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Kie handbell choir 


MAR 1 13E2 


JUL6. 1981 

i r 'S? 

i sul V* 

: 7 1335 




A typical picture and caption used in public relations work* 


,4 Manual for 
Church^ School and Community Groups 


B.S., M.A., Ed.D. 

Agents for NOVELLO & co., LTD. 

Copyright 1959 by The H. V. Gray Co., Inc. 
International Copyright Secured. 

NOTICE : The copying of this work or any portion thereof by any process whatso- 
e\es is forbidden bylaw and subject to the penalties prescribed in Section 28 
of the Copyright Law, in force July 1, 1909. 

Made in the United States of America 


TN PROVIDING THIS HANDBOOK on the use of handbells for youth 
A choirs in church music, Doris Watson has done the Christian 
Church a very great service. 

One summer during the Second World War a family with 
handbells visited Keene Valley in the Adirondacks in New York 
State. Members of the summer community were invited to join 
in bell ringing. The bells proved an immediate success. As I 
listened to them it occurred to me that bell ringing would pro 
vide a great opportunity for youth in our churches. I imme 
diately ordered a set of bells for The Brick Church in New York 
City. However, because of war-time conditions we were not able 
to secure the bells until the spring of 1947. When they arrived 
they were turned over to our Youth Choir Director who imme 
diately began a training program. 

Doris Watson was the Director of the Youth Choir and the 
Bell Ringers of The Brick Church from 1951 through 1955, and 
served with great distinction in this capacity. With her back 
ground of training in voice, piano, and organ, and her many 
years in choir work, she brought the art of bell ringing and the 
contribution of the Bell Choir to a high state of perfection. Out 
of her experience and success she has written this manual and 
numerous compositions for handbell ringing. In the companion 
books of handbell music there are very simple arrangements for 
beginners and there are more intricate and interesting arrange 
ments for the more skilled and better disciplined groups. 

Here in The Brick Church, thanks to Doris Watson and 
those who preceded her, we have found the Bell Choir a great 
asset. I recommend the program most highly. It enables youth 
not merely to discuss religion, but actually to serve in the Church 
and enter into its worship and ministry. 



The Brick Presbyterian Church 

New York, New York 


THE PRIMARY DIFFERENCE between a ringing band and a hand 
bell choir lies in the type of music each group rings and the 
fact that the handbell choir is always identified with the Church 
wherever it appears. Aside from this, the problems encountered 
by both ensembles are basically similar whether in the school, 
in the community or in the Church. 

This manual is intended specifically for those interested 
in knowing more about developing handbell choirs in the Church. 
However, all of the suggestions are adaptable for use in school 
and community programs. 


This manual would not have been made possible without 
the cooperation of Mrs. Thomas Kehoe and Mrs. William Kirk- 
ley, who typed the manuscript; Miss Margaret Loeffler, who aided 
in some of the illustrations; The Reverend Stanley Niebruegge, 
who took some of the photographs; Miss Sharron Hall, whose 
outstanding work as an assistant director demonstrated the 
potential ability of young people to accept leadership respon 
sibility; The Reverend Millard G. Roberts, whose public rela 
tions work, especially with the press, introduced church handbell 
ringing to the public; The Reverend George Litch Knight, who 
provided material through his promotion of the use of handbells 
in church and hymn festivals; Dr. Paul Austin Wolfe, who intro 
duced handbells to the Church and provided the Foreword; Dr. 
and Mrs. Clarence Dickinson, who edited the manuscript and 
provided a constant inspiration to the writer; and The Reverend 
George M. Watson, the author's husband, who proof-read and 
advised throughout the writing. 

Mention should also be made of the work of Leslie Bidwell, 
Jack Fisler, Tom Perkins, Arthur Austin and Bob Cahn, who 

through radio, recording, television and films have promoted 
handbell choirs, thus helping to create a need for this manual. 
The author is also grateful to the young people of The 
Brick Church Bell Ringers of New York City, The West Side 
Presbyterian Handbell Choirs of Ridgewood, New Jersey, and 
The First Presbyterian Church Bell Ringers of Staten Island, 
New York, for their faithfulness and perseverance in helping 
develop the various handbell rings and practical suggestions 
made throughout this manual. 

In addition, much valuable material was gained in ex 
changing ideas with other members of The American Guild of 
English Handbell Ringers. 


Staten Island, New York 

January 1959 







CHAPTER ONE General Considerations 13 

I. The Role of the Handbell Choir 13 

II. Range 16 

III. Notation of Handbell Music 18 

IV. Pitch of the Organ 19 

V. Status of Procuring Bells 19 

VI. Overtones 20 

CHAPTER TWO The Care of the Handbell 21 

I. Housing for Handbells 21 

1. Partitioned boxes 21 

2. Tiered cabinets 23 

3. Manufactured cases 24 

4. Unpartitioned boxes 25 

5. Partitioned footlockers 25 

6. Storage racks 25 

II. The Use of Flannel Bags 25 

III. Polishing 26 

IV. Oiling 27 

V. Care of the Leather 28 

1. Clappers 28 

2. Handles 28 

VI. Overall Reconditioning 28 

CHAPTER THREE Learning to Ring 30 

I. General Information on Holding the Handbell 30 

II. Various Rings and Their Symbols 31 

1. Straight Ring 31 

2. Back Ring 31 

3. Accented Ring 32 

4. Roll 32 



5. Semi-Roll 33 

6. Double Semi-Roll 33 

7. Front Double 34 

8. Back Double 34 

9. Front Double 3, 5, 7 and 9 34 

10. Back Double 3 34 

11. Boom Tone 34 

12. Boom Roll 35 

13. Dampened Tone 35 

14. Dampened Ring 36 

15. Swing 36 

16. Gyro-Ring 37 

17. Four-Bell Ring 37 

18. Bell Trill 38 

19. Rolled Back Double 39 

III. The Importance of the Position of the Symbols 40 

IV. Dynamics 40 

CHAPTER FOUR The Appearance of the Handbell Choir 41 

I. Regular Formation in Performance 41 

II. Practice Formation 42 

III. Processing Formation 43 

IV. Robes 43 

CHAPTER FIVE The Role of the Director 44 

I. Teaching 44 

II. Developing Leadership 44 

III. Meeting Individual Needs of Ringers 46 

1. Giving extra help 46 

2. Giving more difficult rings to those who can handle 
them 47 

3. Encouraging experimentation 47 

IV. Directing 48 

1. The director as conductor 48 

2. The director as participant 49 



V. Training a Second Bell Choir 49 

1. To provide substitute ringers 49 

2. To be a feeder group 50 

3. To absorb all who are interested 50 

4. To perform 50 

5. To take care of some of the mechanics of the program 51 

CHAPTER SIX Methods of Learning and Performing 52 

I. The Chart 52 

1. Uses 52 

A. For beginners 52 

B. For music incorporating new rings 52 

C. For short responses during a service 52 

D. In performance 53 

E. For demonstrations and lectures 54 

F. For publicity 54 

2. Materials 54 

3. Procedure for making chart 55 

II. The Blackboard 56 

III. Rote or Melody Line Ringing 56 

IV. Individual Music and Ways to Hold It 58 

V. Memorization 59 

1. Why 59 

2. How 60 

CHAPTER SEVEN The "How" of Organization 62 

I. The Relationship of the Handbell Choir to the Total 

Church Program 62 

1. Through the ministry of music 62 

A. Initial handbell rehearsals as a part of a sing 
ing choir rehearsal 62 

B. Handbell rehearsals as a part of a singing choir 
rehearsal 62 

C. Initial bell rehearsals as separate rehearsals, but 
drawing from members of the singing choirs . . 63 



2. Through youth organizations 64 

3. As an independent organization 64 

A. The one-day rehearsal system 65 

B. The two-day rehearsal system 65 

II. The Importance of the Press 66 

III. The Selection of Ringers 66 

1. The use of examinations 66 

A. The three major parts of the examination .... 67 

1.) Written 67 

2.) Sight reading 69 

3.) Memorization 70 

B. Grading the examination 70 

2. The use of past attendance records 71 

3. The value of the potential ringer's attitude 71 

4. Importance of parental attitude 72 

CHAPTER EIGHT The First Rehearsal 73 

I. Purpose 73 

II. Demonstration of Tone 73 

III. History of Handbell Choirs 75 

1. The ringing band and handbell choir defined 75 

2. The development of ringing bands in America ... 75 

3. The beginnings of the church handbell choir 76 

4. National organizations and festivals 78 

5. National publications 78 

A. Overtones 78 

B. A letter from the Handbell Choir Loft 79 

C. Choristers' Guild Letters 79 

6. Ringing for international audiences 79 

IV. Arrangement of Ringers 79 

V. Holding Bells 80 

VI. Free-Ring Period 80 

VII. Scale Ringing and Ringing Changes 81 

VIII. Simple Melodies B2 



IX. Introduction to the Chart 82 

X. Teaching without Bells 82 

CHAPTER NINE Codes and Awards 84 

I. Purpose of a Code 84 

II. Preparation of a Code 84 

III. An Example of a Code 85 

IV. Awards 87 

CHAPTER TEN Uses for Bells in Worship 90 

I. The Prelude 90 

II. Processionals and Recessionals 91 

III. Descants 91 

IV. Accompaniment for Hymn Singing 92 

V. Responses 92 

VI. Prayer Hymns 93 

VII. Anthems 94 

VIII. Two-Choir Possibilities 95 

IX. An Example of a Festival Service 95 

CHAPTER ELEVEN Program Planning 99 

I. Planning for a Purpose 99 

II. Specific Suggestions 100 

1. Select the music 100 

2. Organize the program 1 00 

3. Remember the audience ] 00 

A. Through the demonstration of special rings.. 100 

B. By ringing in a special number 100 

C. Have the audience sing with the bells 101 

4. Get acquainted 10J 

5. Interest the audience 101 

6. Watch the clock 101 

7. Interest the choir 102 

8. Use a chart 102 

9. Follow through 102 




Frontispiece "The Bells Are Ringing" 

Figure 1 The parts of a handbell 15 

Figure 2 Sketch of cabinet best suited for transporting 

handbells 22 

Figure 3 Cabinet illustrating bells hanging from pegs. . 24 

Figure 4 Sketch of strip of wood used to steady the bells 

in cabinet illustrated in Figure 3 25 

Figure 5 Bell cabinets designed and manufactured by 

Petit and Fritsen, Holland 29 

Figure 6 Holding two bells in one hand for the Four-Bell 

Ring 38 

Figure 7 A chart 53 


Body type set in Linotype Bodoni Book and heads in Bodoni 
Bold printed letterpress by Herbert-Spencer Inc., New York. 



General Considerations 
I. The Role of the Handbell Choir 

The director, together with the minister and the music com 
mittee of the church, will want to decide early the purpose of 
the handbell choir as well as some general policies regarding 
its uses. Primarily, the singing choirs of the church are used 
to glorify God in services of worship. The handbell choir should 
be just such a worship aid, and should fit naturally into the 
pattern of the service. Some churches find that some small 
touch of handbells in each service is appropriate, such as the 
ringing of Cambridge Quarters at the beginning of the service; 
while others use handbells primarily for special occasions. These 
decisions concerning the use of the handbell choir in worship 
are more easily made as the choir grows and can take on varying 
responsibilities in the service. 

The more difficult decisions come in deciding when to use 
the handbell choir outside the service of worship. There are 
many demands placed on the choir within the church program, 
such as ringing for special congregational and organizational 
functions. These appearances of the bell choir should be limited 
in order to keep the focus and impact of the choir on the service 
of worship. Also, other churches and community organizations 
will make demands on the choir. Although it is not easy to for 
mulate a clear-cut policy, it is wise to establish some guides 
which will help the director in coping with all these demands. 

Many churches have found the answer through reserving 
the handbell choir almost exclusively for the service of worship, 



with exceptions being made primarily for charitable institutions 
or radio and television where it is possible to bring the music, 
of the Church to a wider audience than would be reached in a 
community gathering. 

When a handbell choir needs to be transported, it is good 
to establish the policy that the church or group sponsoring the 
appearance provide the transportation and absorb any other 
necessary expenses. Also for special appearances, the director 
together with the minister or governing body of the church may 
want to establish a minimum suggested honorarium. This sum 
of money can help toward the expense of maintaining the group 
as well as provide a scholarship fund to help ringers attend 
handbell festivals and conferences. 

