2015-12-06 Notes from the Bench

Handbells in Advent at All Saints

“O Come, O Come Emmanuel” arr. Susan E. Geschke & 
“Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” by Kevin McChesney

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


During the 9:00 and 11:00 am services this weekend, the All Saints’ Handbell Choir will be providing devotional Advent music.

“O Come, O Come Emmanuel” by Susan E. Geschke is an arrangement incorporating two well-known Advent melodies: “Veni, veni Emmanuel” and “Gottes Sohn ist Kommen” frequently sung with the texts “O Come, o come Emmanuel” and “Once He Came in Blessing” respectively. The melody “Veni, veni Emmanuel” is based on a fifteenth-century French processional hymn that appeared with the text, “Bone Jesu dulcis cunctis.” The earliest surviving source of this melody is found in Rituale/processionale from an abbey of the Order of Saint Clare in Meaux, which is now in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. During the 1850s, this tune was coupled with the Advent text, “O Come, o come Emmanuel,” a metrical paraphrase of the great, “O antiphons,” an ancient set of antiphon texts attached to the Magnificat sung during Vespers the seven days prior to Christmas Eve, December 17 – 23. The earliest-known source for the tune “Gottes Sohn is Kommen” is a Czech manuscript dated 1410. A century later, this melody appeared in German hymnals with Marian Advent hymn texts.



“Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” by Kevin McChesney is a setting of the French melody “Picardy” that was first published in Chanson populaires des provinces de France, printed in 1860. Ralph Vaughan Williams coupled an English translation of the ancient Greek Eucharistic text “Let all mortal flesh keep silence” with “Picardy,” resulting in a popular hymn with a secure place within the singing traditions of English-speaking Christians.



The ringing of bells has been associated with the sacred and the divine for many cultures throughout the world. Bells are rung at various times during religious ceremonies within the Christian tradition; to signal important events, tolled at funerals, and 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 handbell was developed by Robert and William Cor in Aldbourne, Wiltshire, England near the beginning of the eighteenth century; they were introduced to the United States at the beginning of the twentieth century by Margaret Shurcliff. Handbell choirs developed that enabled ringers to perform music with traditional melodies and harmonies, along the lines of the carillon tradition. 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 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. Handbell choirs are popular church music ensembles, appealing to congregations both aurally and visually.


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