Handbells as we know them in the United States and Europe were developed for an unusual reason. In the 17th, 18th and even 19th century most every town had a set of very heavy bells in a tower. These bells were rung to signify special happenings in the community such as weddings, funerals, church and national holidays. As the ringing of bells developed in these communities, the residents often complained when the bell ringers would practice from the towers. Smaller, portable bells were designed to help ringers learn before moving to the bigger louder ones in the tower and to keep the peace in the town. (Think Big Ben* in London). Eventually, this type of ringing became an art of its own. Legend has it that Handbells were introduced in the USA by the famous showman P.T. Barnum in the mid-1800’s.
Handbell sets today range from a small two octave set to the fuller seven-octave set. At SUMC we are fortunate to have a three-octave set. Eight to ten ringers are needed to play our 3-octave set (37 bells). Each person is responsible for two notes and the sharps/flats that match those pitches. Ringers tend to find two notes they are comfortable playing and stick to those most of their ringing time. Some music and rhythm reading is required. Current and former instrumentalists make excellent ringers. They are accustomed to long and short periods of time when their instrument is at rest in a song. Ringers only need to keep up with their two notes, not like the eighty-eight on a piano or the full range of a flute or tuba.
We will be holding an introduction to ringing on Sunday, September 17th in the Sanctuary following the 11:00 service. All are invited to come for a hands on experience. No commitment required, simply a chance for you to discover another way to worship and serve. Contact Richard Hamrick for more information.
*Big Ben goes silent: Read more here!