There will be some instances when the suggestion of an 
honorarium would be out of keeping with the spirit of the hand 
bell choir. The ringers would consider as part of their regular 
activities ringing for festival programs and benevolent organiza 
tions such as hospitals and homes for the aged. Also, in con 
sidering accepting a ringing engagement for a service of worship, 
the ability of a church to pay an honorarium should never be 
the determining factor in whether or not the handbell choir 
accepts the assignment. 

In working with school-age choirs it is important that the 
director limit ringing engagements so that they do not fall during 
the school day or on school nights. Occasionally an engagement 
seems as though it would be such a valuable experience that all 
the parents may agree with the director's decision to make an 
exception to this rule. 

Although there is a peculiar zest in participating in and 
listening to handbell ringing, the purpose of the choir cannot 
be primarily to teach music or to enjoy the ringing itself. Actu- 



Felted Spring 

Sound Bow 


Figure 1 


ally there is a two-fold Christian educational purpose for the 
very existence of the choir. First, the ringer learns something 
about discipline in that each one has a specific job which must 
be done if the group is to survive. Second, the ringers discover 
that many times they are in the position of bringing the Church 
and its message to assortments of people with varying religious 
beliefs. Through their ringing and general attitude toward their 
choir they are often able to make the Christian faith and its 
characteristic joy contagious.* 

II. Range 

The suggested set of handbells referred to throughout this 
manual ranges from the G above middle C on the piano to two 
octaves above that, with all of the chromatic tones between. In 
ordering English handbells, this is the two-octave set beginning 
with 18 G (the G above middle C) and going through 4 G (the 
highest G in the twenty-five bell set).** All foundries do not 
utilize the same system for numbering their handbells. An 
example of this is the Dutch foundry, Petit and Fritsen, which 
numbers each bell separately beginning with the lower bells and 
numbering upward through the higher bells. Numbers 20 
through 44 would be comparable to 18 G through 4 G on the 
English Whitechapel bells. (In ordering Dutch handbells it is 

* "If God wills it, we hope to form a Bell Choir for the purpose of spreading His 
message as you have done and are doing." 

"The spirit of cooperation that enlightened the features of your young people 
was an inspiration." 

"Please tell your young players that we here in Minneapolis were inspired by 
their playing." 

Excerpts from correspondence received by the writer. 

** Some handbell choir directors prefer the two chromatic octaves beginning with 
19 F through 5 F. Considering a variety of church music and keys, either set is 
equally adaptable for church ringing. The writer prefers the G to G set as on 
the whole it provides a little more brilliance, a quality desirable in handbell 



important to keep in mind that the C pitched an octave above 
middle C is called, in their literature, "'Middle C.") 

The purchaser should either order the bells by designating 
the pitches desired, or write the foundry of his choice for com 
plete details. Some customers may find it easier to deal with 
handbell distributors in their area. 

The addition of a large bell or two adds interest and further 
color to a choir's ringing. It is suggested that when possible 
the church purchase the G bell just below middle C, or in order 
ing English handbells, 25 G. This bell can be incorporated at 
the beginning or ending of many numbers rung in the key of G. 

Two chromatic octaves provide a minimum number of 
tones for achieving variety and color in ringing. The bell music 
published in conjunction with this manual embraces this range. 

When supplementing this basic set many fine effects can 
be developed through the further addition of lower and higher 
bells. The F and F# above middle C are particularly valuable. 
The lowest handbell, the C below middle C (29 C, in ordering 
English handbells), although it is quite heavy to hold and can 
be used only sparingly, produces a tone which is a decided asset 
in numbers written in the keys of C and F. This bell, however, 
can best be used in progressions with the G and/or F below 
middle C (25 G and/or 26 F, in ordering English bells). 

Some choirs have had considerable success with the higher 
bells from the highest G up through the C three octaves above 
middle C (1 C, in ordering English bells). The foundry will 
also make higher bells upon request. In ordering extra higher 
bells it is usually best to get a minimum of the next two higher 
bells as a starter; namely, 4 G# and 3 A. G# alone would not 
be valuable, but by adding A the basic coverage would be pro 
vided for an additional key. 



HI. Notation of Handbell Music 

Throughout this manual and the music, the notation for 
the handbells is one octave lower than the actual pitch of the 
bells. This is done for convenience in iiotating on the treble 

staff, the range as it appears being: 


actually sounding: 

A set of handbells pitched one octave lower than the sug 
gested set would be quite heavy to manage easily and loo reso 
nant for the majority of handbell arrangements, and therefore 
is not recommended. 

There are various systems of notation which can be em 
ployed, but the use of basic music notation confined to the treble 
clef is highly recommended. Regular notation provides con 
tinuity between handbell music and conventional music. The 
exception to this is when notating the lowest or the highest bells. 
Rather than adding a confusing and space-consuming number 
of leger lines the tones can be noted through the use of an 
alphabet letter. Thus, the actual tone of G below middle C, 

when used in a chord, would be notated: 

The actual sound of this chord would be: 



If a choir owns and uses many low bells it might be 
advisable to use music written in both the treble and bass clefs. 
However, since low bells are especially resonant and therefore 
are used sparingly when rung with the smaller high-pitched 
bells, most of the basic notation can be done on the treble staff. 

IV. Pitch of the Organ 

It is wise to know before ordering the handbells whether 
or not the organ of the church is standard in pitch. Because each 
bell is tuned separately by hand, and tested by ear and electroni 
cally, it would be a rather easy matter to suggest the pitch 
needed by a particular church, if this pitch varies from the 
standard. However, it would not be possible for bells tuned to 
other than standard pitch to ring with the majority of bell choirs 
at festivals. 

When a choir participates in a service of worship at another 
church, it is necessary to check on the pitch of the organ if the 
handbells are to be used as an integral part of the service. 

V. Status of Procuring Bells 

Most of the handbells presently used in church work in this 
country are English in origin, coming primarily from the White- 
chapel Foundry in London.* The tone of these bells is ideally 
suited for work in the church. 

Now, enterprising companies in the Netherlands are work 
ing toward the end of having handbells stocked in this country 
and founding them here.** 

* Whitechapel Bell Foundry, 32 and 34 Whitechapel Road, London, E.I, England. 

:> * The company most active at this time in a campaign to conquer the problems of 

production and marketing is the Petit & Fritsen Bell Founders of Aarle-Rixtel, 

Holland. (U.S. office: Fritsen Brothers, 605 Waukegan Road, Deerfield, Illinois.) 



VI. Overtones 

A handbell, unlike a lower bell, is tuned to just one 
prominent overtone. This overtone is the twelfth above the strike 
tone and has proved to be especially suitable for handbell 
arrangements. The fact that there is but one discernable over 
tone makes a great variety of chord progressions possible with 
a minimum of dissonance. 

The bells of any particular foundry should be tested for 
accuracy of the strike tone as well as the overtone.* If there 
is a variation in the overtone of each handbell within a set, the 
customer will have to decide whether or not the overall tone of 
the handbells is pleasant or unpleasant to him. Some directors 
have not found this variation in overtones a problem. 

If the overtone of a handbell is too loud in relation to its 
strike tone, there is a tendency for the strike tone to be obscured. 
When this is the general characteristic of a set of bells the har 
monies of a handbell arrangement are not as clearly defined, 
and in a full arrangement the overtones can become overpower 
ing, virtually obliterating the melody. 

Before purchasing bells, the potential buyer would do well 
to consult a handbell choir director or a member of the American 
Guild of English Handbell Ringers for advice. The Guild is a 
national organization which, through annual national meet 
ings and regional meetings, keeps abreast of recent trends in 

* The Whitechapel handbell lias an almost completely accurate overtone 



The Care of the Handbell 

I. Housing for Handbells 

One of the first things a director will want to consider when 
his bells arrive is an adequate place to house them when not in 
use, bearing in mind the fact that there will be occasions when 
the handbells must be transported. Various solutions to this 
problem have been devised. 

1. Partitioned boxes: The first, and perhaps the most 
adaptable case, takes the form of a box with a hinged lid on the 
top. This box is deep enough to accommodate the largest bell 
from clapper to handle in an erect position. The box is sub 
divided into a compartment for each bell. At the bottom of each 
of these compartments is placed a 1% inch thick piece of ply 
wood with a hole drilled wide enough to allow the clapper to 
swing freely while the lip of the bell rests on the plywood. Foam 
rubber used at the base of each compartment can be substituted 
for the drilled plywood. 

The overall size of the cabinet will depend on the number 
of handbells in the set. Usually between eleven and fifteen bells 
can be stored in each cabinet. To determine the number and 
size of cabinets needed, place paper on the floor and arrange 
the bells on the paper using the space most economically. Leave 
enough space between each bell to allow for the thickness of 
the plywood used in making the compartments. Keeping in 
mind that each cabinet must not be too big for carrying, outline 
the bells on the paper, remove bells and outline compartment 



squares with a double line comparable to the thickness of the 
plywood, and thus complete the pattern. 

For the suggested twenty-five bell set, plus one large bell, 
two cabinets will be necessary. See Figure 2, below, for an 

interior sketch of this type cabinet. There should be a diagram 
on the lid designating where each bell is to be placed, and also 
some general instructions for preserving the luster of the hand 
bells. If gloves are used in ringing (see Section III of this 
chapter) there should be a place in the cabinet to store them. 
Clips on the inside of the lid would be one way to hold the 
gloves and by labeling the clips, each person would be assured 
of having his own gloves. Otherwise, they could be simply 
dropped into the compartments with the bells. 

These cabinets are best made out of seven-ply and three-ply 
plywood. The seven-ply is used for the box itself and the one 
main division across the center. The three-ply is used for the 
smaller compartments. 



The compartments can either come a little over half way 
up to the top of the box, or they can come up even to the top. 
The advantages of the former are that the handbell handles are 
a little more accessible and the cabinets are somewhat lighter. 
The main advantage of the latter type is that in transporting the 
bells they have a little more protection. 

On each end of the cabinet place a metal carrying handle. 
Try to find a large comfortable handle as the cases are difficult 
to manage on long hauls. Padlocks can easily be affixed to 
the lid. 

This type of cabinet is best suited for the transporting of 
handbells since the cabinet easily fits into the trunk of a car 
and the bells rest securely in the compartments. While casters 
can be mounted on this type of cabinet, they tend to make it 
less adaptable in storing where space is a consideration, as one 
cannot be placed atop the other. 

2. Tiered cabinets: Another type of cabinet consists of 
two rows of wooden pegs from which the bells are suspended in 
chromatic order. There is a pair of hinged doors on one side 
for easy accessibility and the cabinet rests on casters. A handle 
is affixed to the top frame. Two cabinets are necessary for the 
suggested twenty-five bell set. 

The chief advantage of this type of cabinet lies in the fact 
that it rolls easily from closet into rehearsal room. However, 
it is awkward to carry and to use in transit. The casters are of 
no advantage in surmounting stairs. Owners of such cabinets 
usually transport their bells in plain or specially designed boxes, 
protecting the bells with flannel bags. 

If it is not anticipated that the bells will be transported 
often, these cabinets have a further advantage of good looks 



since they can be fashioned into attractive pieces of workman 
ship. See Figure 3, below. 

Figure 3 

Some directors who use these cabinets have an extra piece 
of wood hinged to each shelf or used separately. Each piece is 
about 4 inches wide, an inch deep and the length of the shelf. 
It is flat on one side and cut to fit the shape of the lips of the bells 
on the other. This shaped side can be lined with a narrow strip 
of felt or rubber insulation.* To release the bells it folds out 
ward, and when the bells are put away, it folds in and around 
the lips of the bells. See Figure 4, page 25. 

3. Manufactured cases: One type of cabinet for handbells 
has been manufactured by Petit and Fritsen. Providing these 

* "Flan" (a self-adherent flannel) or "Stik-Rite" (sponge rubber weather stripping 
which comes in various narrow widths) can be purchased at most hardware stores. 



cabinets fit an owner's particular set of bells, it is a convenient 
way of transporting them. See Figure 5, page 29. 

4. Unpartitioned boxes: Bells wrapped in flannel bags 
can also be stored and transported in a strong box with a lid 
and handles and no partitions. When this is done the bells are 

Figure 4 

placed on their sides with the heavier bells at the bottom of the 
box and the lighter bells on top. 

5. Partitioned footlockers: If special boxes are not con 
structed it is usually possible to find adequately sized foot- 
lockers. These should have compartments of various sizes built 
into them. Each compartment should be lined with a. thick-nap 
ped material such as velour; and foam rubber can be used at 
the base of the compartments. This provides adequate protection 
for storage and transportation. 

