Could I actually lead a group myself? Could my group come together as a bell choir? What would I need? Handbells, handchimes, belleplates: Which type of instrument is best for my beginning bell choir? Here are the benefits and drawbacks of these instruments, along with recommendations, based on long experience, for their use with your beginning handbell or handchime choir.
Handbells, handchimes, belleplates: Which type of instrument is best for my beginning bell choir? A little background, please…
Back in 17th century England, as the giant metal behemoths pealed the appointed hours, church “bells” meant those many-ton foundry works clanging in draughty (“drafty”, for you American readers) belfry towers. Then some smart soul invented handbells, and tune ringing was born! Have you listened to the ringing of modern day handbell and handchime choirs? At the very least, you’ve probably thrilled to recordings of the famous Raleigh Ringers. You may have delighted in a live bell choir performance, whether by children at school or church, young to middle-age adults at a college or concert hall, or perhaps a music therapy group in a senior center or nursing home. Now you’re wondering, “Could I actually lead a group myself? Could my group come together as a bell choir? What would I need?”
Let’s answer that last question first. (We’ll save the first two questions for another in this series of articles, where we will describe exact methods you’ll be able to use to start your bell choir right away, with confidence.) Right now, let’s decide what instruments would be suitable for your group, keeping budgetary considerations in mind. These recommendations are based on the author’s many years of experience in directing all these types of handbell and handchime choirs.
When speaking of a bell or chime choir, the terms are used broadly, to include use of metal or specifically brass handbells, handchimes, and belleplates, all of which percussion instruments can be employed for tune ringing. Will you be starting a bell choir for young children? Brass handbells are lovely, but aside from their high cost, they are very fragile in the sense that they can easily be damaged by being hit together or dropped. In addition, ringers must wear gloves to protect brass bells from fingerprints and the natural oil of the skin. Maintenance is time-consuming and costly.