A local handbell choir played at our church yesterday morning. I enjoy listening to handbells, but what I really enjoy is playing them. Yesterday I tried to figure out why.
In eighth grade, I was allowed to start playing the flute. Before that, I competed in gymnastics which took up all of my time and cost my parents a fair amount of money. So, once I quit gymnastics, I was allowed to do all of the other things my friends were doing that I never could (softball, soccer, musical instruments, etc.) I’d always wanted to play the flute and I was a quick study to catch up to my peers’ abilities because I wanted it so much.
When a couple of my friends started talking about handbell rehearsal in high school, I didn’t even know what handbells were (I didn’t grow up going to church, which is where it seems that most handbell performances take place. Also, my family isn’t musically inclined and we didn’t gravitate toward anything but popular music on the radio.) I came along to their rehearsal and since I finally knew how to read music, I was able to participate. It was soooo much fun. I was a pretty good sight reader and I played the high notes, sometimes being the one to shake or jingle the bell, which always catches the listeners’ attention.
In the school band, the flute section tends to be large and, for most arrangements, the flutes help to carry the melody of the music. At home, I would play my flute most every day because I enjoyed it so much. I had a few books of popular music and I had my private lesson studies to play. I had a number of duets available, too, but nobody to play with on a regular occasion so I would tape record myself playing one part and then play it back to play the other part live. It was so much fun to try to combine my playing with something more than or bigger than myself. When playing duets, either part is not complete without the other. Such is the case with handbells.
You don’t ever hear of a handbell player giving a performance. You always see and hear handbell choirs. This is because you can’t physically play a handbell song by yourself! The few notes that you’re responsible for in any one song are just a small part of something so much more grand and beautiful, made possible only by the inclusion of so many other bell ringers.
While I always enjoyed playing the flute and piano (when I took a class in college) nothing compares to the feeling I get when watching a handbell choir and remembering how it felt to play my few notes in the midst of everyone else playing their few notes to put together beautiful music that wouldn’t exist without everyone involved.