Teachers, recreation directors and volunteers can take heart: A director with no musical background can lead handbell and handchime ringers of any age, from three to the late 90’s, in producing beautiful musical harmony together, right from the first rehearsal. The tremendous pleasure and benefits of making harmonious music together with chimes and bells, of working for peace through music, are truly open to all.
What is the power of bells and chimes, rung in concert by a handbell or handchime choir? To answer this question, perhaps we should first ask “What is the value of music?” Although there are probably as many ideas on how to achieve peace as there are socially concerned people, few would argue the urgent need for more harmony in this war-weary world. Among all the ideas and institutions created to try to achieve peaceful relationships, making music together has always been one of the best, since it creates harmony in the literal as well as figurative senses of the word. How best to help people make beautiful music together? If you’ve ever gripped your concert seat as the “Allelujah Chorus” of Handel’s “Messiah” thundered, or felt transported by the heavenly choral singing of Fauré’s “Requiem”, then you know the power of a choir to move an audience.
Imagine climbing to the top balcony of an old white-steepled church in New England an hour before midnight on a snowy Christmas Eve, to watch and listen in awe as the choir joins with the 50-member brass bell choir to sing and ring out the beautiful Carols that usher in Christmas Day. Regardless of your faith, you are likely to be deeply moved by such a spiritual expression of harmony and peace. For children through seniors, handbell choirs offer a unique musical experience, creating a strong sense of teamwork and fellowship. Bells are easy to ring, allowing new bell choirs, and new choir directors, to create beautiful music together from the very first rehearsal, regardless of musical experience. The basics of bell-ringing are easily learned, and the harmonious music-making is highly rewarding.
For young children, participation in a handbell choir is one of the best methods for teaching how each child’s part is essential to the creation of a whole group’s presentation. Without any previous musical training, children are able to hear how the harmony depends on each one ringing his or her bells exactly in time with the music, as prompted by the director. The children develop an appreciation for musical harmony, and learn new musical skills as they perform their choice of melodies and songs. There is even evidence that playing in a handbell choir enhances children’s reading ability.
While there are many handchime and brass bell choirs in churches and academic institutions for adults with musical backgrounds, adult groups can still enjoy all the benefits and pleasures of being part of a handchime or bell choir even without any previous musical background or training. This author for many years enjoyed conducting a handbell choir for seniors with dementia who lived in an assisted living alzheimer’s unit, often directing these seniors in joint concert with a children’s handbell choir which she also directed. Because the playing method was so easy, these intergenerational concerts, performed for residents of other assisted living facilities and children at other schools, were highly successful and warmly received by audiences of all ages. Your author still directs a chimechoir for able-minded seniors who, with no previous musical background, take their beautiful seasonal concerts “on the road” to perform for audiences at other senior centers and senior housing facilities.
In another article, we will describe the actual “how-to”, the various easy methods whereby a director with no musical background can lead handbell and handchime ringers of any age, from 3 to the late 90’s, in producing beautiful musical harmony together, right from the first rehearsal. The purpose of this present article is simply to dispel the misperception that leadership of and participation in such choirs is limited to those with musical experience and background. Teachers, recreation directors, volunteers all can take heart that they can bring this wonderful opportunity to their groups, whether or not they themselves, or the members of their groups, have had musical training. The tremendous pleasure and benefits of making harmonious music together with chimes and bells, of working for peace through music, are truly open to all.