6. Storage racks: Some directors use pegs built into a 
stationary cabinet or closet which can be locked. Thus the bells 
hang in the practice room with the advantage of easy accessi 
bility. For transportation, boxes and flannel bags must be used. 

II. The Use of Flannel Bags 

In addition to the use of cabinets, the bells should be 
further protected in storing by being covered with flannel bags.* 
These bags protect the bright luster of the bells, cushion them 

* "Pacific Cloth" (a specially treated flannel which is sold by the yard) is^ recom 
mended because it prevents tarnishing, and contains no substance detrimental 
to the metal when used in rubbing the bell. 



against damage, and somewhat protect the inner mechanism of 
the bells against moisture hazards in a damp climate. (See 
Section IV of this chapter, which deals with the problems of 
dampness and oiling.) They should be used at all times, in 
storage as well as in transit. Each bag should be marked with 
the bell letter for identification to insure proper fit. The open 
end of the bag can be fitted with a drawstring or a ribbon can 
be attached to the outside of the bag. These bags cover the bells 
leaving the handles exposed. 

III. Polishing 

A handbell should never be polished to a high luster with 
a commercial polish. Tests have indicated that there is no polish 
which does not remove some small amount of metal.* Used 
continuously on a handbell, this would eventually affect its pitch 
and tonal quality.** 

The most effective and safest method of preserving the 
luster of the bell is either to wear gloves at all times when han 
dling the bell and/or to rub the surface, inside and out, with a 
flannel or other soft dry cloth. The bell bags themselves can be 
used when necessary. This rubbing should be done, if possible, 
at the close of each rehearsal or performance. Each ringer 
should be responsible for his assigned handbells,' rubbing them 
and enclosing them in the flannel bags before storing them in 

* While most commercial polishes are abrasive, a certain few such as Noxon work 
on an acid principle. This- latter type should he safer if the director is willing 
to sacrifice the accurate pitch of a handbell for high luster. Some directors use 
it to polish a few bells at the close of each rehearsal, covering the complete 
set in a period of some thiee or four months. 

** The writer has had the experience of having two choirs ring together one year, 
and finding that the following year when the same music was attempted by the 
same two choirs it was impossible for them to ring together. One of the choirs 
had consistently used polish on its handbells with the result that the pitch of 
the handbells was altered sufficiently so that the two choirs could not ring 



the cabinet. Ringers not using gloves should further be instruc 
ted never to place their fingers on the bell metal. When using 
special ringing effects demanding the use of the fingers on the 
handbell, the ringer must wear gloves. (For an illustration of 
this see the description of the dampened ring, Chapter Three, 
Section II, 14,) Finger contact can damage the surface of the 
bell and eventually will effect the tone of the bell. 

After considerable use the handbells may become dull and 
dark in color. A mild discoloration will not alter the pitch but 
may tend to mellow the bell tone. However, when bells have 
excessive contact with fingers and/or are not adequately rubbed 
after each use, a dark film accumulates. This can be equally as 
damaging as the promiscuous use of polish. When this dark 
film does gather it is necessary to remove most of it by buffing 
or polishing. Do not attempt to restore the original luster of 
the bell. 

IV. Oiling 

When handbells have been in use for some time, a clicking 
sound often develops at the base of the clapper.* To remedy this 
a drop of sewing machine or bicycle oil should be placed on 
each side of the stem of the clapper where it is fitted to the 
staple-pin on which it swings. This should be done only when 
needed. An all-purpose oil is definitely not recommended. 
Instead, a good grade sewing machine oil purchased from a sew 
ing machine shop or an exclusive bicycle oil procurable at a 
bicycle shop should be kept available for use on the handbells. 

Occasionally in very damp climates the clappers will stick 
and not bounce back to starting position. When this happens, 

* For this and subsequent references to the parts of a handbell, see Figure 1, 
page 15. 



the bells should be put near some gentle, drying heat until the 
dampness is gone. If clicking develops when the bounce of the 
clapper is restored, the treatment prescribed above should be 
employed. Do not apply oil if the dampness is still in the bell. 

V. Care of the Leather 

1. Clappers: Sometimes a leather peg on the clapper ball 
becomes loose. It can be tightened by removing the leather from 
the clapper and pressing or trimming down the end removed. 
This treatment furnishes a wider base when the peg is reinserted 
and it is then usually tight enough to prevent twisting. The 
trimming of the ends also prevents them from meeting inside 
the clapper ball. When screw lines are discernable in the two 
side holes on the clapper ball the leather pegs should be rein 
serted by a twisting or screwing-in motion. 

The leather peg can also become too dry. To prevent this 
it is good to apply, every three months or when the leather looks 
dry and about to crack, a good combination of neatsfoot oil 
(about 60%) and lanolin (40%). 

2. Handles: Usually when bells are used fairly constantly 
the oil from the hands keeps the handles lubricated quite ade 
quately. However, at least once a year the leather on the handles 
should be rubbed with oil. When gloves are used in ringing, 
the handles should be lubricated three or four times a year. The 
solution suggested for the leather on the clapper pegs is recom 
mended, and a small bottle should be kept available for use on 
the leather parts of the handbells. 

VI. Overall Reconditioning 

When a set of handbells has been used over a long period 
of time, various conditions arise which can be disturbing to the 



ringers. Clappers can become too loose, leather on clappers can 
become too worn, handles can become limp and occasionally 
the tone of a bell can become impaired. Even new bells have 
varying characteristics to which ringers must become accus 
tomed. However, when these characteristics become detrimental 
to the performance of a handbell choir, the bells should be 
reconditioned. This can usually be done by making arrange 
ments with the foundry where the bells were purchased to have 
them returned and attended to. Two or three months must be 
allowed for this procedure, and the arrangements must be made 
well in advance. 

A bell which has been dropped and cracked or is otherwise 
unusable must be reordered immediately. Such a bell cannot 
be repaired, although the metal can be used in re-casting. 

Several members of the American Guild of English Hand 
bell Ringers have been experimenting in the realm of minor 
repairs. As time goes on it should be possible to receive help 
by contacting this organization. 

Figure 5 



Learning to Ring 

I. General Information on Holding the Handbell 

Through the centuries ringers have held and rung handbells 
in many different fashions. These were acceptable and achieved 
a purpose. However, for the sake of the visual uniformity and 
the precision ringing which is essential to the church handbell 
choir, bells should be rung predominantly in one way. 

The handle should be grasped, fingers encircling it, close 
to the neck of the bell. For greater control of specific rings, some 
ringers place their thumb on the flat part of the handle lacing 
them. Again, this must be done on the portion of the handle 
closest to the neck of the bell. Some gain even further control 
by placing the thumb against the collar of leather which sur 
rounds the neck of the bell. This is especially good for a quick, 
sharp ring. 

The starting position of the handbell for most rings is 
mouth upward, with a slight backward tilt so that the clappei 
falls back toward the ringer rather than forward. Holding the 
bell fairly close to his shoulder, the ringer moves the bell for 
ward in a downward arc, culminating the ring with a quick 
downward flick of the wrist so that the clapper contacts tlu 
bell. The bell is brought back to starting position in an upward 
arc. The complete movement is a horizontal oval, with the strike 
occurring at the point farthest away from the ringer. At the 
strike point the elbow is crooked at approximately a ninetj 
degree angle and the bell is in a nearly horizontal position. Thit 



strike point will be referred to throughout the description of 

a """^X starting position 

rings as the ring position. * \ 

ring position X < ^ - ^ * 

At the end of the execution of most rings the bell should 
be in a nearly vertical position. Care should be taken to keep 
the backward tilt (essential for getting the clapper in starting 
position) minimal. If a ringer tilts the mouth of a bell too far 
back at the conclusion of a ring some of the tone is lost. 

II. Various Rings and Their Symbols 

1. Straight Ring: This ring, described in the preceding- 
paragraph, is the ring most often used. It can be controlled 
to produce a soft, medium, or loud tone. The speed and size of 
the arc as well as the force of the strike are important in deter 
mining the tone. For uniformity in ringing and a variety of 
rings, the director will want to experiment with these three vari 
able components of the straight ring. When the straight ring 
is used in a melodic line, it is obviously louder than when used 
as accompaniment. At no time should a bell be rung so stridently 
that the tone is distorted, but rather each ringer should find in 
his bell a way to produce a rich, round, pleasing tone. Occa 
sionally a handbell will produce a better tone if the leather 
clapper peg strikes the bell near either end of the peg rather 
than directly in the center. There is no symbol for the straight 
ring. An example of a number using all straight rings is the 
short response "Softly Now the Light of Day."* 

2. Back Ring: In executing the back ring the bell is held 
at ring position. Some ringers may need to hold the bell in a 
completely horizontal position in order to gain momentum for 
the complete ring. With a flick of the wrist backward, the bell 

* All examples are taken from the Book of Handbell Music, Set I, published by 
H. W. Gray Co., Inc., N. Y. 



is rung, and al the completion of this ring the bell is in the 
starting position of the straight ring. Actually the ringer must 
guard against bringing the bell too far back lest the tone be 
lost. To keep the bell in a nearly vertical position the thumb 
should act as a guai'd by being placed against the collar or flat 
part of the handle. This ring usually produces a softer tone and 
is used for special effects. However, the two notes can be rung 
with equal force if necessary. In music notation it is indicated 
by \ . An example of this ring is found in "Come, Ye Faith 
ful, Raise the Strain." It can also be used for an unaccented boom 
tone (or grace note) such as is seen in the second version of the 
hymn tune Rathbun. 

3. Accented Ring: This ring is equivalent to the straight 
ring, but is executed with a quicker flick of the wrist. It is usu 
ally used in emphasizing melodic line. The symbol for the 
accented ring is ^ . An example of this ring is found in 
"Angels We Have Heard on High." 

4. Roll: Moving the bell from starting to ring position, 
the wrist is flicked forward and back, causing the clapper to 
contact the bell on both sides in a quick succession of rings 
equivalent to the value of the note. Because of the individual 
difference in handbells it is sometimes necessary to move the 
lower arm back and forth together with the wrist in order to 
execute a smooth roll. The symbol for this is /r . This ring 
may be played on one note of a chord to emphasize the melody 
(such as is found in Old Hundredth) or simultaneously on two 
or more tones as an accompaniment. This latter effect is some 
what similar to the tremolando effect of carillon music,* and is 
found in "Jacob's Ladder." 

* 'Tremolando: The alternating of two or more notcw forming a harmony," An 
Introduction to Carillon Technique and Arranging by WemMI Wrsteolt, Petit 
and Fritsen. 



5. Semi-Roll: This is the alternating of two tones, usually 
a third apart although it can be any interval. This ring must 
be done by one ringer. It should be a steady motion resulting 
in an even value for each note. There are two ways of achieving 
this ring. In using either method the ringer holds the higher 
bell in the left hand. The preferred method, which usually 
seems easier for the ringer, is achieved by having the ringer 
ring a straight ring with the left hand, followed by a back ring 
with the right hand. Then he must quickly reverse the procedure 
by ringing a back ring with the left hand and a straight ring 
with the right hand. The skill comes in keeping the notes equally 
spaced. Another method is for the ringer to ring a straight ring 
with the left hand, a straight ring with the right, a back ring with 
the left hand and a back ring with the right. He continues this 
motion in equally spaced notes until the complete ring is con 
cluded. The symbol for the semi-roll is ^ , with the two 
alternating notes designated in the proper time value; i.e., 

when used with other notes of 

I I J 

d or * s r^& 

the chord. 

A semi-roll can be completely notated as found in the 
second version of "Angels We Have Heard on High." 

6. Double Semi-Roll: This ring usually involves the alter 
nating of two tones a whole or a half step apart with two other 
tones a whole or half step apart. This ring can be performed 
by using one of the same two methods described for the semi-roll. 
The difference is that two ringers execute it together. It is 

notated d -^, a r ==: Syfl^Jg when used with other 



notes in the chord. This is especially effective in secular num 
bers, and is found in "Jingle Bells/' 

7. Front Double: This is a combination of first the straight 
and then the back ring. Each tone is equivalent to one-half the 
note value. The symbol for this is M . The accent normally 
occurs on the first of the two notes, although the ring can be 
executed with the tones equally accented. This ring is used in 
the Swiss folk song "0 Nightingale, Awake." 

