On Premiering a Fantasia

When a new handbell piece appears in my folder, I examine certain things for my own sake.

Image from Hope Publishing

Image from Hope Publishing

Who is the composer/arranger? Cool … it’s Kevin McChesney, he’s one of the best!

What’s the difficulty level? Hmmmm … Why isn’t this piece rated?

So, what publisher forgot the rating? Huh? There isn’t one!

Maybe it’s on the page? How long is this thing? What!!! This has twice as many pages as anything else we’ve ever played!

Is there a dedication? OMG! Someone commissioned this for our church and the approaching 50th anniversary celebration.

ForAllTheSaintsGlass

Stained glass at All Saints Episcopal Church (Jensen Beach, FL) from Wikipedia

Starting in late August, our choir worked hard to prepare Fantasia on “For All the Saints”, a lively take for handbells on the classic hymn For All the Saints (music by Ralph Vaughn Williams and lyrics by William How) … (and my part was quite challenging).

We would premier the piece at the 50th Anniversary celebration dinner of our congregation, as well as playing it Sunday morning. Fittingly, and seemingly coincidentally, it was also All Saints Sunday.

As time drew closer, I carried memories of this good friend who would have loved this piece, but was murdered … and this good friend and bell ringer who cancer quickly vanquished from us … and to other friends who I’ve met at church that we no longer see for one reason or another … and to members of my family. To top it off, a past pastor returned and delivered a wonderful sermon that reminded everyone that each of us as saints and sinners.

At the dinner, one of our handbell choir members introduced the piece. Her words were so fitting that when she read it at rehearsal earlier in the week, my eyes got a little watery – and the portion below is good for this post.

The text of the first verse is especially appropriate for any occasion in which we stop to reflect on a community of faith:

“For all the saints // who from their labors rest // who thee by faith // before the world confessed // thy name O Jesus // be forever blest. // Alleluia, Alleluia!”

At one point, you’ll be able to hear those Alleluias passed among several bells and intermixed with the melody.

We couldn’t imagine a more fitting tribute on this All Saints weekend, when we honor the saints who are in this room and the saints who have made 50 years of ministry and fellowship at Prince of Peace possible.

In time, publishers will make this piece available for others to play, but I can proudly say that I was in the first choir to play it and the dedication line indicates our church.

While you’re watching, observe many ringing techniques throughout the choir.  Enjoy the blog premier of Fantasia on “For All the Saints”.

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75 thoughts on “On Premiering a Fantasia

    • Lynn,
      As one knows music, this piece was loaded with nuances! If you know any bell choir people, pass the name along …. We think it will be at least a Level 4 … and thanks for the kind words!

  1. Beautiful, Frank! I love handbell choirs. That is quite an ambitious piece and you and your choir certainly rose to the occasion! I had a quick question…were the gentlemen in the back left on this video playing marimbas or xylophones in this piece? I loved the percussion that the instrument brought to the piece!
    Cathy

    • Cathy,
      Ambitious is a good adjective. In terms of back-left guy, he has bells. You can see him ringing them in the beginning, but he also uses mallets. After the intro, the entire back row uses mallets for the moving line that you hear. What the lady on the back row, but far right as you can see he striking at various points. Meanwhile, off the top of my head, we have played with flute, trumpet, organ, piano, drums, solo singer, trio/quartet singers, and a singing choir.

    • Jim,
      The only involvement with commissioned music I’ve ever had is being in the audience. It was an honor, but also extra pressure. I am curious to see how sales go in the future or if I receive questions because of this post.

  2. I will admit, I expected it to be a lot more cacophonous than that. I was waiting for my eardrums to be assaulted, but it was a lot like kettle drums

  3. Beautiful! Being a piano player I was looking hard for the “running line” players…by which I think you mean the melody which ran parallel to the ringers in the front row? ? That was performed with mallets? Was the entire back row involved or just a few of you? Absolutely beautiful piece of work. Thank you for sharing, aFA, with all the rest of your “family”.
    R.

    • Jots,
      Hooray u saw this. Many notes here, so piano players pick and chose the ones to play. The mallets are the entire back row plus thetwo in back left. Some mallets also on the front right. Glad this met your high standards

  4. Ah, Frank what a delight to the ears! I am so truly happy for being in such a premiere! Obviously not an easy piece but you all sound so well together and make it seem easy. A lot of work there! Beautiful, my friend! :-)

  5. I really enjoyed this, Frank, and it was fun to see you playing! I had a very limited exposure to playing in a bell choir decades ago and I remember being as nervous as a cat when we’d play. Even though I read music well and have a good sense of rhythm, I knew if I came in a little early or late the other musicians would be thrown off! You guys were all completely on target and it was lovely. I can only imagine how much time must go into practice! It really is a very special arrangement, too! Congratulations!

    • Debra,
      Although many of us play off of others, counting is still the key. But you are correct, when the ear picks up the cue that is actually incorrect, a domino effect can happen. Ouch! We worked very hard on this one, and fortunately, we have a conductor who studies to prepare for every rehearsal. Glad you enjoyed this!

  6. So beautiful … and so sadden to read about your lost friends – I really enjoyed this premiering – thanks for bringing me along. Never heard the hymn before. I like the Humming bird to – very delicate piece. I have never heard about hand bells before I “run” into your world. *love. So beautiful.

    • Viveka,
      The friends I mentioned in this post were good people whose life ended too soon … and For All the Saints is a fitting title for me. I really like the hymn too as I find it to be a joyous dedication. Meanwhile, those playing Hummingbird is simply several levels higher. Glad you enjoyed it.

      • I loved your post and your videos. You are always spreading comfort. Had fantastic days in Belfast now and sailing over to Scotland today for 4 days. Met my first snow this year here in Belfast. Today is truly chilly too.
        Enjoying myself big time and my sorry ass don’t have much of a choice – wish it had stayed at home *smile
        I wish you and everyone around you a great weeknd.

  7. Wow, Frank! This piece was magnificent, and you worked your tookus off. I hope you know that your group is several cuts above the average church bell choir. It was awesome! Thank you for calling my attention to this performance. I plan to show it to WW when he gets home. We often talk about your church and how envious we are that you have such a wonderful, musical, wine drinking :) BOC to hang with and work out the journey of life. All the best and a most Happy T-Day. Best wishes to Mrs. A.

    • E-Tom,
      Thanks for popping back over to see this because I knew you would enjoy it. For a volunteer choir, we do well. A friend from another church told me that they ring theirs, but we play ours.

      Music is one of congregation’s strength. We have our share of talent (many are music major grads) … and our music director does a wonderful job blending old music and with the new. Let me know what WW thinks of this one.

  8. WW and I just watched this piece together as part of our Sunday morning devotions. He loved it–he really loved it. Said to tell you that he loved the full sound (most church bell choirs sound thin to him). But he says to tell you that it was quite beautiful (he is a lax musician=5 instruments and a singer/actor). We both agreed you were working hard in this piece and definitely knocked it out of the park. Have a wonderful Sunday.

    • E-Tom,
      Hooray for us meeting expectations to gain WW’s seal of approval. We played again today, including on piece with interesting chords. If I can find a video, I’ll post it in the future. If not, I’ll try to locate a recording.

  9. Absolutely delightful, Frank. I’m going to ask the Heavenly Host to play it so I can sneak thru the Pearly Gates. It’s so beautiful, the security guards are sure to be distracted so I can tip-toe in… : )

    I thought the guy in the back row, third in from the right, was especially good… : )

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