Handbells Etc - Serving Edmonton, Alberta since 1995 - Canadian Retailer of Malmark Handbells


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Cross & Stretch

Four ringers are needed to do this change ringing sequence. Use medium sized bells, either G5 to G6 or F5 to F6. Changes always start with a descending scale. The ringer's right hand always plays first and then the ringer's left hand. Each ringer always plays on the same count.

Step One: Rounds are rung at the beginning and ending of all change ringing. Beginning rounds are always rung in descending order. (This is simply a descending major scale.) Rounds may be rung repeatedly as a warm-up (I like to do it at least twice.)

Step Two: At the end of rounds, EACH ringer CROSSES his/her hands and releases the bells. Each ringer then uncrosses his/her hands and picks up the same bells except in opposite hands. Ringers continue to ring in the same order that they had been ringing i.e. ringer #1 always rings with his/her right hand first and then left hand, then ringer #2 rings with his/her right hand first and then left hand etc.

Step Three: Ringers STRETCH their arms to place their bells in front of their neighbours, one on either side. EXCEPTION: The bell in the right hand of Ringer #1 and the bell in the left hand of Ringer #4 do not change position in this step.

Step Four: Repeat Step 2 and 3 until the highest bell has travelled from the top to the bottom and has returned to where it began.

Step Five: Repeat rounds at least twice.

For a special effect, tie a bright ribbon on the high treble bell and let the audience watch as it moves through the change ringing.

Have Fun!



Score Study

By Dr. John Hooper of Concordia University College

Score study can be a daunting task, for beginners and seasoned conductors alike. But by subdividing that task into three different areas, it can become manageable. Score study can be roughly divided into three areas: preliminary score study, interpretative score study and pedagogical score study. In other words, score study begins when first choosing music and continues with decisions about musical interpretation and methods to teach the music to the ensemble.

Selecting repertoire is essentially preliminary score study. Beyond practical matters such as appropriateness for the level of ensemble and performance circumstances, one wants to ensure that music considered has potential for musical expression.

In this preliminary score study, one looks carefully for well-crafted compositions. A well crafted work has a balance of unity and variety. A work is unified through prudent repetition of musical elements. Too much repetition becomes boring and not enough repetition is too disparate. Repetition need not be exact. For example, it could be a repeated characteristic rhythm or technique.

Similarly, a well crafted work will have ample contrasts without becoming fragmented. Contrast comes in different ways, from the presentation of completely different material to subtle variations of musical elements. The key is the balance between repetition and contrast.

Interpretive score study comes from a thorough knowledge of how the music is put together. This begins with large scale organization and proceeds to the smaller details of musicality. To determine large score form, one divides the work into sections. Often, there are exact or similar repetitions of material. By marking equivalent measures, one can not only see the form, but begin making pedagogical choices as well. Many works use sectional forms, structures with major sections that are clearly the same or clearly different.

Once each major section is determined, smaller scale choices can be made about the shape and direction of each one. Dynamics become very important. Quite often only general dynamic levels are given in a piece of music. While the overall character of a section might be soft, and thus marked piano, it will take some dynamic changes within that soft section to maintain musical interest. Phrase direction is reason for dynamic change. Almost nothing is dynamically static. The shape of a phrase must be determined and marked in the music with crescendo and diminuendo markings. Again, these details are often not in the music, so the conductor must make some choices. One note about dynamics: frequently musicians are afraid to use the full range of all six dynamic levels. An ensemble that can perform at six different levels - pp, p, mp, mf, f, and ff - can provide stunning dynamic interpretations of music. Sometimes this means adding to or modifying the printed dynamics to the fullness of the music can be achieved in the complete dynamic spectrum.

In addition, one looks for balance issues, so that important parts can be brought out and background parts can be lessened. Look for melodies in inner or lower parts. Find interesting harmonic ideas that need to be brought out (dissonances, for example). Strive for dynamic balance among different performing techniques. The thickening or thinning of texture (more or fewer bells ringing) has an impact on the dynamics. The effect of the meter is determined by dynamic stressing and unstressing.