8. Back Double: This is a combination of first the back 
and then the straight ring, with each ring being equivalent to 
half the value of the note. In this ring the second note is usually 
the accented tone. The symbol for this is N . "0 Come, Come 
Emmanuel" contains an example of this ring. 

9. Front Double 3, 5, 7 and 9: These rings begin and 
continue as a front double, ending on the beat. The number indi 
cates the total number of straight and back rings needed to com 
plete the pattern. The value of the note the symbol accompanies 
determines the speed of the clapper. The symbols for these are 

n , n , n anc " fi - An example of the front double 3 is found in 
"Jacob's Ladder." 

10. Back Double 3: This ring begins with a back ring, 
then the straight ring, ending with the back ring. It is most often 
used alternately with the front double 3 in triplet patterns. The 
symbol for this is J . This alternating effect used in "Jacob's 

11. Boom Tone: This is an accented ring on a low bell 
immediately preceding a chord. Its notation is similar to that 
of a grace note, . However, it differs from the grace note in 
being an accented tone. The time interval between the boom 
tone and the chord depends upon the musical context. (See 
"Ringing Some Changes C-G.") 



12. Boom Roll: This begins with the straight ring and is 
followed with a slow, soft, steady roll for the complete value 
of the note. The straight ring can be either accented or unac 
cented. The boom roll usually accompanies a half, dotted half 
or whole note. The boom occurs on the downbeat and the roll 
usually occurs on the second beat and it continues for the 
complete value of the note. The symbol used is B/^ . If the boom 
is to be accented the symbol would be SB/V This effect is em 
ployed in "Love Lives Again." 

13. Dampened Tone: This is usually a straight ring dam 
pened either by touching a gloved finger to the lip of the bell or 
by bringing it back until it touches the shoulder. This ring is 
most often used to clarify certain harmonic structures where the 
prolonging of a tone would cause too great a harmonic disso 
nance. It is especially valuable in cadences where many tones 
can run into the final chord causing a blurring or distortion of 
sound. This is clearly shown in the final cadence of "Angels 
We Have Heard on High." To preserve a smooth flow in the 
ringing of a cadence, all the ringers except those ringing on the 
final chord should lightly touch the metal just as the final chord 
is being rung or a few seconds later. No bell should be damp 
ened before the final chord begins to sound. The symbol 
for this is df- and it appears above the last chord in the cadence. 

There may be instances of key changes or extremely chro 
matic passages where this device would be valuable. In record 
ing it is good to be critical of an overabundance of dissonant 
overtones. However, since dampening is artificial to the nature 
of the bell it should be used sparingly and with discretion. 

Some directors use dampening consistently for the final 
chord of a number after the chord has sounded a reasonable 
amount of time. The symbol for this is d placed above the 



chord to which it applies. This device is certainly valuable 
when in a final chord with a large range of tones one or two 
of the bells resound much longer than the others. 

This ring, which can be accented or unaccented, can also 
be used to create special effects, such as are found in "My Grand 
father's Clock." 

For a more unusual effect which causes a double sound, 
the ring is begun with a back ring ending with the bell brought 
quickly to the shoulder. The symbol is the same with the addi 
tion of the sign for a back ring. It can be either accented or 

14. Dampened Ring: This is a straight ring with the bell 
held in a gloved hand by the waist instead of the handle. This 
produces a dull-sounding staccato effect which is seldom appro 
priate for church music. This ring is hard on the mechanism 
of the handbell, as the ringer must ring very forcibly in order 
to get a tone. Occasionally it might make an acceptable varia 
tion for harpsichord music which is often used in the church 
handbell choir repertoire. It is also good for novelty numbers 
such as "Pop Goes the Weasel." It should be used sparingly, 
if at all. The symbol for this is D. 

15. Swing: Occasionally one or more bells can be swung 
by beginning with a straight ring, but instead of bringing the 
handbell back to starting position, the ringer drops his arm to 
his side and the arm and the bell swing to and fro as the bell con 
tinues to speak. During the swinging the mouth of the bell 
faces downward. To prevent the clapper from striking the bell 
as the arm swings downward and then back almost to starting 
position, the wrist is turned to face slightly upward. The symbol 
for this is S accompanied by a number which indicates the number 
of complete swings plus the strike tone before the bell is brought 



back to starting position, i.e., | . The complete ring should be 
equivalent in time to the value of the note. "Sweet Hour of 
Prayer" demonstrates a swing. 

16. Gyro-Ring: To accomplish this ring the ringer must 
execute a straight ring; but instead of bringing the hand back 
to starting position he circles the bell, mouth faced straight for 
ward, in a counter-clockwise motion for a designated number 
of complete revolutions. The complete arm is involved in the 
motion, which results in a substantial gyrophonic effect. The 
symbol for this is Q) , with a number inside indicating the 
number of complete revolutions plus the initial strike tone. 
This complete gyrophonic effect must be equivalent in time to 
the value of the note. The hymn tune Aberystwyth includes the 

17. Four-Bell Ring: In this ring each ringer holds four 
bells, and in covering the tones of the diatonic scale, only two 
ringers standing side by side are required. The ringer to the 
left holds in his left hand the highest tone and the third below. 
In the key of G this would be high G and E. In his right hand 
he holds F# and D. The second ringer holds in his left hand 
C and A, in his right hand B and G. With the higher of the two 
handbells designated for each hand held in starting position, 
the lower bell should be placed so that its handle rests on the 
handle of the higher bell. With the higher bell in starting posi 
tion, the mouth of the lower bell points to the right and slightly 
upward as the handles rest together. See Figure 6, page 38. 
The clappers of the bells must then be arranged so that each 
can be struck individually or together. This ring demands pa 
tience and experimentation in holding the bells, and is purely 
a novelty used only when two or more ringers want to spend 
extra time for a special program. Any diatomic melody con 
fined to an octave makes interesting material for a four-bell 



ring executed by two ringers ("Joy to the World," "Blue Bells 
of Scotland/' etc.). 

Figure 6 

18. Bell Trill: Musically this is similar to a regular trill, 
with the auxiliary note being either above or below the primary 



note. On bells it is executed by one ringer. It can occur in a 
cadence between the seventh and eighth notes of the scale, or 
it can appear between any two diatonic tones of the scale. In 
his left hand the ringer holds the higher of the two bells. He 
rings a straight ring with his left hand, followed quickly by a 
straight ring with his right hand. Then he goes directly into a 
back ring with his left hand, following this by rolling both bells. 
The rolls begin slowly and gradually increase in tempo. When 
the ring appears in a cadence the ringer concludes it with a back 
double with the left hand, ending the ring with the next notated 
tone, which in the cadence would be an accented downbeat. 
There is no concluding back double when the trill appears in 
the music other than in the cadence; however, the ring should 
end on the primary tone of the trill. The skill in executing 
either type of trill is in keeping the first three rings evenly spaced 
and then going into the double roll without any perceptible 
break. The symbol for the cadence trill is TR with the pri 
mary tone as well as the auxiliary tone noted as follows: 

P pT . The symbol for the regular trill is tr with the 

I ^i& 

two tones involved noted as follows: J [ . For an 

' 'N^ ___^^__ ^...1 !. ' ~ 

example of the use of the cadence trill see the hymn time St. 

19. Rolled Back Double: This ring begins with a soft 
roll, increases in strength of tone and ends with an accented 
back double. This ring usually occurs on the final chord of a 
cadence. The symbol is /"^ . The same effect can be achieved 
when two tied notes are connected by a roll, such as appears 



in the hymn tune Quanta Qualia. In this instance it is used 
to emphasize the melodic line, 

III. The Importance of the Position of the Symbols 

A symbol placed above a chord applies to the complete 
chord. A symbol placed to the right side of a note affects only 
that one note. 

IV. Dynamics 

Many dynamic shades are possible, and should be em 
ployed by the bell choir. It is most imperative to have the 
melody emphasized, especially in full harmonic passages. When 
the melody appears in a position in the chord other than at the 
top this principle becomes invariable. 

Some choirs employ the effective technique of vividly ring 
ing a short number, then repeating it softly, or vice versa. 

Directors should establish a set of easily recognized signals 
which will indicate to the ringers the dynamics which should 
be employed at any given time during performance. 

In order to develop good dynamic shading the director 
should use various exercises at the beginning of each handbell 
choir session or as needed. (See Chapter Six, which deals with 
rehearsal techniques.) 



The Appearance of the Handbell Choir 

L Regular Formation in Performance 

In considering both the music and the appearance of a 
handbell choir, the most satisfying formation is to stand in a 
semi-circle or a horseshoe. With the director facing the choir 
the bells are arranged scale-wise beginning with the lower bells 
to the director's left. For the suggested twenty-five hell set be 
tween twelve and fifteen ringers are ideal. This would mean 
that each ringer would be responsible for one, or at the most, 
two diatonic tones with their accidentals. The diatonic tone and 
its accidentals will vary according to the key in which the music 
is written. For example, in the key of A flat major, the D ringer 
holds the bell marked "C#," but obviously in the key of D 
major, the C ringer holds the C# bell.* 

If only twelve or fewer ringers are used, those on either end 
of the formation should have the greater number of bells since 
these are used less frequently in most arrangements. Because 
the appearance of a bell choir is important, the shorter ringers 
are placed at either end of the formation, with the taller ringers 
in the center. 

If a choir does intricate chromatic work, or has fewer than 
eight or ten ringers, it may be necessary to place the handbells 
on a table.** In this event each ringer covers more than the three 
or four bells suggested above. Using a table is not desirable 

* Some handbell sets are coming through stamped with only flats on the handles 

or with flats imprinted on one side and sharps on the other. 
** A few choirs prefer to work this way, but if too few ringers are used the group 
loses its identity as a choir. 


T H E H A N I) B E L L C H T H 

for church handbell ringing since it detracts from the atmosphere 
of a service of worship, it reduces somewhat the precision of 
the ringing, and it makes the choir less mobile and adaptable to 
the physical surroundings. 

Another method enabling each ringer to handle an addi 
tional handbell is to have a heavy ribbon or cord attached to 
the handle of each bell. The handbells are hung around the 
neck, with one bell in either hand and the third hanging mouth 
downward about waist level. When the ringer finds it necessary 
to ring his third hell he quickly exchanges one of his bells for 
the extra bell. This system, which eliminates the necessity for 
bending over for extra bells, is most useful when the music re 
mains comparatively simple chromatically. However, in music 
heavy with accidentals, or in a program where several key 
changes are employed, it is often necessary for some of the bells 
to be rung by several different ringers.* In choir work where 
there is rather extensive repertoire, the use of ribbons or cords 
is usually impractical. 

A director might want to have a detachable cord or two 
available for use in processing or parading. 

II. Practice Formation 

This formation is exactly the same as thai used in per 
formance, except that the ringers are seated. Ringers hold only 
the bells used in a particular number, placing the additional 
bells at their feet. 

! Passing a bell from ringer to ringer can be avoided if a director makes perma 
nent hell assignments regardless of the various keys of the musie or ihe number 
of times a eertain bell is rung. 



III. Processing Formation 

In processing or marching, the two ends of the regular for 
mation are drawn together so that each ringer has a partner. 
The director or a designated leader (preferably the ringer with 
the highest or lowest bells) should precede the group, especially 
in parading, so he can turn around and face the ringers to give 

IV. Robes 

When choirs make appearances they should be robed. These 
robes can be similar to those of the singing choirs of the church, 
and should be if all of the ringers are also members of a singing 
choir. Having identical robes lessens confusion when both sing 
ing and ringing choirs are participating in the same service. 

Some ringing choirs which use singers' robes add a distinc 
tive touch to their attire by using either a cross, a stole or some 
other accessory not used by the singing choir. 

If the members of the ringing choir are drawn from several 
singing choirs, each of which uses a different robe, then it would 
be better for the ringing choir to use the robes used by the oldest 
singers who are ringers* or have separate attire to be used for 

Some handbell choirs have separate costumes or robes for 
concert appearances. All kinds of ingenuity can be used in de 
ciding what general pattern to use whether it be medieval in 
flavor or starkly contemporary. 

* This system would eliminate the need to provide the younger ringers with new 
robes when they become old enough for the older singing choir. 


The Role of the Director 

I. Teaching 

The director's primary purpose musically is to teach basic 
principles as well as the art of ringing bells. More importantly, 
if a handbell choir is going to be effective, the teacher has the job 
of helping each ringer realize his value to the group. Reliability, 
self-control and a willingness to sacrifice social engagements 
when the need arises are disciplines essential to a well-knit 
group. In the church, the teacher has the further job of helping 
the ringers understand the challenge they face in communicating 
through their music and their attitudes the good news of the 
Christian message wherever they may be. 

