2013-12-08 Notes from the Bench

All Saints Handbell Choir performing hymn tunes arranged by Dr. James T. Gerber

A commentary on this week’s music by Dr. James T. Gerber, Music Associate

We are blessed with a special musical treat during the 9:00 and 11:00 am services this weekend; the All Saints’ Handbell Choir will be providing devotional music at various moments during our worship today. Our ringers are excited to be assembled as a bell choir and playing again for the All Saints’ community.

As our bell choir was in the process of assembling, I was faced with the challenge of selecting music for them to play that is also appropriate for the Advent season. I was feeling inspired and decided to write my own handbell choir arrangements of familiar Advent hymns. I hope you enjoy this selections; I enjoyed writing then for our bell choir and we have enjoyed the process of learning them in preparation for playing during today’s services.

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, a 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 change 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. The development of handbell choirs enabled ringers to perform music with traditional melodies and harmonies, along the lines of the carillon tradition. Handbell choirs are particularly popular church music ensembles. A 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. The ringers develop various techniques that include weaving, ringing multiple bells with on ehand, 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.

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