Finally, pedagogical score study is necessary for rehearsal preparation. This requires developing methods by which a conductor's interpretation of the composer's intent can be communicated to the ensemble. Part of this is anticipation of problems of technique and interpretation. Certainly problems of technique will become evident by looking at each individual part. For the entire ensemble, musical changes often present technical challenges. Changes of key, tempo, dynamic, technique are obvious places where musical and technical forethought will be required. Difficult rhythms can be turned into exercises so that rhythmic concepts can be learned before applying them to the music. Finally, a method of marking the scores will help ensemble members learn to mark places so they can anticipate what is to happen next. Anticipation is the key to good performance. This sense of anticipation is tantamount to inviting the listeners into the music to hear and feel the expressions of the ensemble. A score clearly marked makes thinking ahead easier and more efficient. The score markings are manifestations of the score study, so that the ideas developed in studying the score can become part of the music making process and ultimately communicated to the listeners.



Canadian Directors at International Handbell Symposiums

Name Home Province Symposium
Camille Ream Alberta Australia 2018
Janet Nordstrand British Columbia Vancouver 2016
Stuart Sladden Manitoba Vancouver 2016
Tammy-Jo Mortenson Alberta Korea 2014
Emmy Okazawa-Bortolin Alberta England 2012
Dr. John Hooper Alberta Australia 2010
Susan Carscadden Mifsud Ontario USA 2008
Dr. John Hooper Alberta Australia 2006
Anne Hill British Columbia Ontario 2004
Barbara Plante Ontario Ontario 2004
J-C. Coolen Ontario Ontario 2004
Joan Plume Ontario Korea 2002
Morna June Morrow             Manitoba England 2000
Rick Humphries Ontario Japan 1998
Tracey Boyle Saskatchewan USA 1996
Alison Wood             Alberta Australia 1994
Carol Petrie Saskatchewan Alberta 1992
Fred Merrett Alberta Alberta 1992
Fred Merrett Alberta Korea 1990
Gerald Ziegler Ontario England 1988



Thinking outside the box

Too often as directors and ringers, we get used to doing what is familiar and comfortable and don't think outside the box in terms of making bell assignments. Better ringers could be given the option to change positions if they wish. It would need to be negotiated as to whether ringers should move to a different position on each piece or for the season. There is a lot of controversy over this concept.

Some believe that ringers should be versatile and able to ring in any position. If ringers are flexible in their assignment, they will likely improve their ringing abilities much more quickly than if they are married to one position. Others believe that ringers should become masters of a particular position - after all, a violin player would not be expected to play the viola even though they are both string instruments.

Directors usually have reasons for assigning certain bells to certain ringers. It might be due to a ringer's abilities - there may be only one ringer who can do the four-in-hand position. Perhaps there are only a few ringers that can ring bass bells. Sometimes a ringer will only read music in the treble clef, therefore only ring treble bells.

Personalities sometimes play a role in the decision making. Often a new ringer is partnered with one who is willing to mentor. The director might assign positions based on the difficulty of a particular part. Perhaps a ringer is afraid to try a new assignment. In an extreme case, a ringer may be absolutely inflexible and if asked to change positions, will threaten to resign.

When a director is possibly short of ringers, it seems to be a better idea to leave well enough alone rather than cause an uncomfortable situation for both the director and the ringer. Sometimes ringers play in the same position because it is working so well!

When determining either traditional bell assignments or those that are "outside the box", it is important for the director to have done a thorough study of the score first. Part of score study is reviewing bell assignments. When planning bell assignments, the director needs to make note of any challenging places for each ringer. Can the ringer play all of their accidentals by weaving? Are there some fast passages that mean another ringer should help? Ringers can be possessive of their bells and may believe that if they can't do all of their accidentals, they are not a good ringer.

To play musically, where can the accidentals go? Directors need to be able to determine how neighbouring ringers can help each other. As ringers increase in their confidence and abilities, they can negotiate amongst each other where the accidentals can go. Some of the more advanced handbell music have almost impossible passages using traditional assignments. Ringers most certainly have to discuss with their neighbours who will play what bells when! Sometimes certain rhythmic patterns are better done by one person so one ringer may ring D4E4 instead of two ringers. It can be difficult for a ringer to only play on the "ands" of a beat. Making a change in bell assignments for a few measures can result in making music much sooner.

