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Archive for the ‘Handbells’

Ringing and remembering: There aren’t enough tolls

February 27, 2018 @ 15:00 By: gordon Category: Current affairs, Handbells

One of my favourite pieces of music to play on handbells is Make Me An Instrument Of Thy Peace by Kevin McChensey. It’s a beautifully moving piece of music, that takes full advantage of all the handbells my choir has. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve played it over the years, playing it both with just my choir and organ, and larger massed choirs, including in 2005 at a handbell festival in Ottawa with a huge number of choirs.

He based it on the 13th century prayer of St. Francis of Assisi and dedicated it to “the victims of the shooting at Columbine High School and other acts of senseless violence”. A few years ago, while talking to him (Kevin, not St. Francis) about commissioning a piece of music, I mentioned it. He told me that it was actually his second attempt at writing a piece of music in memory of those who died at the Columbine High School massacre in April 1999. The first attempt was apparently too dark and sad and not what he was trying to achieve. I’m glad he made a second attempt, but I wish he hadn’t had to write it at all.

The piece starts and ends with 12 tolls and a final chord. Each chord represents one of the people who were killed at Columbine.

Here’s a photo of the last couple of lines. You can see the chords starting at bar 109.

We’ve been rehearsing it for the last few practices, but yesterday evening’s practice was the first I’ve been at since the horrible shootings in Florida and I couldn’t help but think about the victims and survivors at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. There aren’t enough tolls for them.

One of the many videos on YouTube of it being played on handbells…

A Touch of Brass: As Seen On TV

December 19, 2011 @ 15:27 By: gordon Category: Handbells, Out and about

I was up well before the crack o’ dawn this morning to play bells with the other people in A Touch of Brass on CTV Ottawa’s Morning Live show. We played two pieces this year: Christmas Angels Medley and Let It Snow.

The two segments have been posted on YouTube by CTV and I have to say I think these are our best appearances on the show, yet:


Eat. Sleep. Ring.

June 06, 2009 @ 19:18 By: gordon Category: Handbells

Ring To The World, the Ontario Guild of English Handbell Ringers‘ biennial handbell festival has been taking place at Carleton University the last couple of days. This is the second time in recent history it’s been held in Ottawa and this is the fourth or fifth Festival I’ve gone to in the almost 30 years I’ve been ringing bells.

There have been workshops on all sorts of things related to handbells from sessions for beginners to workshops on techniques such as four-in-hand to solo ringing to conducting to composing. There was even a workshop on the ergonomics of ringing. I signed up for a number of workshops, but I only ended up going to three of them. One was on change ringing, another was sight-reading some new music and the other was on advanced conducting techniques.

In addition to the workshops, there are a number of festival choirs, split up by the level of experience of the ringers and the difficulty of the music. The bell choir I usually ring with is in the bronze level, which is the highest level of the larger groups. I’m also ringing in the gold choir, which is doing a pair of quite challenging pieces. Adding to the challenge is the fact that the person leading the gold choir (and the bronze choir, too) is Tim Waugh, who wrote a number of the pieces.

Because the gold choir is made up of people from all over this is the first time many of them have played the pieces. (My regular choir had copies of the music so we ran through it a couple of times prior to Festival.) Thus, I’ve been doing a lot of ringing. Thursday evening, we rehersed for a couple of hours. Friday, I rang for about 6.5 hours, including the workshops. Today, I’ve rung for about 5 hours so far and the final concert is to come. So, I’ve been through the ringer. (Pun intended — substitute your own bell joke if you don’t like it.)

But there’s been more than ringing. After the practice yesterday evening, there were some step dancers who did some amazing tap dancing.

And then the Maria Hawkins Band was introduced. Maria Hawkins has visited a lot of schools over the years in support of an anti-bullying campaign. She’s also performed with a number of famous artists, too.

So, she started singing and interacting with the audience and at one point she said she needed an A. Well, someone grabbed an A off one of the tables. Then she said she also needed a C and a couple of other notes, so I went and grabbed a C5 while other people grabbed other notes. And then we jammed on Mustang Sally and some other songs. And we rocked!

I bet that’s the first time someone’s jammed with a D3 bell!

It’s about 20 minutes to showtime, so I’m going to post this and then start getting ready for yet more ringing.

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.