Handchimes and Handbells: Starting Up

by Ed Tompkins

How do you start a handbell or handchime ministry in your congregation from the ground up?

Get other people in your church excited about the possibility by inviting a local bell choir to ring in worship. Make sure the bell choir, along with offering pieces from bell repertoire, also plays ostinati, random rings, or plays chords along with service music. The visitors can “sing” a bell (a technique similar to a singing bowl from Tibet) during the Prayers of Intercession. After worship, the visiting choir can invite folks to the table to try the bells or chimes.

Make sure you know the basics of chime and bell technique. There are many wonderful textbooks available. A good resource for directors new to handbells is “Handbell Ringing: Learning, Teaching, Performing” by Robert Ivey (Agape 1838). All the basic questions of starting a bell or chime choir are covered in this textbook. Suggestions for raising funds to purchase equipment are also covered. The basics of bell ringing are discussed, and different techniques are reviewed. This book is a great introduction for a person who is “starting from scratch.”

A second text book for the director’s library is “Mastering Musicianship in Handbells” by Donald Allured (Broadman Press/Genevox 4591-54). While the topics covered are similar to the Ivey book, everything is treated with more detail. Many photos and diagrams are included to assist the director of a bell group. (Note – this book focuses only on handbells, not handchimes.) Assigning bells to ringer positions is explained, and many musical examples are printed in the book to help the new director develop this skill. Many techniques unique to handbells are outlined in the book.

The ideas shared in both textbooks above were developed during the 1970’s and 1980’s, and there are a few sections that are notably dated in each book. The Ivey book lists the price of handbell sets in 1995 – be aware that prices have increased dramatically! And both textbooks refer to the “snap” of one’s wrist when ringing a bell – a term and technique that has been phased out due to health information from hand and wrist experts. Small changes like this are inevitable, since the art of handbell ringing has advanced so much in the last two decades. However, these two books are essentials in any director’s library.

A third book I recommend is “Healthy Ringing” by Susan Berry, illustrated by Allan Berry (Handbell Services, Inc.). This book, first printed in 2000 and just reprinted in 2012, focuses on keeping the body healthy while ringing. Director, ringer, and writer Sue Berry consulted with medical, health, and sports advisors while compiling this resource. Of special note are body warm-ups to take place prior to rehearsal and suggestions for healthy body movements to produce the various bell techniques called for in a composition.

An article about getting started with handbells and handchimes would not be complete without encouraging a new director to join the Handbell Musicians of American. This organization was founded in 1954 as The American Guild of English Handbell Ringers and has fostered education, community, and communication in the world of handbells and handchimes. An annual membership includes receiving “Overtones,” the bimonthly journal which is a must-read for every bell and chime director. In addition, there are numerous electronic resources at www.handbellmusicians.org which members are encouraged to use. The organization sponsors ringing and educational events for all directors and ringers throughout the United States.

Get started and make music with handbells and handchimes!

Posted on Jun 11, 2012 8:58:15 AM
Filed Under: Instruments and Ensembles, Filed Under: review-prelude,

Ed Tompkins

Written by Ed Tompkins

Edmund F. Tompkins has served as Minister of Music and Organist at Morning Star Lutheran Church (ELCA), in Matthews, North Carolina, since February 2004. Prior to this, Ed had served as Director of Music/Organist since 1981 in churches in Durham, NC; Nashville, TN; and Richmond, VA. Ed directs two adult vocal choirs, two inter-generational handbell choirs, and two instrumental ensembles as well as vocal and instrumental opportunities for children and youth. He is President and Assistant Director of Charlotte Bronze Handbell Ensemble, a new community bell group led by Artistic Director Tim Waugh. Ed is a graduate of Duke University and Scarritt Graduate School. Ed has served on the Area III American Guild of English Handbell Ringers Board of Directors and as president of the Charlotte Chapter Choristers Guild. He has conducted handbell festivals in Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Illinois, Virginia and Maryland and served on the handbell faculties at Montreat Conferences on Worship and Music, Massanetta Church Music Conference, and Lutheridge Music Week. He and his wife Judy and their two children live in Indian Trail, North Carolina.