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Spring 2004: Thoughts on Handbell Music and the Easter Season...
There isn't a church in the world that doesn't have a VERY crowded music schedule for Easter Sunday. Since Easter is the holiday of primary importance in the church world all the stops are pulled out, the extra musicians are recruited, the choir is expanded, and the sanctuary vibrates with sounds of glory and majesty. Many handbell choirs find it difficult to squeeze their offerings into this crowded, though wonderful, schedule of music. In fact, many bell choirs don't even get to play on Easter because there simply isn't room in the program.
Just some thoughts on some possible solutions to this problem...
The most obvious solution, the one which most of us use, is to play music during Lent and Holy Week. With so many weeks of Lent, Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and sometimes even more services added to the season, we find that we can usually find a spot to play in there somewhere. Now, it is certainly wonderful to be a part of these services and to offer up our prayerful and intropective music. And fortunately a great deal of high quality music is available for use in these services.
Still, wouldn't it be wonderful to be able to play the more bold and lively Easter compositions, too? We can't play Christ The Lord Is Risen Today and The Strife Is O'er during the Maundy Thursday service, so when can we play them? One possibility is simply to go ahead and play these tunes on Palm Sunday or on a sunday during Lent when the other music is less sad and somber. In some churches, this wouldn't fly, of course, so you'll have to be in close coordination with your music leaders and pastor. But in others, some choirs are finding that it is perfectly acceptable to play music of celebration at other moments during the Lent/Easter season. It provides a look ahead, if you will, at the ultimate end of the time of introspection which is the glory of the Resurrection. This does not interrupt the flow of worship and can be a very fine moment. We do this kind of thing during Advent all the time, so it seems appropriate to tastefully do it during the Lenten season as well.
Another idea to think about - the sound of bells in your sanctuaries does not always have to be associated with elaborate arrangements and complex musical ideas. In my home church, it is the tradition to toll a low bell 33 times, one time for each year of Jesus' life, at the end of the Maundy Thursday service. There has never been a year when this did not move many to tears - it is a very special moment to listen to the repeated, deep tones and to reflect on Christ's ultimate sacrifice. Remember, often the simplest music is the music that communicates the best.