Handbell choirs often have a bell hog. Directors need to be aware that bellhogs can sometimes have a difficult time ringing musically. It is vital for directors to know their music well and to know the abilities of their ringers. If assignments are adjusted to accommodate both the music and the ringers, rehearsals can be spent on making music instead of trying to do the difficult or the impossible. This approach will help your choirs to make the best music possible in a shorter time!



Warming up with Bell Ringing

Bell ringers, like athletes, need to warm up their muscles. All bell ringers are subject to muscle strain because some of the muscles used for ringing only work hard two hours each week during rehearsal. Too often we arrive at practice after a day's work just in time to set up the tables, foam and bells, open our music and pick up our bells for the first down beat.

In JUBILOSO! Bells of Concordia, we always do warm-ups for about five minutes before we ring a note. The warm-up exercises are led by one of the ringers and over time, we have realized that if she is not there, warm-ups do not happen. We do similar warm-up exercises prior to performances. Warm-ups also give us a chance to visit, make announcements or discuss rehearsal plans prior to practice actually starting. It also gives us a chance to "let go" of the days events and be centred so that we can be focused for rehearsal.

Our warm-ups always include a reminder to have "soft knees" i.e. slightly bent. In reality, we should all be ringing with our knees slightly bent. Then we work a variety of muscles. We usually include shoulder rolls and shrugs, neck, forearm and upper arm stretches, arm, wrist and hand curl, and usually some finger play.

Many movements in bell ringing are repetitive and can cause carpal tunnel syndrome. Improper ringing techniques can also increase the problems resulting from the repetitive action of bell ringing. Warming up and ringing correctly can help to decrease the chance of ringers getting injured.



Ringing at the Next Level

In the fall, I had the privilege of presenting a workshop with Lorna Walker to school teachers in Edmonton. Lorna has a B.Ed., teaches music at DunLuce Elementary School in Edmonton, and rings in the United in Bronze Handbell Choir at St. Albert United Church. She is a talented musician and has wonderful ideas about working with children and handbells.

Awe-inspiring performances (or ringing at the next level) require committed and talented musicians. However, talented musicians are just as capable of putting on mediocre performances. The key is the director. Not only must directors recognize the inherent musical qualities of a piece of music, they must be talented enough to draw the musicality out of their musicians.

Learning to ring together at the next level is a complex process. In this newsletter, we will talk about "Playing Musically" and "Dealing with Dynamics".

"Playing Musically"

Playing musically is really the ability to speak to the audience through the music. It means playing with beautiful circles, paying attention to dynamics and phrasing, being rhythmically accurate and playing exactly together.

As a director, you need to raise your expectations. Excuses like "they are only 10 years old", "we only meet once a week" or "they don't read music" become blinders to what is possible. Simple music when played musically will be more awe-inspiring than difficult music that lacks dynamics and togetherness.

Discuss the music with your choir. Start with the title or tell them about the composer - give them a concrete image to grasp. Tell them what you like about it. Use images to help you get across the feeling or mood of the piece (eg. tell the small bells they are to play like stars or angels).

Musicality starts with the way an instrument is played. Piano teachers begin with finger bubbles and handbell directors begin with circles. A circling moving bells sounds and looks beautiful. Beginning ringers need to be taught how to circle a bell and they need to practice it. Experienced ringers need to be reminded of it. Longer notes need larger circles and shorter notes need smaller circles. When the music gets tough, the bells often get punchy! Use warm up drills to reinforce these concepts of circling and moving - even with experienced ringers. Check the ringer's posture. Circles need to be created with the whole body, not just the arm. If ringers are standing stiff legged or rigid then it is harder

to make circles and to vary dynamics.

"Dealing with Dynamics"

Good music will require the ringers to play both very loud and very soft. You will likely need to check the settings of the bells to ensure that they are set correctly so that proper dynamics may be achieved. Don't assume that all the bells need to be set the same. Sometimes a ringer is naturally quiet and might need a bell adjusted to a hard setting.

