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Winter 2005: Assigning Bass Bells
The art of assigning bass bells is one that is developed over time with much practice. Because the demands of bass parts are vastly different from piece to piece, the assignments are likewise different in each piece.
A case could be made for simply continuing to assign bass bells two notes at a time as we do the middle three octaves - that is, C3D3, E3F3, etc. I have actually seen this done, and it is a viable solution. The advantage is that the director need not spend inordinate amounts of time marking bass bell assignments. It has some potential disadvantages. These ringers will not be very challenged for many pieces (though that could be an advantage if you are working with less experienced ringers or trying to find ways to incorporate beginners into an established choir!). Also, bass bells are heavy and it is just a fact of life that many ringers cannot lift them and ring them easily.
Since most bell choirs use only two or at most three ringers for the 3’s, it is important that the director makes a diligent effort to go through the bass parts of each piece and decide how the notes written would be best divided between the bass ringers.
Some things to keep in mind when assigning bass bells:
1) VERY often the bass ringers will have to share a bell or several bells during the course of a piece. Be sure to indicate clearly what bells are shared so that the bass ringers can set up properly with the shared bells within easy reach of each of them.
2) Bass bells are heavy. Even big, burly, strong bass ringers need some time to heft a bell and get it into ringing position. At rapid tempos, it is usually safe to assume that one ringer will not be able to ring three bass bells in a row - two, yes, three, almost never.
3) The Back-and-Forth Principle- Two bass ringers will play smoothest when they alternate notes. Obviously, this is not possible for many passages, but it is a good idea to look at the most difficult section and work out to what degree the ringers can alternate notes. This can often be used as a pretty fair basis for assigning the rest of the piece.
4) Don’t be shy about assigning one of the C3-B3 notes to another ringer besides the bass ringers. I often deliberately find one note that can easily be rung by (as an example) the E4F4 ringer FIRST, then work out the logistics for the bass ringers for the remainder of the bass bells. This gives me one less bass bell to deal with in making assignments.
5) It is NOT cheating to go through and mark the bass ringers’ notes. In fact, it is HIGHLY recommended. This is not to say that there aren’t ringers who are perfectly capable of reading the lowest notes in handbell music fluently. The markings are necessary because of how the assignments vary from piece to piece. It could easily be that one ringer will play D3, F3, and G3 on one piece, and D3, E-flat3, F#3, and B-flat3 on the next piece. This is difficult to keep track of and the markings make the bass ringers’ tasks much more practical.