To be a good bell teacher the director must have a great 
deal of patience and a persona] interest in each of the ringers. 
He must -be enthusiastic about bells. Although a fine sense of 
musicianship is essential, these other characteristics are even 
more necessary. 

The director should also be able to help the ringers under 
stand the importance of forgetting any ringing errors they hap 
pen to make in performance. When a ringer stops to dwell on 
a mistake, especially when ringing from memory, he is likely 
to make several others. Not dwelling on errors is good mental 
discipline. The director should emphasize this. 

II. Developing Leadership 

There are many instances when it is necessary for the direc 
tor to use a student as director, as is the case when the church 



organist is also the bell choir director. This assistant or student 
director should be a person from the bell choir who is familiar 
with the techniques of the director and who is willing to emu 
late them. 

The choosing of this person should begin at the very first 
rehearsal of the new handbell choir. At that time the director 
should give each ringer an opportunity to direct, and it will soon 
be evident which ringer, or ringers, have the best abilities. With 
in two or three rehearsals the director will want to choose the 
one person who seems best qualified and who is willing to devote 
the extra time to perfecting his directing techniques. Obviously 
this person should have had some musical training and should 
be a person who commands the respect of the group. 

Some suggested duties of the student director are: to direct 
when necessary, to assist in caring for the music, to take charge 
of the robing if there is no choir mother, to substitute for an 
absent ringer if there is no established system for taking care of 
absenteeism. (See Section V of this chapter, which deals with 
the purpose of training a second bell choir.) 

The student director together with the director must realize 
the importance of keeping alive a sense of fun and discovery in 
rehearsals and performances. It is especially necessary to keep 
this element in mind when working with beginning groups. 

A student director in using methods and repertoire com 
pletely familiar to him, perhaps even monotonous for this rea 
son, must in no way disturb the refreshing spirit of discovery 
that prevails during the rehearsal, especially of the beginning 
choir, by developing an attitude which clearly says, "This is 
old stuff." The student director, as well as any good teacher, 
finds that he can always learn and discover with a group if he 



approaches his job with a creative mind, regardless of the old- 
ness or newness of the material being presented. 

From time to time the director will find it profitable to 
give other ringers an opportunity to direct, thereby developing 
talent for future use and for emergencies. Developing such 
leadership is good for the morale of the group. 

One way to give various student directors from the choir 
opportunity to direct is to have the Cambridge Quarters, or some 
other simple musical pattern, rung at the beginning of each 
church service. This ringing should follow the organ prelude 
and precede the processional hymn or call to worship. There 
should be a rotation of ringers and student directors so that 
each member of the choir has an equal opportunity to serve. 51 ' 

The importance of ringing with complete assurance at the 
beginning of each service must be emphasized, as ringers tend 
to take an easy assignment lightly and can become careless. 
Actually, ringing at the beginning of worship sets the tone for 
the whole service. Since the entire choir would not be involved 
in ringing each Sunday, the ringers can be divided into two or 
three groups, and it can be set up so that the same group rings 
for a month at a time. This system eases the burden of sched 
uling and provides the opportunity for a group to improve each 

III. Meeting Individual Needs of Ringers 

1. Giving extra help: Handbell ringing is a coordination 
of musical skill with motor ability, and in every choir the ring 
ers' abilities will vary. Some ringers will be very happy to 
handle just one bell while others will want to handle at least 

* For a more detailed treatment of the effective use of the Cambridge Quarters, 
see A letter from The Handbell Choir Loft, Vol. I, No. 1, September 1958, pp. 3-5. 



two. In some instances it will be necessary for the director to 
have special sessions with a ringer. This is especially true when 
there is a wide age span in the handbell choir. 

The two problems most usually faced are technical skill 
in ringing and memorization of music. In the latter instance 
the director can either say the words in the rhythm of the music 
or play the complete handbell score on the piano while the 
ringer either rings, or pretends to ring, his bell or bells. For 
further help, the director can both play the score and say the 
words. (See Chapter Six, Section V, 2, which deals with the 
"how" of memorization.) In private sessions with the teacher 
the ringer will gain the ability and confidence to keep up with 
the rest of the choir. 

2. Giving more difficult ?'ings to those who can handle 
them: Insofar as possible the director will want to keep the 
more capable ringers challenged. For example, in the event of 
a trill which involves notes usually played by two different 
ringers, the director will choose the ringer with the better motor 
ability to ring the trill. The four-bell ring is another challenge 
for the more advanced ringers. (See Chapter Three, Section 
II, 17 and 18, which deal with these rings.) 

3. Encouraging experimentation: Those ringers who have 
creative minds, and those who like to spend extra time after 
rehearsals, sometimes discover new rings or bell effects. A direc 
tor will want to encourage this kind of experimentation, giving 
guidance where necessary. 

Some ringers become enthusiastic enough about the hand 
bell choir to want to write music for the group to play. A 
director can encourage individual ringers in creative work by 
assigning a simple tune and suggesting that each ringer who 
is willing harmonize it in a different fashion. In advanced 



creative work it could be further suggested that they emulate 
the style of a certain composer.* 

IV. Directing 

1. The director as conductor: Just as it is advisable to 
have the director of a singing choir conduct the rehearsals and 
performances, it is also advisable to have the director conduct 
the handbell choir from a position in front of the group. This 
position, especially when the choir is ringing from memory, 
gives him the maximum amount of control in dynamic shading, 
in precision ringing, and more particularly in helping a ringer 
who misses a ring or rings at the wrong time. 

It is a responsibility of every director to be so thoroughly 
familiar with the music that at any time during a performance 
given by memory he can aid a ringer whose memory fails. 
This the director can do by Booking and pointmg^aLlhe ringer 
when he is to ring the next time and continuing to do this until 
he senses that the person who "blanked out" has recovered 
his memory. 

As well as helping the ringer who made the error, the 
director should point at the ringer or ringers whose bells are 
to be played after the omitted note or notes. This gives con 
fidence to those ringers who have not heard the note they ex 
pected to hear, thus preserving the musical pattern and the 
morale of the group. It is especially necessary for the director 
to give this kind of help when a single melodic line is being 
rung. When the arrangement is harmonic, the director should 
give particular attention to the melodic line. When the director 

** One director assigned the tune "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" and had two mem 
bers of the bell choir harmonize it in the style of two composers; e.g., Bach and 
Mozart. A third ringer arranged it in a modern idiom, calling it "Go, You Crazy 



is alert, the omission of a note is often not detected by the 

In chart or manuscript ringing it is much more difficult 
for the director to have control. However, in chart ringing the 
director can point to the notes, focusing the attention of the 
entire bell choir. 

2. The director as participant: Many groups have had 
considerable success in having the director participate as one 
of the ringers. Usually he is placed at one end of the group 
where he is easily visible to the others. Often when this is 
the case, charts or small music on a table or stands are used 
almost exclusively. The tempo is set by a nod of the head or 
the beat of a hand. 

V. Training a Second Bell Choir 

1. To provide substitute ringers: There should be a 
definite system established for providing substitutes both for 
rehearsals and performances. Some directors have been suc 
cessful in having one or two substitute ringers available when 
needed, persons who are talented musically but cannot make 
regular rehearsals or feel they cannot devote enough time to a 
mastery of the complete repertoire. 

If a ringer knows he is going to have certain specific con 
flicts during the year, especially for performances, he himself 
should find a musical person who will be willing to substitute 
and attend as many rehearsals as are necessary to perfect the 
music. If a ringer, regardless of his value to the group, is not 
willing to assume this responsibility for his assigned note or 
notes he should be dropped completely, or used as a regular 



A more adequate way of dealing with the usual problem 
of necessary absences is to have two choirs working on identical 

In order to provide substitute ringers through a second 
choir, the director should try to keep the same pattern for the 
division of bells for the two groups. For example, if one ringer 
is handling the low G and A bells in the first group, the same 
pattern of division should hold for the second group with one 
ringer covering the same low G and A. Each ringer should 
know who plays his bell or bells in the other choir and should 
have his telephone number readily available on the inside cover 
of his music. In the event that a ringer must miss a rehearsal, 
he should be directly responsible for having his substitute pres 
ent for that rehearsal. If a ringer must be absent from a per 
formance he should contact not only his substitute but also the 
director. The director will know if the substitute will need any 
extra help, and will take care of any problem accordingly.* 

2. To be a feeder group: It is good to draw from the 
personnel of the second choir when new ringers are needed in 
the first choir. (See Chapter Seven, Section III, which deals 
with the selection of ringers.) However, occasionally there will 
be a musically talented person who because of age and ability 
should go directly into the first choir. 

3. To absorb all who are interested: In a church with a 
multiple choir program it is usually essential to have at least 
two ringing choirs to absorb all those who are interested. 

4. To perform: There are many demands placed upon a 
handbell choir. (Refer to Chapter One, Section I, which deals 
with the role of the handbell choir.) A second choir can gain 

* For several directors' different approaches to this problem of absenteeism, see 
A letter from. The Handbell Choir Loft, op. cit.^ pp. 1-3. 



valuable experience by taking some of the engagements. This 
puts less pressure on the first choir. 

5. To take care of some of the mechanics of the program: 
Some directors who have enough ringers for two choirs simply 
divide the ringers into two groups. Each group or choir has its 
own repertoire or the two choirs can work on similar repertoire. 
(See this chapter, Section V, 1, which deals with the advantage 
of similar repertoire.) While one group is ringing the other 
group can prepare charts and duplicator masters or mimeo 
graph stencils for reproducing individual music,* take care of 
the musical library, take turns directing, or learn to listen 

* The preparation of charts (See Chapter Six, Section I, 3, which deals with this 
subject) and individual music is time-consuming. It takes considerable practice 
to do a good job. Young people could be trained to relieve the director of this 
problem; but until they become skilled, the director would have to have consider 
able patience. 

For reproducing individual arrangements, the spirit duplicator is found to be 
easier to use than a mimeograph machine. The masters are less expensive than 
stencils and much simpler to prepare. 



Methods of Learning and Performing 
I. The Chart (See Figure 7, page 53.) 

1. Uses: 

A. For beginners: In working with a beginning group 
the director will want to be able to focus the attention of the 
ringers, especially when there are ringers who do not understand 
musical notation. The chart is an answer to this problem. The 
chart is either held by the director in his left hand or placed on 
a stand. In using the chart the director points to the notes with 
his finger or with the eraser end of a pencil, clearly indicating 
the rhythm with his arm. Before beginning any number, the 
director should set the tempo by counting at least a measure, 
and should conclude his counting with such words as "Ready, 
play," spoken in rhythm. For example, if a number begins on 
the fourth and last beat of the measure, the director would begin 
by saying in strict rhythm: "One, two, three, four, one, ready, 
play." The director will be able to tell when charts are no 
longer necessary. 

B. For music incorporating new rings: When a new ring 
is being introduced to a handbell choir it is wise to use a chart 
for the number which incorporates this new ring. This centers 
the ringers' attention and makes the new ring easier to explain. 

C. For short responses during a service: Usually when 
a bell choir rings responses during a service it is not visible 
to the congregation. They may ring from the balcony or the 
narthex. In either situation charts are often a help. 



D. In performance: Many choirs use charts in perform 
ance with considerable success. However, in church ringing, 

Figure 7 

charts present several drawbacks. Visually, chart ringing is not 
as attractive as ringing from memory. This is especially true 



when several numbers are being played, necessitating a juggling 
of charts in view of the congregation. Also, in many parts of 
the church auditorium lighting is inadequate. Further, during 
special services lights are often dimmed in the middle of a 
handbell performance sometimes without warning. If charts 
are used, the person in charge of lighting should be made aware 
of the times at which the bells are to be rung. Also, musically 
there is less control over precision ringing and dynamic shading 
when charts are used; however, when covering more repertoire 
is a major consideration, especially in adult ringing choirs, 
charts are a decided advantage. 

E. For demonstrations and lectures: During lectures and 
demonstrations, bell charts can be used to show the audience or 
the workshop examples of handbell music. 

