On a Music Monday

How was your weekend? Come on now … tell us about it.

A cool, dreary weekend here, but those in the northeast US are getting ready to get hammered with a mega-snow. Good luck to my readers up there!

Our weekend had a variety that included dancing, seeing the movie The Theory of Everything (an awesome movie), and ushering at the Cincinnati Playhouse for Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash. The play featured songs from the American country-music icon while telling a story about his life. Fabulous voices and musicians (which I think were better than this local review). Do you know this song?

Celebrations for your week

  • (Week) Kiss a Shark Week, Leprosy Awareness Week, Clean Out Your Inbox Week, Cowboy Poetry Gathering Week, Snow Sculpturing Week, Glaucoma Awareness Week, Meat Week, Hot Air Balloon Week, Nurse Anesthetists Week
  • (Mon) Clashing Clothes Day, Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day, Peanut Brittle Day, Toad Hollow Day of Encouragement, Australia Day, Television Day, Lotus 1-2-3 Day, Rocky Mountain National Park Day,
  • (Tues) Mad Tea Party Day, Thomas Crapper Day, Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust Day, Mozart Day, Fun at Work Day, Chocolate Cake Day, National Geographic Day, Punch the Clock Day
  • (Wed) Kazoo Day, Pop Art Day, Data Privacy Day, Daisy Day, Challenger Remembrance Day, Blueberry Pancake Day, Ernie’s Day, Thank a Pluggin Developer Day
  • (Thurs) Curmudgeons Day, Freethinkers Day, Puzzle Day, Seeing Eye Dog Day, Carnations Day, Corn Chip Day

The above celebrations provide multiple opportunities to start your week, but I know many of the readers here love a sing along. Have a good week … and hopefully I can read more of your posts than I have been!

On One Instrument

A piano is one instrument with 88 keys (52 white, 36 black). Typically, one PianoKeysperson reads many notes on piano music to create rhythmic patterns aimed to please the audience. I’m not a piano player, but I admire the pianist’s skills not only with their hands, but their ability to read and play so many notes on a page. Yet, a piano is one instrument played by one person.

MusicalNotesFrequencyBands and orchestras are large groups of different instruments working together as a unit to create a complex musical sound. However, just like the piano, each member is responsible for one instrument – and their music typically displays the notes for one instrument. Therefore, it is the conductor’s responsibility to bring the instrumentation of the ensemble together to please the audience.

Although they also produce music for an audience, handbells are different because they are one instrument that multiple people play together. I imagine you never thought of a handbell choir being one instrument, but it is – Therefore, this post aims to explain this single instrument with its numerous freestanding pieces.

For starters, the number of bells in a choir varies depending on the number of Handbellsmembers and their skills. One handbell is the equivalent to one key on the piano. In our choir, that’s about 60 bells for 13-14 people – but every song doesn’t require every bell. (Note: If we had the players and money, we could add about 36 more bells.) Occasionally, music also requires some players to use handchimes, which I will work in later.

For those thinking that piano music looks busy, handbell music is more so because composers place all the notes for the entire choir together. Yep – that means the player must have the ability to locate their notes among the jungle. (I’m responsible for 2-4 notes/bells).

Besides the all the notes and standard information as key, tempo, and dynamics, handbell music has additional marking for the techniques that create a variety of sounds. Terms include marts, ring touch, let vibrate, mallets, plucks, echoes, damp, mart lifts, swings, gyros, shakes, mallet rolls, and more. (Yep, symbols for each technique.) Players can also adjust the hardness of the clamper inside the bell. (The soft setting sound is mellow, while the hard setting sound is bright; and, there is an in-between setting.

See this short (less than 2 minutes) video demonstrating some techniques.


.

Just like other musical ensembles, the conductor has the responsibility of bringing it all together – but with handbells, the conductor orchestrates multiple people playing one instrument – quite the challenge! Now watch this video to see everything come together in a short, spurt of madness from Ring of Fire! (Watch for the different techniques.)


.

Earlier, I mentioned handchimes. Like handbells, its one handchime per note – but they produce a different sound. Besides handchimes, handbell choirs may incorporate other instruments. We have played with piano, organ, trumpet, violin, flute, drums, contrabass bars, other percussion, and singers.

In closing, I hope this has helped you understand what is involved, so now enjoy the Raleigh Ringers with handbells, handchimes, cello, flute, and mallet chimes – and notice all the bells behind them that are not used in this piece. Ah yes, who would have imagined that the complexity of one instrument.

.

Note: Special thanks to Madam Weebles for the thought triggering this post.