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Fall 2005: Assigning Handbells
A successful handbell program is based on a number of elements, but the most successful programs can be attributed to two things - choosing music well and assigning the bells intelligently. The subject of choosing music was discussed in the last issue of Vibrations. In this article and the articles that will appear in the next couple issues of Vibrations, we explore the subject of assigning and the considerations that go into strong, solid assignments.
The primary principle in assigning handbells is given below and is not original with me. It is agreed on by most writers, teachers, and directors:
ASSIGNMENTS ARE BASED ON RINGING THE WRITTEN NOTES MUSICALLY.
The first corollary to this rule:
IF EVEN A SINGLE NOTE CANNOT BE RUNG MUSICALLY AS WRITTEN, THAT BELL MUST BE REASSIGNED.
The second corollary:
ANY CASE IN WHICH A BELL IS NOT PLAYED IN A RELAXED, NATURAL MANNER IS A CASE IN WHICH THE NOTES ARE NOT BEING PLAYED MUSICALLY.
And the third corollary:
PLAYING MORE BELLS FOR THE SAKE OF BEING BUSY OR MORE CHALLENGE IS NOT A METHOD FOR PLAYING THE NOTES MUSICALLY
In general, it is best that the director make the assignments. There exist choirs in which one of the more advanced ringers makes the assignments. There is nothing inherently wrong with this, as long as that ringer is very knowledgeable about the other ringers' strengths and weaknesses, it does not cause tension or personal problems within the group, and the ringer has extensive knowledge about the ins and outs of ringing smoothly and musically.
REASSINGING TROUBLE BELLS - Remember that ALL notes of a piece need to be assigned so that they can be played smoothly and without frantic movements or undue tension so that the greatest artistry and communication can come through in the music. Even one bell that is awkward to play is a problem that needs a solution.
One solution is to reassign the bell. The bell may be given to a ringer who does not normally ring that bell but that has enough time to play that bell in addition to his/her regular assignment in a musical way. This may involve sharing the bell with a neighbor for one bar or a short time. It could involve giving the bell away completely for the whole piece to another ringer down the table. This bell should be marked ahead of time for the one who is now ringing it since it is not part of the usual assignment and could be overlooked. It may even prove to be a good idea to mark out this note in the score of the ringer who would usually play that note.
Further sharing may even prove necessary. One of my church groups had a troublesome bell that in the final performance was rung by four different ringers during the course of the piece!
Coming in future articles - Considerations of assigning bass bells, treble bells, handchimes, and further solutions for trouble bells.