Study your score thoroughly so that you know before you start rehearsals what it is that you want to accomplish in terms of dynamics. Conduct as you want your ringers to ring. "Conduct big for loud and small for soft". Make your ringers watch you - help them learn their music so well that they are comfortable looking at you and then finding their place in their music.

Consider memorizing your music - both the director and ringers - this will allow the ringers an incredible freedom to watch you and allow you to really get what you want by conducting.

Video tape you and your choir to really see how they look and sound. Play in different places and assess the dynamics carefully. It might sound soft and loud in the music room but when you get into the school gym. It might all sound the same.

Rehearse dynamics over and over again so your ringers know what is expected of them. Don't settle for less that what you want to hear.

Finally the thing that taught both Lorna and I to be better directors was to become better ringers. There are likely choirs very near you that would love to have you ring with them - or maybe as a sub or spare. Call them today!



To Applaud or Not to Applaud

The debate continues as to whether or not it is appropriate to applaud in church. Wouldn't it be wonderful if congregations would applaud when ministers and musicians want them to and not applaud if they are not supposed to! The reality is that people have different connections to music and therefore have different responses.

In some churches, applause is welcome and in some it is not. Some worshippers applaud spontaneously. Some applaud "politely". Some join in because others have started the applause. Some really want to applaud but don't. Some don't ever applaud in church.

Applause is not fair. Applause is not heard for an awesome sermon yet children's groups, whether they are singing or ringing, almost always receive applause. Handbells can receive applause for playing, even when they haven't played particularly well.

Handbell choirs need to stop considering their participation in worship as a performance. If handbell choirs focus on praising God through music, on giving their music as a gift to the Glory of God, and sharing in worship, then the congregation's applause reaction is simply an extension of the musicians's offering of praise. In Psalm 47:1, we read: "O clap your hands, all peoples; shout to God with the voice of joy".

There are a number of strategies that handbell choirs can use to encourage a spontaneous applause. If the music is fast and excited and ends with either a mart or a shake, applause will likely start. Holding the shakes for longer than written along with a great crescendo and big circles also works. (As a director on one occasion, I was so excited that I started the applause myself!) Having the congregation clap in time to the rhythm - they will naturally break into applause at the end of the piece! Having the ringers watch the director and smile, especially at the end of the music, also encourages an applause reaction.

On the other hand, "Be still and know that I am God" is written in Psalm 46. Sometimes the natural reaction to music is to be reverently silent. Directors can encourage a meditative reaction a number of ways. Make sure the ringers don't lower their bells at the end of the music until the director has given them the cue. If it is appropriate, have a prayerful reading during the music. Have a prayer start as soon as the bells are finished their music but before they have lowered their bells to the table. Have ringers end the piece bowing their heads in prayer. Let the bells vibrate on the last chord and have the ringers very slowly lower the bells to the table - don't dampen or let the ringers silence their bells - let the music fade into silence so people can feel the presence of God. Preparing the music well technically and musically is likely the best way to touch people's hearts and souls - the right reaction will then simply happen.



Recruiting and Retaining Ringers

Recruiting and retaining ringers can be a challenge for any handbell director! The recruitment strategy to use will depend on what your choir needs.

Whether your choir is beginning, intermediate or advanced, it is a good idea to "advertise" handbell ringing by inviting people from the audience or congregation to come to the handbell tables and give the bells a ring. This gives people the encouragement that they too can ring bells.

To recruit for my beginning group, I put fluorescent flyers in the bulletin asking a few questions (see bottom of next page). I ended up with more than enough ringers for the choir.

I ask the ringers, both past and present, who to call if there is an opening and then I start phoning. When I talk with prospective ringers, I invite them to come to a rehearsal to see if they will like it. They usually love it immediately!

Short term sessions have helped to recruit ringers. There are rehearsals after church for three or four weeks and then on Sunday Worship the music is shared. I talk to choir members, Sunday School teachers and youth group leaders to get names of possible ringers. I talk with each person before the session starts to get their commitment. If they are children, I talk with their parents to ensure that they are supportive.

