2016-03-06 Notes from the Bench

“Two Lenten Meditations for Solo Handbells”

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


The fourth Sunday of Lent is frequently referred to as “Laetare Sunday” or “Rejoice Sunday.” “Laetare” is the first word of the Introit sung for this Sunday during the traditional Latin Mass. This Sunday is just past the mid-point of Lent and is traditionally viewed as a day of celebration so the austerity of Lent is lessened on this day. Today, we are blessed with a musical treat; Diane Peters will be playing two solo-handbell pieces as Lenten meditations. 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. A solo handbell ringer however 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.

“Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross” is a nineteenth-century gospel hymn written by Frances Jane van Alstyne (1820-1915), who is more commonly known as Fanny Crosby. Fanny Crosby was an American mission worker who collaborated with her pastor, Robert Lowry (1826-1899), to write over 8,000 hymns and gospel songs; she is one of the most prolific hymnists in history. Crosby’s hymn is sung to the melody “Near the Cross” written by William Doane (1832-1915), an American manufacturer, inventor, composer, and hymn writer. Kevin McChesney, a composer and editor of handbell music and bell-ringing clinician, arranged this popular American gospel hymn for solo handbells and piano.



“O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus,” is an English nineteenth-century evangelical hymn written by Samuel Trevor Francis (1834-1925). Francis was a London merchant who as a teenager experienced a spiritual renewal of faith. Throughout his life, he authored numerous religious poems and hymns. Francis’s hymn is frequently sung to the melody, “Ebenezer,” which is also known as “Ton-y Botel”, composed by Thomas John Williams (1869-1944). Christine Anderson, a world-renowned solo handbell ringer and composer of handbell music, wrote this solo handbell arrangement.



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