2012-12-30 Notes from the Bench

A commentary on this week’s music by Dr. James Gerber, Music Associate


Merry Christmas! Today we continue our Christmas celebration which is comprised of twelve days of festivities. Our choirs have worked very hard over the past few months to provide beautiful and inspirational devotional music during the offertory and communion of our worship services. Therefore they are taking a break this Sunday, but all of us will be joining our voices together and singing many of our favorite Christmas carols during our services. As a special treat, Diane Peters will be offering some special music selections, carols arranged for solo handbells and piano:

  • “Bring a Torch” is an arrangement of a traditional French carol
  • “Christmas Angel Medley” includes “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing,” “Angels We Have Heard on High,” and “Angels from the Realms of Glory”
  • “Silent Night! Holy Night!” a setting of the seasonal favorite

For many cultures throughout the world, bells have been associated with the sacred and the divine and are rung at various times during religious ceremonies.  Bells are used in a variety of ways within the Christian tradition; they are rung to signal important events, tolled at funerals and rung during the Eucharistic prayer.  A bell tower may have a carillon, set of tuned bells designed to play melodies, or a set of tuned bells may be rung in a set of mathematical patterns, with no attempt to play a conventional melody, called changing ringing.

The conventional handbell was developed by Robert and William Cor in Aldbourne, Wiltshire, England near the beginning of the eighteenth century. The Cor brothers were seeking a way for change ringers to rehearse complex patterns apart from the tower bells, their handbells brought much to the relief of the neighborhood!  Handbells were introduced to the United States at the beginning of the twentieth century by Margaret Shurcliff.

Handbell choirs developed, enabling ringers to perform music with traditional melodies and harmonies, along the lines of the carillon tradition, and are particularly popular church music ensembles.  The handbell choir functions as a single instrument with multiple players; each ringer in the ensemble is assigned the bells that play particular pitches and is responsible for sounding those notes whenever indicated in the score during the performance.

A solo handbell ringer is responsible for playing all the pitches indicated in the score.  The ringer develops various techniques to accomplish their goal that include weaving techniques, ringing multiple bells with one hand and the use of mallets.  Ringers can also create a variety of special musical effects by dampening the bell into the table padding, rapidly ringing the bell, using various staccato techniques and swinging a rung bell to create an “echo” effect.

I wish each and every one of you continued joy through this Christmas season and God’s blessings for you throughout the New Year!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: