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Grand Choeur Dialogue for handbells

May 13, 2008 @ 08:59 By: gordon Category: Handbells, Music

At the “Bells In Spring” handbell concert held the first weekend in May at Rideau Park United Church, I had the unique privilege of conducting the world premiere performance of Kevin McChesney‘s arrangement of Grand Choeur Dialogue by Eugène Gigout that had been specially commissioned by the ringers and friends of the bell choirs for our director, Marcia. There were two bell choirs, a pipe organ, timpani and cymbals.

I contacted Kevin last fall and said we wanted to commission a “Big” piece of music in recognition of all the time Marcia devotes to the bells that would take advantage of the two bell choirs and organ at Rideau Park. Almost immediately, he suggested an organ piece called Grand Choeur Dialogué by a French composer named Eugène Gigout. I listened to a version of it available on iTunes and gave him the go-ahead. A few weeks later I received an email with complete arrangements for 3- and 4-7 octave handbell choirs, organ, 5-piece brass, timpani and cymbals. (I thought it would take a couple of months, at least!)

The piece itself is basically a conversation between the two bell choirs and the organ. It starts off with the first bell choir playing for a few bars. The second bell choir and the organ respond supported by the timpani and cymbals. The first choir replies with a slight variation and so on. There’s an organ solo in the middle of the piece after which both choirs play together for most of the rest of the piece. The end of the piece is a big grand finale with the bells, organ and cymbals all playing together.

We gave the cover page to Marcia at Christmas with the title, composer, arranger and all other identifying information removed and told her we’d be performing it at the concert in the spring. Starting in January, we chased Marcia out of the weekly practices promptly at 8:30pm and practiced it for about an hour.

It was worth it because we rocked. I don’t think I’ve ever heard our choirs sound better than we did that evening. Special thanks to Maxime Philippe and Andrew Harris for playing the timpani and cymbals that added so much to the piece.

And, of course, thanks to Marcia for the staggering amount of time she devotes to the bells.

2 Responses to “Grand Choeur Dialogue for handbells”

  1. Diane Grooms says:

    I’m very interested in commissioning a piece of work for our handbell director who has been leading our church handbell choir for close to 30 years. So what does a “big” commission end up costing? Love your blog!

  2. gordon says:

    There’s no firm number because different composers charge different amounts, but I imagine somewhere between $50 and $100 per ringer would be in the right ballpark. If you can get donations from people not in the bell choir too, you should have no problems covering it.

    “Big” to me meant a piece that took advantage of the bells (C3 to C8ish) plus the pipe organ in our church. It had to be “new to bells” and it had to be technically challenging, too. And, of course, it had to be a joyful sounding piece of music. Grand Choeur Dialogue met all of those requirements and then some.

    If the person you’re commissioning the piece in honour of has a favourite composer, track them down and talk to them about it. Kevin is a favourite of our choir, so I approached Kevin “out of the blue” and he was very receptive to it. (I heard from one of my spies that Marcia told someone she hoped it was going to be by Kevin when we gave her the anonymous cover page at Christmas.)

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