I start recruiting in the spring so that we aren't delayed in starting in the fall because we are short of ringers. I keep a list of all prospective ringers - people who have indicated some interest. If they say no this time, I check to see if I can call them next year. It took me almost three years to recruit one of my ringers (she had to wait until her daughter completed the three year Brownie program). Now, both she and her daughter are ringing on a regular basis.

Be prepared to try new things and to seek out new people other than ringers to help you. For Christmas, we played Go Tell It on the Mountain arranged by Cynthia Dobrinski. I found out that there was a trombonist and a saxophonist (it calls for a clarinet) in our congregation. I asked them to join us and they were absolutely thrilled! I expect that the trombonist, saxophonist, some of their friends or family will be ringing bells with us soon!

If you want ringers to continue to ring with your choir, you need to ensure that your positive energy and enthusiasm spreads throughout your rehearsals and your performances.

I plan to do things other than rehearse to build teamwork and rapport with my ringers. One of my ringers suggested that we have a " No Rehearsal" rehearsal this month because we had worked so hard during the Christmas season that they had no time to visit with each other!

We take a 10 - 15 minute break during a two hour rehearsal. Ringers take turns bringing snacks. They are on an alphabetical roster so they should be able to easily remember when it is their turn. We recently had someone forget her turn, so she agreed to pay "penance" and brought snacks for an extra week!

We play at Senior citizen's lodges about twice a year instead of rehearsing. We play on our regular rehearsal night so ringers don't have to give up another evening. It gives us an opportunity to play something secular as well as share with our community the gift of bells.

Ringers must feel that they are needed at each rehearsal and that they are making a difference by being there. I sometimes have ringers come to rehearsal early to review more difficult passages. If ringers feel that they can easily miss rehearsal because they do not need the practice, take a look at the assignments for your bell ringers.

Music repertoire can make a huge difference in both recruiting and retaining ringers. When people listen to handbell music and it has touched them in some way, they will often want to become part of it. When handbell music touches ringer's hearts and souls, they will continue ringing for a very long time.



Sample Handbell Recruitment Ad

The "Genesis Ringers" is a handbell choir especially for beginning ringers, that is, people who have had little or no formal music training. We have room for more ringers and would appreciate it if you would spend a few minutes of your time (perhaps during the sermon!!!) to fill out the following questionnaire!

Do you know your left hand from your right? YES no Can you count to four? YES no Are you older than 11 years? YES no

If you have answered YES to these questions, you, too, could be a Handbell Ringer at the best United Church in Canada!

Walk, run, drive or fly to our rehearsal October 6 at 6:00 p.m. to try our handbells. Try it, you might like it!!! Call Camille Ream at 999-9999 for more details.

YES!!!YES!!!YES!!! I would like Camille to phone me with more details.





Stand Up Straight!

How Is Your Ringing Posture?

We were all told as children to stand up straight and not to slouch! As adults, we still need to stand up straight and not slouch. As handbell ringers, it is important to have good posture - it helps us to have more energy for ringing, gives us less aches and pains and helps us to ring more musically. We don't use just our arms for ringing, we use our whole body so it must be held in proper alignment to get the most music out of your ringing. If ringers stand in a tense position, the tension spreads though out their entire body. This makes ringing tiring as well as less musical. It makes it harder to play dynamics, make circles and do techniques properly.

Posture really starts from the toes and goes up. One foot should slightly in front of the other - this will allow you to shift your weight so that your bell changes can be made without reaching or straining. Your feet should be about shoulder width apart. Weight should be on the balls of your feet with your heels on the floor. Knees must be relaxed and slightly flexed - you need to have "soft knees". Chest should be lifted high so that you can breath easily. Shoulders must be relaxed as if hanging on a coat hanger. (You can find out just how tense your shoulders are by raising them towards your ears and then lowering them to the ground, relax and try to lower them a little bit more.) Neck must be relaxed so head able to move freely.

Check the height of your music - you may be slouching so that you can see your music better.

As directors, we should be aware of our ringer's posture. Often ringers are not aware that they are not standing straight or slouching. Remind your ringers to relax. To get this happening consistently, you may need your ringers to adjust their stance, to flex their knees, to relax their shoulders or to stand up straight. You might feel like a nag, but it will be worth it in the end. Your ringers will have more energy for rehearsal and ring more musically.