Continuing involvement in music is a good way to remain active both socially and mentally. Music is the one activity that uses both sides of your brain at the same time. Ringing handbells creates a firing process in your mind that no other activity can do. Many of us do not ring handbells as a solo instrument, so it becomes a social activity as well. Those you see at handbell rehearsal may not be your best friends, but you have something in common that other groups do not even offer.
Ringing handbells creates the opportunity to concentrate in a manner different than reading a book or singing a song. While reading music helps you be a better handbell ringer, there are those who join handbell groups who do not read music. Since it is only necessary to be aware of when your bells ring, it is possible to learn to read music while learning to ring handbells. It is different from looking at a full piano score and having to be concerned with everything on the page. You have to physically ring, pluck, or mallet your bell - your instrument. To do this correctly requires that you interpret the markings on the music properly. You have to visually look forward preparing for what is needed from your bells the next time you ring. Are there bell changes, flats, or sharps? Is the sound softer, louder, or changing in dynamics? Where is the music line leading? Can you tell? You have to count rhythmically to play your bells at the correct time. So, mathematics becomes involved when ringing bells. Being able to subdivide a measure increases the likelihood that you will be accurate. Ringing handbells can be physically grueling whether you are ringing the large bass bells or playing the small bells four-in-hand. There is physical preparation in having the correct bells ready to ring. Lastly, there is the challenge of watching the conductor. The conductor’s job is to provide a consistent downbeat, provide leadership for any musical nuances, help the group begin and end together, and so much more. Yes, it is helpful if you watch the conductor while playing the correct bells or chimes at the proper time.
Socially, you are a member of a group with a common goal. Each of you is a part of a large, ever-changing keyboard. You work hard and help each other. You prepare for performance each rehearsal. You come to support each other and grow together musically.
Are you still ringing handbells? I hope your answer is “yes! If your answer is “no,” why aren’t you?
Learn About the Author
Cynthia Adair is a retired music educator with thirty-nine years of teaching music. She taught junior high through pre-kindergarden music. She has rung in handbell choirs over the past twenty-five years, having conducted at First United Methodist, Sapulpa, OK,and currently conducting at St Luke's Methodist, Oklahoma Ctiy, OK.