On a Bit of Difficulty

When I get a new piece of handbell music, I check two things: the name of the composer/arranger and the difficulty level

Maintained by the Handbell Musicians of America, the difficulty level is a numbering system from 1 (easiest) to 6 (hardest). (Standards here) The designation may include a plus or minus to further clarify. The level has many functions, one being help directors select appropriate songs for their choir relative to the skills and techniques the piece requires. Our choir normally plays in the 2+ to 4 range, but we’ve played level 5 once or twice.

Capriccio (by Kevin McChesney) is an original composition for handbells – and a level 5. It’s fast and involves irregular rhythms, changing tempos, a variety of techniques, and more. I recently saw the Purdue Bells (from Purdue University) in concert. This choir was large (16 members) – but for Capriccio, it was done by 4 … that’s F-O-U-R players.

The murmur at the very beginning is because they just announced the name of the piece they were playing. Given the audience was hundreds of handbell players, many know the difficulty for a choir of 12-14 players – let alone for 4 people – and that also explains the final reaction. Enjoy these 4 people playing over 30 bells!