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!


39 thoughts on “On a Bit of Difficulty

  1. Well, I enjoyed this performance–and not just because I am a Purdue Alum. Thanks for explaining how truly impressive this artistry was given the rating system. As usual when reading your posts–I have fun and learn something. Can’t beat that!


  2. This was fun watching and listening to. I’m also glad you explained the difficulty levels because I wouldn’t have known how hard it was. I enjoyed watched them though–the man and woman on the left sharing the treble (?) soprano (?) bells–not sure what they’re called–and the man and woman on the right switching from ringing to playing them with mallets(?).


    • Merril,
      Good eyes. This piece involves many techniques, The two on the smaller bells are also sharing bells, so they must place the bell in a designated place for the other to pick up … and I’m sure you noticed that they had two bells in each hand most of the time. The two (in a hand) are at different angles so they can be rung separately. Watch again and you can see their wrist turning. For instance, the right thumb is on the side (as knocking on a door) then on top of the hand as in trying to flick something forward.

      Between the techniques, the level of difficulty, and 60-75% fewer players … simply wow!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Marina,
      LOL … Keep this in mind. The two on the left are frequently doing 2 in each hand. The bell’s clapper only moves in one direction. Therefore, when the bells are placed together, they are in one position when the two bells ring at the same time, but at right angles to each other when they ring separate – and the player does so by changing the wrist position. For instance, knock on the door (thumb on the side), versus rotating so the thumb is on top and the wrist flicks forward. Of course working the wrists independently of the other point. Glad you enjoyed this!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Handbells are so fun! My mom used to play them with her church group, but now that she’s moved, her new church doesn’t have them. Too bad all churches don’t have them.


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