Have you noticed how grumpy many people are today? I sure have. I believe with all of my heart, that is in part because no one has been to the symphony, seen a broadway show, sang in their church choir or rang in a handbell festival in months and months. Our souls are crying out to be part of a musical experience again.
There are so many challenges facing us today. We need to keep the safety of our communities as our top priority. With that being said, I believe that we also need to consider our spiritual and emotional health as well. Where and when it is possible to do so safely, let’s begin to ring again. It may look different from what we “normally” do. But, what would it look like to ring today? Ringers wearing masks, each ringer at their own table or music stand at a safe distance from one another, no shared equipment. Perhaps ringing outside?? What are the possibilities?
Martha Lynn Thompson adds another set of six settings to her highly successful series of Ring with 6 collections. Each arrangement uses 14-22 bells and is easily playable by six ringers. Three pieces have optional handchimes. A “Bells Used Chart” for each piece provides suggested assignments. No four-in-hand ringing is required but, because some ringers have more than two bells, it is necessary to have a table or a place to put the additional bells. Three of the hymns are suitable for general occasions, one is appropriate for either Palm Sunday or Advent, and rounding out the collection is Natalie Sleeth’s beautiful “Were You There on That Christmas Night?”
If you’re reading this, you certainly don’t need me to tell you that 2020 has been a heartbreaking year. Amid the closing of Broadway and theaters around the country, church choirs on indefinite hiatus, community bands not meeting, summer conferences cancelled, school choirs, bands, and orchestras scrambling to find ways to teach, and all manner of music-making ground to a halt, one thing stands: the desire of musicians to make music. We need it like we need air to breathe.
The ingenuity of those who have adapted online platforms to create virtual ensembles lifts my spirits, as do the rank and file people who have braved the technological hurdles to participate. It’s not quite the same as being in the same room, but it is fulfilling, nonetheless.
I am here to suggest that one way to keep your music-making alive is to take up handbell ringing, or resurrect it, or continue it, depending on your situation. The Handbell Industry Council, which includes manufacturers of handbells and peripheral equipment, publishers, and elite performing organizations, has guidelines for ringing safely on their web site:
People who play handbells are known as ‘Ringers’. Not ding-a-lings. The joke wasn’t funny the first time, and it still not funny years… (decades) later.
PT Barnum (Yes, ‘A handbell ringer is born every minute’ PT Barnum) is credited for bringing the English handbell to the USA in the 1840s.
There is a difference between English handbells and American handbells. In the United Kingdom, English handbells have leather clapper heads and handles, while American handbells use plastic and rubber clappers and handles. However, in the USA, they’re all known as English handbells even though they’re produced in Pennsylvania. (There’s also a big competition between the two main American manufacturers of English handbells. Take it from me, never try to mix the two brands in the same ensemble. Ringers will notice and you will be called a ding-a-ling.)
English handbells are chromatically tuned brass bells, traditionally held by leather handles.