. Reagan's press office, said White House invitations have been refused before, but she didn't know how often.

About 15 groups are expected to perform at the Christmas party this year, she said.