POC Blog

The random technotheolosophical blogging of Reid S. Monaghan

Handbells...who knew


Today in my Missiology Class at the seminary, I was exposed to some culture.  Not growing up around church sometimes I get a little confused by some of the conversations I am privy to.  Today the prof began to talk about handbells.  At first I wasn't sure if he said "handbills" but obviously these had something to do with worship.  I sheepishly asked the question: What exactly are we talking about? Apparently hand bells are a big deal in Southern Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian Churches.  Heck, it sounds like they were once, and still are a staple in the Christian World. 

Well, I then realized that I had heard such bells on some Christmas commercial on TV - ding, ding, ding-ding, ding, ding, ding-ding...

From this Wiki, I seem to be out of touch, this handbell thing is big:

Handbell performance

A handbell choir or handbell ensemble is typically armed with a fuller set of bells, as it aims to ring recognizable music with melodies and harmony, as opposed to the mathematical permutations used in change ringing. (There is some ambiguity regarding the phrase "handbell ensemble," as some in the handbell world use "ensemble" in reference to smaller groups than a typical handbell choir — four ringers playing three octaves of bells, for example.) The bells generally include all notes of the chromatic scale within the range of the bell set used. While a smaller group uses only 25 bells (two octaves), the sets are often larger, ranging up to the eight-octave set used by Westminster Choir College. The bells are typically arranged chromatically on foam-covered tables; these tables protect the bronze surface of the bell, as well as keep the bells from rolling when placed on their sides. Unlike an orchestra or choir in which each musician is responsible for one line of the texture, in a bell ensemble each musician is responsible for particular notes, sounding his or her assigned bells whenever that note appears in the music.

Handbell techniques have changed very much over the years. Donald Allured, founding director of Westminster Concert Bell Choir, is credited with fully realizing an American "off the table" style of ringing that includes many non-ringing sound effects including stopped techniques such as plucking the clapper with the bell on the table. He is also credited for promoting precise damping or stopping of the bell sound by touching the bell casting to a soft surface, in the service of more musical results.

In the United States, handbell choirs have become more popular over the last thirty years. They are often associated with churches, although the past decade has seen a dramatic rise in the number of community groups. Most community groups use larger sets of handbells than an average church handbell choir. Twelve to fifteen members is a common size for a four- or five-octave choir.

Well-known U.S. handbell choirs include the aforementioned

Westminster Concert Bell Choir in Princeton, N.J.; Sonos in the San Francisco area; The Raleigh Ringers in North Carolina; Cast of Bronze in Dallas, Texas; The Agape Ringers in the Chicago area; and Los Angeles' Campanile, which is no longer regularly performing.

I keep an idea file for stuff I want to think about implementing in the local church.  I think it would be cool to have a church meeting in an urban night warehouse with a church bell outside the door...I just couldn't bring myself to add "Handbells" to the file.

But those who love the white gloves and can ring those bells to the glory of God.  All power to you.  I hear it is a beautiful sound to take in...maybe I'll see them live some day soon.  Who knew?