F. For publicity: Pictures of charts or ringers reading 
from charts make colorful publicity. 

2. Materials: White poster paper, which usually comes 
size 22" x 28", can be procured at any stationery store. Most 
directors use black India ink for making the chart. Some direc 
tors use various colors of paper and/or ink. A few directors 
with small choirs use a different color of ink for each ringer's 
part. Flat Speedball penpoints of various sizes are used in draw 
ing. Especially useful and recommended are C-5 for the staves; 
C-3 for clefs, key and time signatures, words and rests; and 
C-0 for the notes. By holding penpoint C-0 on the side, straight 
stems and flags can be made. The large surface of the C-0 
point makes it easy to outline the main body of the note and 
to fill it in quickly when it needs to be. 

Instead of poster paper, white window shades can be used 
and placed on a frame which has hooks to hold them open. 
Rolled shades are not as adaptable in performance as poster 



paper charts which do not need to be mounted, but they are 
more easily transported and stored. If chart ringing is to be 
done exclusively in performance it might be worth procuring a 
frame which would hold several shades, and each could be 
lowered and secured to the bottom of the frame as needed. 

3. Procedure for making a chart: Each penpoint to be used 
should have a separate penholder. The poster paper is placed 
on newspapers on a table or on the floor. A yardstick is needed 
for making the staves. The approximate number of staves must 
be thought through and adequate space must be left between each 
staff to accommodate leger lines and words. The staves are drawn 
first. To prevent smearing, the point of the pen must be held 
at such an angle that it cannot contact the edge of the ruler that 
rests on the paper. The ink must be dry before proceeding. 
Point C-5 will not be used again and should be placed in a 
glass of water to prevent hardening of the ink. When the chart 
has been completed all the penpoints should be removed from 
the water and wiped clean or placed on a blotter until stored. 

A light pencil line can be drawn under each staff as a guide 
line for the words, placing it far enough below the staff so as 
not to crowd notes requiring leger lines. Light vertical guide 
lines can be used to get notes of chords in proper position. 

Next, take penpoint C-3 and put in the caption of the chart 
and the clef, key and time signature of the first staff. From then 
on, to prevent smearing, work measure by measure, alternating 
penpoints C-3 and C-0 as needed. 

Another way to make charts quickly, although not as at 
tractive or accurately detailed as the penpoint method, is to 
use a Magic Marker or black felt marking pen. Either of these 
can be procured at a good stationery store. The Magic Marker 
is considerably more reasonable than the felt marking pen and 



does just as good a job. A black china marker pencil can also 
be used, but in placing the charts one against another the mark 
ings would eventually become smeared unless sprayed with a 
fixative coating such as used in protecting charcoal or pastel 

Some directors use round gummed seals for the quarter 
notes, saving a considerable amount of time. Although round 
quarter notes are not true to form, they are legible. These are 
a special help when several people are working on a chart, as 
it keeps a majority of the notes uniform. The round seals come 
gummed and self-moistened, the latter type being the more con 
venient. They can be obtained in almost any good stationery 

II. The Blackboard 

In encouraging experimentation the blackboard is an indis 
pensable aid. If a ringer, or several ringers working together, 
find an interesting combination of tones and various ways of 
producing them, these can be jotted down on a blackboard and 
used as a further basis for experimentation. Also, some direc 
tors will want to encourage original composition. These num 
bers can all be placed on a blackboard to be subject to the analy 
sis and criticism of all the ringers. (See Chapter Five, Section 

III, 3, which deals with encouraging experimentation.) 

III. Rote or Melody Line Ringing 

In this method of learning the director points out the mel 
ody by indicating to each ringer when to play. No music is used, 

"Krylon Fixatif Crystal Clear (No. 1306A) dries in seconds and can be procured 
at most art stores. 



leaving the burden of responsibility on the director. Through 
repetition the ringing becomes smooth and meaningful. 

As well as being good for simple melodic line this system 
can be used for doubling the melodic line. To do this, each 
ringer must know who rings the handbell an octave from his. 
The two ringers who have the bells an octave apart could be 
considered partners. As the director points to each of the ring 
ers playing a melodic note his partner can also ring, but only if 
the director indicates through some signal that the melody 
should be doubled. 

A good way to vary a number done with melody alone is 
to have part of it done with simple melodic line, ending with 
the last phrase or phrases doubled. This procedure can be fol 
lowed only when the last phrase or phrases lie within a range 
of bells where the melody can be doubled in a consistent rela 
tionship; i.e., either the octave or an octave below. 

Another way to vary melodic line ringing (when the range 
of notes involved permits) is to ring the second of two similar 
phrases an octave below or above the original or first phrase. 
(See "Angels We Have Heard on High.") 

This technique of melody line ringing with all of its varia 
tions can be used to build up a program quickly. (See Chapter 
Eleven, which deals with program planning.) The simple tune 
should be interspersed with the more elaborate arrangements of 
music. Actually, a simple melody can be worked out sufficiently 
for performance by just going through it two or three times. 

This technique is very rewarding for the first session with 
beginning ringers because it produces results so quickly. The 
director may want to have others in the group try pointing out 
a simple melody, either in a first session or later, in order to 
determine a ringer's musicianship or directing ability. It is 



lots of fun, also, to have different ringers try to point out a 
melody or create an interesting tonal pattern. The director can 
ring the bell or bells of the person who is the temporary director. 

IV. Individual Music and Ways to Hold It 

There is no substitute for each ringer's having his own 
music. He uses it in rehearsal as well as during the week in 
private practice. During rehearsal the music is held on his 
lap. When music is used during a performance, such as for an 
anthem, it is similarly held or can be placed on a music stand, 
on the music rack of a choir stall, or on the top of the organ 
console when the ringers are standing around it. (See Chapter 
Ten, Section I, which suggests various positions the choir can 
assume during a service of worship.) Usually entire anthems 
are too difficult to memorize, so ringers should be granted the 
same privilege as singers in the use of music. Similarly, ringers 
should not be expected to memorize lengthy compositions for 
organ and handbells. 

When choirs use individual music for both rehearsal and 
performance, some directors have a special long stand built 
which will hold the music of all the ringers. It must be high 
enough so that the ringers can see comfortably as they stand 
behind it. It can be constructed in one or two sections for good 
portability and it can be straight across or slightly curved. 

Ringers should be encouraged to circle notes they are to 
ring, or circle the word or number on which they play, or other 
wise mark their individual music so it will be easy to ring or 
memorize. If a ringer has two basic tones assigned he may want 
to circle with two different colors and use other colors for acci 
dentals. If keeping colored pencils available is not convenient, 
another way a ringer can help himself if he rings two bells is 
to use a single line for one bell and a double line for the other. 



Some directors find that it saves rehearsal time to mark 
each ringer's music with colors or some other system of marking 
before issuing new music. However, this is extra work for the 
director and prevents the ringer from getting the experience of 
reading the music and finding his notes for himself. Also it is 
good to consider that some ringers can read the music easily 
with no mark whatsoever or just a pencil mark circling or under 
lining the words or chords to be played. The better way to save 
rehearsal time is to issue the music a week before using it in 
rehearsal; then the ringer can mark it the way he finds best 
for himself. 

V. Memorization 

1. Why: When a bell choir plays from memory the direc 
tor has more control over the precision and dynamic shading 
of the ringing. Also, ringers will be able to assume various 
formations when necessary without having to focus attention on 
a chart. For example, a choir may have to ring from pews in 
a balcony or on church steps, and in so doing may have to form 
two or three rows instead of the usual horseshoe formation. 

When problems of lighting are a consideration, again 
memorization is mandatory. Such problems arise when there is 
dim lighting in a church, when the group is doing outdoor ring 
ing at night, or when they ring under the bright lights of tele 
vision, newsreel or stage work. 

For processionals and parades, handbell music must be 
memorized. The only exception to this is when there are enough 
ringers so that each ringer holds only one bell apiece, or so 
that one of the ringers in a double line has a free hand. Then 
music can be held. Holding music, however, detracts from 
freedom in ringing and the majestic appearance of the process- 



ing choir. In a dire emergency it is conceivable that musi 
could be attached to the back of the preceding ringer or to th 
sleeve of the ringer himself. This method is not desirable an 
could be tolerated, if at all, only as a last resort. 

Unity in performance is an important result of memoriza 
tion. By the time the music is memorized, the choir has learnei 
to think, play, and even breathe together as a unit. 

2. How: In all handbell music which is to be memorize* 
each chord (or note) is given a word or a syllable of the origina 
text, or a number. (See the Book of Handbell Music, Set I.} Th 
ringer can circle either the word or chord or both in which hi 
note appears. (See Section IV of this chapter.) This music h 
uses in rehearsal and takes home for further work. The ringe 
can practice without bells by saying the words and numbers ii 
the rhythm of the music. While doing this, he thinks througl 
the words, syllables of words, and numbers on which his bel 
or bells are rung. If he needs to practice ringing technique hi 
can use any object as a bell to practice the arm and wrist move 
ment, "ringing" at the times his notes appear. 

In rehearsal the director can aid the choir in group memori 
zation. After playing a number through completely with th< 
music, the director gives the members two or three minutes t< 
study the first phrase of music. As each ringer knows his par 
he turns his music over, and when all the music is turned, the 
director then has the group play the first phrase from memory 
He then gives the ringers another few seconds to check up 01 
any mistakes. Again they play the phrase, repeating the pro 
cedure until perfection is attained. They then proceed to stud} 
the next phrase. However, instead of playing just the ne^ 
phrase, it is usually better to ring the number from the begin 
ning. This takes only a few seconds longer and insures the group 



against forgetting the first part of a number while working on 
the new phrase. 

With proper concentration, it usually takes only a small 
part of the rehearsal hour to memorize an entire number. The 
ringers need take only a few minutes to review each day to keep 
the music well in mind before the next rehearsal, when more 
can be done in precision and dynamic shading. 

When a choir does a great deal of memory work the direc 
tor should assign the music several months in advance, when 
ever possible. 


The "How" of Organization 

I. The Relationship of the Handbell Choir to the Total Church 

1. Through the ministry of music: One way to include 
the handbell choir program in the total educational life of the 
church is to organize it as a part of the larger choir system. In 
doing this, there are three ways to instigate the bell choir re 
hearsals. These methods demand of new ringers that they main 
tain faithful membership in a singing choir. 

A. Initial handbell rehearsals as a part of a singing choir 
rehearsal: The director of the handbell choirs, especially if he 
is also the director of the singing choirs, will want to bring the 
bells to the singing choir rehearsals and demonstrate very simply 
during a few rehearsals the characteristic tone and uses of the 
handbell. These demonstrations should be brief, and vary from 
week to week, giving members some opportunity to handle and 
ring the bells. After two or three weeks, when the director 
detects a certain excitement about handbells, he should then be 
ready to announce the first handbell choir rehearsal, inviting 
all to share in this new, dynamic experience. Whenever pos 
sible, the bell choir rehearsals should either precede or follow 
the regular singing choir rehearsals to prevent singers and ring 
ers from overcrowding busy schedules. 

B. Handbell rehearsals as a part of singing choir rehear 
sals: Some directors have used handbells in all their singing 
choir rehearsals. This could happen only if the singing choir 
rehearses no less than two hours. In adult choir rehearsals the 



bell ringing could be kept to a minimal half hour, while the 
younger choirs, who usually have fewer vocal demands, could 
use an hour of the rehearsal time for bells. 

Some musical numbers could be worked out jointly with 
bells and voices. However, a big detriment to this method of 
scheduling would be the problem of absorbing all the singers 
into the ringing choir, as well as finding within a two-hour span 
adequate time for both ringing and singing. The singers in a 
church are real ministers to a congregation, and the quality of 
their contribution should never be sacrificed for the sake of 
using handbells effectively. An advantage of a combination 
method is that all those who contribute to the music of the church 
have the pleasure and challenge of ringing bells without an 
additional demand on their time. 

C. Initial handbell rehearsals as separate rehearsals, but 
drawing from members of the singing choirs: The director 
may want to begin his bell choir program with one large organi 
zational meeting to which he has invited another bell choir to 
come and demonstrate ringing, or for which he himself has 
prepared an inspirational presentation. All singing choir mem 
bers should be urged to attend; and at the close of the session, 
all those who are interested should be asked to sign up. From 
this list he can determine how many handbell choirs should be 
formed. As nearly as possible, he will keep the ringers coming 
on the same day that they come for singing choir rehearsal. 
This practice assures the director that the people who have 
signed up will probably have no conflicts in their schedules 
regarding any of the rehearsals. 

If a director in looking over his program finds that he will 
have to have one afternoon or evening devoted exclusively to 
all the handbell rehearsals, it is wise to have the organizational 



meeting at that same time, and to explain to those attending that 
this will be the time for the handbell choir rehearsals. This 
assures a valid sign-up list. (See this chapter. Section I, 3, A 
and B, which deal with suggestions for the one-day and two-day 
rehearsal systems.) 

2. Through youth organizations: Some churches which 
limit ringing to the youth of the church find it best to organize 
through the educational program of the church, giving priority 
for membership in the handbell choir to those whose records 
indicate the most faithful participation in the Church School, 
the Fellowships or other groups. This approach has two advan 
tages. It attracts those who might have difficulty in becoming 
members of a singing choir, such as boys whose voices are 
changing, or those who have never been a part of a singing 
choir. This system also tends to strengthen the organizations 
from which the ringers are drawn, because of the special dedica 
tion the ringers must have both to the new choir and to the 
original organization of which they are members. 

In working through some larger program the rehearsals 
can be planned as an integral part of that program, or at some 
other time during the week. (See suggestions in the following 
section for programming.) 

3. As an independent organization: A handbell choir 
which is organized as a completely separate and new program 
in the church eventually attracts new people to the church. Per 
haps the director would want to work through the choirs or other 
organizations initially, but later he could accept non-church 
members. These new ringers may become church members. 

A busy handbell choir tends to attract friends of ringers, 
and soon the director will find he has a waiting list. When an 
individual exhibits great interest in ringing by attending rehears- 



als just to observe, it is good practice after a period of time 
for the director to try to absorb that individual into the choir. 
Perhaps for a while he would ring one of the bells which is used 
only occasionally, or he could be used to ring an accidental or 
two that might occur in a number. Then when the director needs 
a new ringer, he has one all trained and eager. 

Another idea employed by some directors to absorb new 
comers or those who might feel inferior musically, is to use them 
as "keepers of the bells." A choir can easily use two such 
people to be generally useful to the choir and the director. 
Usually these assistants are well disciplined in the routine of 
the choir through their association with the choir, and eventu 
ally, when the opportunity comes, make fine ringers. 

A. The one-day rehearsal system : The director can easily 
handle one, two or three one-hour bell rehearsals in an after 
noon. It is wise to plan adequate regular rehearsals rather than 
to rely on extra rehearsals to perfect a performance. A weekly 
rehearsal is usually adequate. (A few directors have had success 
with bi-weekly rehearsals.) The day of rehearsal depends on 
the church and community program. There can be either an 
afternoon or evening devoted to the handbell choirs. 

B. The two-day rehearsal system: Because a handbell 
choir program is something very special and demands people 
who are willing to put this activity first, it is often desirable to 
have two rehearsals a week thus strengthening the choir or choirs. 
Two weekly rehearsals are especially helpful in the first year 
of ringing, and could be a requirement for the best ringers, hav 
ing a second bell choir rehearse only once a week. The two-day 
system gives more opportunity for creativity and experimen 



Another way of conducting the two-day rehearsal system 
is to have the more experienced handbell choir rehearse on one 
day with the less experienced choir rehearsing on the other. 
The ringer who is newly accepted in the first bell choir would 
be required to continue in the second bell choir for the period 
of a year or some other suitable span of time. This extra train 
ing widens the experience of the newly promoted ringer. Both 
rehearsals can be an hour; but better results are obtained when 
the more experienced group has between an hour and a half 
and two hours, with a small break for refreshments or business. 

II. The Importance of the Press 

In initiating a handbell choir program it is essential to get 
good press coverage. It is a special event to have handbells come 
to a church. The bell choir brings new light and vitality to 
Christian worship. The music of the bell is exhilarating, and 
there should be an air of expectancy over the event of the use 
of handbells in the service of worship. 

There are three points at which ample press coverage is 
desirable: when a handbell choir visits the church which desires 
to have its own handbell choirs; when the bells actually arrive 
and rehearsals begin; and when the bell choirs are ready to 
contribute significantly to worship. 

III. The Selection of Ringers 

1. The use of examinations: Some directors who have 
more than enough ringers for one choir use tests to determine 
the qualifications of potential ringers. It is good to have these 
qualifying examinations after the first few handbell choir re 
hearsals. This plan gives everyone, regardless of musical train 
ing or lack of it, an equal chance to learn something about the 



fundamentals of reading music and the ait of ringing. Potential 
ringers who do not make the first choir can either be used as 
substitutes or can be the nucleus of a second choir. (See Chapter 
Five, Section V, which deals with the training of a second bell 
choir.) Testing is a fairly sure procedure for securing good new 
ringers, providing the testing measures the aspiring ringer's 
physical coordination in actually ringing the bell, his general 
knowledge of the fundamentals of music, his sense of rhythm, 
and his ability to memorize, if memorization is to be a part 
of the program. (See Chapter Six, Section V, which deals with 
memorization.) Occasionally a fine musician will not be able 
to master the arm and wrist movement necessary for consistently 
good ringing. 

A. The three major parts of the examination: In a good 
examination there should be at least three major parts spreading 
over at least two handbell choir rehearsals. One part should be 
written and deal with the simple fundamental musical symbols 
that are used in bell ringing. This pait of the examination should 
deal only with the material that has been covered in class 

1.) Written: Keep in mind when preparing the examina 
tion that all musical facts appearing in the testing must have 
first been presented clearly during prior rehearsals, with ample 
time for clearing up questions. The following sample of a 
written examination should be graded on the basis of one hun 
dred per cent: 



Name Date 

Identify the following symbols: 

(To each successive symbol a new symbol is added 
and is to be identified.) 

= A= st=g gf 


1 2 3 4 5 6 

Identify the handbell ring of each note or chord: 

JL 4 | \Jt 3 J d I X $ 4 = 3 = I/L 2 J ^F 1 

7 8 9 10 

Fill in the blanks: 

11- 4 ? 4 ? 2 an( i 4 are called signatures 

12. J is a note. 

13. o is a note. 

14. J^ is a note. 

15. J is a note. 

16. How many scores of music are in the following box? 



Name the following notes (Give the letter-name) : 

17 18 19 20 

Have you studied any musical instrument other than bells? .... 

What instrument or instruments? 

How long? 

2.) Sight-Reading: The second part of the testing should 
deal with sight-reading. This gives the director a chance to 
analyze muscular coordination and rhythm as well as ability 
to read the notes. Each ringer has a separate turn and should 
be alone with the director so that he has a minimum of distrac 
tion. He should either read from a chart or from individual 
handbell music. 

For the actual test the director should select a piece of 
music which is not too simple and yet not far beyond the skill 
of the majority of his ringers. Then the director should select 
a handbell part (a tone) which occurs a minimum of 20 to 25 
times and which provides some variety in the specific rings; i.e., 
straight, back, roll, etc. Each person taking the test should read 
the same part, as this provides the director with a basis for 
evaluation. When the ringer comes to the testing room he should 
bring with him one of the bells he usually rings. The bell he 
rings will undoubtedly not be the tone chosen for the testing, 
but for special rings and even straight rings, the ringer will find 
his own bell more comfortable to handle. Thus he is put more 
at ease for the test. Also, by bringing his own assigned handbell 
the ringer has no prior knowledge of the part he will be required 
to read. 



The director should play the number through on the piano, 
simultaneously saying the words and numbers aloud so that the 
ringer gets as much help as possible. If using a piano is not 
convenient and the director uses a very familiar tune, he could 
just read the words and numbers in the correct rhythm. The 
ringer can pretend to ring this first time through, but the second 
time through the director should keep track of the errors, and 
then grade the ringer on the basis of one hundred per cent. 

3.) Memorization: The third part of the testing should 
have to do with memorization. The director should issue the 
same piece of music to all the ringers at the first testing session. 
He should assign the same handbell part to each of the potential 
ringers. Then the director should acquaint them with the music 
by playing it through on the piano, together with reading the 
words and numbers. The following week, having taken the 
music home to practice, the ringers should be given the chance 
to ring the bell pail, each ringer demonstrating privately with 
the director his skill at memorization. This part of the testing 
should be graded on the basis of one hundred per cent. 

B. Grading the examination: The three grades from the 
three parts of the testing should be averaged, and the twelve 
ringers with the highest score taken into the first bell choir. (See 
Chapter Four, Sections I and II, which deal with the formation 
of the choir.) The fact that the three grades are averaged recog 
nizes the importance of the three facets of the testing. Further, 
it gives the ringers with their individual strengths and weak 
nesses equal opportunity. If there is a tie for the twelfth place 
in the choir the director should choose the ringer with the higher 
score in memorization, as this score is an indication not only of 
ability to memorize but the conscientiousness of a potential 
ringer to take home assignments seriously. 



If a director eventually wants two handbell choirs but does 
not have enough ringers, those with the lowest scores in the 
first choir could also be required to ring with the second 
choir until enough new ringers could be secured to form two 
complete choirs. This double service strengthens the weaker 
ringers in the first choir. Ringers doing such double service 
should ring the same bell or bells in the second choir as they 
ring in the first. 

2. The use of past attendance records: Some directors 
place the highest value on the potential ringer's singing choir 
record or some other church record, considering faithfulness, 
discipline and overall cooperation. This system coupled with 
some testing gives the person who has not had the opportunity 
for musical education equal opportunity with the musical per 
son. Often a person who has had no previous musical experi 
ence makes a capable ringer. Latent musical talents or an innate 
rhythmical sense may be discovered. Couple these abilities with 
good powers of concentration, another necessity for good per 
formance, and the director has the necessary material to mold 
into an expert ringer. 

3. The value of the potential ringer's attitude: Both of 
the above criteria (testing and past record of faithfulness) 
should be employed when selecting a first handbell choir. Even 
more important, however, is the spirit of the ringer and his de 
sire to become an able member of a ringing choir. At the begin 
ning of the church year the ringer and the ringer's parents, when 
the ringer is a young person, must realize that if he accepts a 
place in the handbell choir the commitment is for the entire year, 
plus, insofar as possible, any activities that might be planned 
through the summer vacation months. Sometimes this calls for 
a sacrifice of personal plans for the sake of the group. 



4. Importance of parental attitude: In considering ringers 
through high school age, the director should have some personal 
contact with the parents so that they become familiar with the 
goals and problems inherent in working with handbell choirs. 

Parents should know the importance placed on each ringer 
in the choir. A handbell choir is only as strong as its weakest 
ringer. Perfect attendance must be the goal of each person and 
assignments must be done faithfully. Parents should be familiar 
with any system worked out by the director for substitute ring 
ers. (See Chapter V, Section V, 1, which deals with some pos 
sible suggestions for providing substitute ringers.) 

During busy handbell seasons such as Christmas and Easter, 
parents should realize that there may be occasional extra re 
hearsals as well as extra performances. This fact may affect 
family holiday plans. 

The director will want to know about the general health of 
potential ringers as well as something about his grades in 
school. It is not wise for the director to accept a ringer who 
may have to cut out all extra-curricular activities because of 
low grades in school. 

There are various ways of reaching parents and attempting 
to secure their allegiance. The director may find telephone 
calls or personal visitations in the home the best way to reach 
parents. Some directors have found it advisable to hold a meet 
ing with all parents of those who want to become bell ringers. 
Together with the minister of the church, the director explains 
the purpose of the choir and the needs peculiar to a sound hand 
bell choir program. At such a meeting refreshments should be 
served to create a relaxed atmosphere and there should be ample 
time for questions and answers. Parents who understand the 
functioning of a choir will give greater support to the total 


The First Rehearsal 

I. Purpose 

The primary purpose of the first session with new ringers 
should be to inspire them to full allegiance to the handbell pro 
gram. The director should plan his opening remarks carefully. 
He should have a plan in hand so that the first rehearsal moves 
along quickly, interspersed with interesting background material 
about tower bells and handbells.* The director should select 
data about which he himself is the most excited, and the high 
pitch of this interest will carry through to the new ringers, pro 
vided imagination is used in the presentation. 

Probably not all the material in this chapter can be used in 
the first rehearsal. Some of it can be used in subsequent sessions 
and indeed, some suggestions, such as scale ringing and ringing 
changes referred to in Section VII, may be used regularly in 
future rehearsals. 

II. Demonstration of Tone 

First of all, the ringers will be interested in seeing, hearing 
and ringing the handbells. A good procedure is to have the bells 
on a table for this first rehearsal so that all can see. An impor- 

* There have been a number of books on the subject of bells published in England. 
Almost any one of these deals briefly with handbells. For a more comprehensive 
treatment of the subject of handbells as well as a bibliography with a partial 
listing of English as well as American books see The Story Of Handbells 
by Scott Brink Parry, Whittemore Associates, Inc. of Boston, Mass.; 1957. As 
this book does not cover the story of church handbell ringing, except for an 
occasional reference, the reader should see the history that appears in Section III 
of this chapter. 



tant part of the presentation is to impress on the ringers' minds 
the value of the bells. Not only should the cost of the bells be 
considered, but more importantly, the ringers should be told 
how long it took for the set to arrive as well as the fact that it 
is not easy to replace a cracked bell should one be dropped. 
Because it usually takes several months to complete the process 
of reordering and replacing a cracked handbell,* most directors 
when working with young people have the bells placed on the 
floor at all times, except for the brief demonstration during this 
first rehearsal. 

The director will want to illustrate the difference in tone 
as the mouth of the bell is held in different positions at the com 
pletion of a straight ring, having the ringers discover for them 
selves that when the mouth of the bell tilts back too far at the 
close of a ring the tone is softer and can become lost in a chord 
when all the other ringers hold the mouth of the bell more up 
right. (See Chapter Three, Section II, 1, which deals with the 
straight ring.) 

The director will also want to demonstrate some of the 
special rings, having various members of the group try them. 
Throughout this part of the presentation he will want to impress 
on the minds of the ringers the importance of keeping hands off 
the metal, especially if gloves are not to be worn when ringing. 
Not only do fingermarks discolor the bell, but they can eventu 
ally corrode the metal and distort the tone of the bell. To prevent 
any damage that might occur when fingers accidentally come 
in contact with the metal it is necessary to rub the metal after 
each rehearsal with a soft cloth. If a cloth or flannel bags (see 
Chapter Two, Sections II and III, which deal with the use of 

* The best way to order one or a small number of bells, is to send an airmail 
letter directly to the foundry. Request that the order be sent by parcel post 
just as soon as possible, stating your reason for urgency. 



flannel bags and polishing) are not readily available the ringers 
can rub the bells on skirts or trousers until all fingerprints are 
removed and the high luster of the bells is restored. Bells should 
be rubbed occasionally even when gloves are worn. 

III. History of Handbell Choirs 

1. The ringing band and handbell choir defined: A ring 
ing band is a group of handbell ringers whose interests embrace 
all kinds of music : secular, popular, folk, classical and carols, 
and often the field of English change ringing. A band may be 
a privately organized group of adults or young people, or it 
may be organized through a school or community group. 

A handbell choir is a group of handbell ringers whose 
musical activities are largely confined to the church and to 
ringing religious music. A choir may appear in functions that 
are not religious in themselves and may on special occasions 
ring any kind of music, but a handbell choir never loses its 
identification with the church. 

2. The development of ringing bands in America: In the 
1850's a boy named Arthur H. Nichols helped the sexton chime 
the eight bells in the tower of the Old North Church, in Boston, 
for Sunday service. Later, after hearing the change ringing in 
England and becoming interested in that science, Dr. Nichols was 
delighted to discover that the bells in the Old North Church 
which had been sent over from England in 1745 were originally 
hung for change ringing in the English manner. He also found 
records showing there had been an early band of change ringers 
of which Paul Revere was a member. Dr. Nichols arranged to 
have the bells rehung. He found seven English change ringers 
around Boston who, with the addition of his daughter Margaret, 



now Mrs. Arthur Shurcliff, were able to form a band. Mrs. 
Shurcliff became the first woman in this country skilled in the art. 

In 1902 she discovered in England the small, perfectly 
tuned handbells upon which English bell ringers practice change 
ringing. While in England she rang two peals on handbells 
in one day. The owner of the bells was so impressed that 
he gave them to her. On her return to Boston, finding tune 
ringing more popular than change ringing, Mrs. Schurcliff or 
dered a larger set of bells and with her children rang carols on 
Beacon Hill on Christmas Eve. Listeners were soon writing her 
to find out how to obtain bells and they have been writing her 
ever since.* 

3. The beginnings of the church handbell choir: During 
the Second World War, Dr. Paul Austin Wolfe, minister of The 
Brick Presbyterian Church, New York City, heard a ringing 
band in the Adirondacks. He decided to make use of hand 
bells in the church. In 1944 he ordered a set of handbells 
which did not arrive, because of war time restrictions, until 
1947. On Christmas Eve of that same year, some young people 
at The Brick Church rang a few carols, establishing an annual 
custom, and thus bringing handbells to the service of worship. 

Although there had been, during the early part of this 
century, two or three groups of bell ringers which were initiated 
by workers in churches,** The Brick Church Bell Ringers is 

* For more detailed accounts of this story see Overtones,, Vol. 2, Nos 1 and 3, 

January and July 1956, and Vol. 4, No. 3, May 1958. 

* * Margaret Shurcliff had in her ringing band Leland Arnold, organist at New 
ton, Massachusetts; Mrs. Norman Erb, director of Christian Education at 
Old South Church of Boston, organized a ringing band in 1930; and The Rev. 
Paul Wesley Bare in 1932 founded in Pennsylvania the American Alps Swiss 
Handbell Quartet, a group of four men performing on 32 bells. He also 
organized a similar women's group. (See Chapter Two, The Story Of Hand 
bells by Parry.) 



believed to be the first ringing choir concerned with the integral 
use of ringing and singing in a liturgical service of worship.* 

The Rev. Paul Freed, a former assistant minister at The 
Brick Church, carried the handbell choir idea with him when 
he became minister of The College Hill Presbyterian Church 
in Easton, Pennsylvania. There in 1949 Mr. Freed introduced 
a young man by the name of Scott Parry to these handbells and 
asked him to organize a handbell choir. It was this bell choir 
that joined The Brick Church Bell Ringers in ringing for the 
General Assembly of The Presbyterian Church, which in 1952 
met in New York City for the first time in over fifty years. This 
joint performance introduced handbell choirs to Presbyterian 
churches all over the country. 

In 1951, Dr. Wolfe asked the writer to develop and 
strengthen the handbell choir at The Brick Church. This was 
done by making the handbell choir a regular part of the singing 
choir program and exploring its many possibilities for use in 
Christian worship. 

It was shortly after this that The Brick Church Bell Ringers 
appeared on national television,** in movie and television news- 
reel films, on a C.B.S. Church of the Air broadcast, and for two 
consecutive Christmas seasons with the New York Philharmonic. 
Another high point was the performance of the bell ringers and 
youth choir for three years at the Candlelight Carol Service at 
Union Theological Seminary in New York City. 

Throughout the country organists and choir directors were 
catching the vision of what handbell choirs could do for wor- 

* "Bell choirs of handbell ringers are becoming popular in churches. There 
are said to be around 100 already. The first one it is believed was organized 
at The Brick Presbyterian Church in 1947." 

Saturday Evening Post, December 22, 1956 

* * The first national program was the Garry Moore show on December 22, 1953. 



ship, and even more importantly, what they could do to capture 
the loyalties of the youth of the church. The idea "snowballed" 
rapidly until now there are handbell choirs in churches small 
and large in all sections of the United States. 

4. National organizations and festivals: In March of 
1954 The First Church Handbell Festival was held at The Col 
lege Hill Presbyterian Church of Easton, Pennsylvania, under 
the leadership of The Rev. Paul Freed, with the musical pro 
gram under the leadership of the writer. A ringers' banquet, 
a dance, and rehearsal time for massed numbers highlighted the 
Saturday program; and the Sunday culmination was the service 
of worship which took place in an overflowing church. This 
was the beginning of a movement which has taken place an 
nually and which has grown from three participating choirs to 
well over ten. 

In June of that same year, Mrs. Arthur Shurcliff invited 
some members of the American Carillon Association in Boston 
to meet with the members of the New England Guild of English 
Handbell Ringers at her home to ring bells. It was at that meet 
ing that the American Guild of English Handbell Ringers was 
organized, with Mrs. Shurcliff as the first president. In August 
of 1954 the first festival was held at Castle Hill, Ipswich, Massa 
chusetts, a large estate which each year lends its charm to the 
handbell enthusiasts who attend the three-day convocation of 
classes, workshops, concerts, beach parties and tours. 

5. National publications:* 

A. Overtones: This is the official organ of the American 
Guild of English Handbell Ringers. It is usually published 
four times a year. It contains feature articles about various 

* Overtones-. Mrs. Norman Erb, 1661 Crescent Place, N.W., Washington 9, D. C.; 
A letter from, The Handbell Choir Loft: 41 Bayview Place, Staten Island 4, 
New York; Choristers' Guild: Box 211, Santa Barbara, California. 



ringing bands and choirs; news of note concerning individual 
choirs, festivals and workshops; advertisements concerning 
books, records and music; as well as some ringing suggestions 
of general interest to bands and choirs. It is the general clear 
ing ground for any information pertaining to handbells. 

B. A letter from The Handbell Choir Loft: This is a letter 
which goes out to ministers and musicians who have or are con 
templating having a handbell choir program. It was conceived 
at a planning meeting for The Fourth Annual Church Handbell 
Festival and it is written by church leaders for church leaders. It 
is published four times a year, each issue dealing with a specific 
problem or plan for the church leader as well as regular features 
including the arranging of music, the use of handbells in wor 
ship, a problem box, and announcements of unusual church 
events, festivals and workshops. Each issue contains some church 
music or repertoire suggestions. 

C. Choristers* Guild Letters: This is a letter which deals 
with the problems faced by the director of young people's sing 
ing choirs, and from time to time this interesting paper for the 
church musician contains information for the director of the 
handbell choir. 

6. Ringing for international audiences: In the spring of 
1956 the ringing of church music was brought to twenty-seven 
different countries, and the vocal text of the anthem used was 
translated into fifteen languages by the Voice of America films. 
Again the following year this same choir, The West Side Presby 
terian Handbell Choir of Ridgewood, New Jersey, was heard 
and seen around the world through the same medium. 

IV. Arrangement of Ringers 

After the first part of the presentation, which should take 
ten minutes or so, everyone will be eager to ring. The director 



will then want to line up his group quickly, taller ringers in 
the middle and the shorter ones on either end (see Chapter Four, 
Sections I and II, which deal with the formation of the choir) 
tentatively assigning bells so that the two octaves in the key of 
G are covered. 

V. Holding Bells 

Very briefly the director should demonstrate the various 
ways of holding the handbell. (See Chapter Three, Section I, 
which deals with general information on the various ways the 
fingers can grip the handbell.) Then he will have each ringer 
ring his bell or bells, beginning with either the highest or the 
lowest tone. After each ringer has had a turn, the director could 
have the choir ring the two diatonic octaves up or down the 
scale in a steady rhythm. The director should designate whether 
the ringer with the highest or lowest bell should start the ringing. 
He can then set the tempo by saying rhythmically, "one, two, 
three, four, five, six, ready, ring." The lowest or highest ringer 
begins on count "one" after the words "ready, ring." The ring 
ing should begin without a break in tempo, and each ringer gets 
a turn as the director counts rhythmically up to fifteen. A slow 
tempo should be set at first. If there is a G 25 bell in the set it 
could be rung either before or after the two-octave scale line. 

VI. Free-Ring Period 

When each ringer has had a chance to ring individually, 
the director will want to initiate a free-ring period. This is a 
period of time for all ringers to practice rings simultaneously. 
This is a most important feature of all handbell choir sessions, 
and more especially the first few sessions as it gives them the 
feel of their particular handbells and a chance to perfect the 
straight as well as the more difficult rings. The director should 



have a signal, such as raising the hand, to indicate when the 
free-ring period is over. The purpose of this period, as well 
as the signal for stopping the free ringing, should be clearly 
indicated by the director. If at any time the director feels these 
few minutes are not worthily spent, he should stop the group 
and go on to the next part of the rehearsal. 

The signal for the cessation of the free-ring period should 
be the most important directive for the new ringers to have 
firmly established in mind, and it should be used anytime a 
director wants undivided attention from his group. The use of 
this visual signal prevents the director from having to speak 
against a disorderly combination of bells and voices, and is 
especially valuable when several handbell choirs come together 
for a rehearsal or performance. 

VII. Scale Ringing and Ringing Changes 

Although it is difficult to have good scale ringing with a 
new handbell choir, the director will want to try some at the 
first rehearsal. He will either start at the bottom or the top of 
the scale (as indicated in the preceding section) having first a 
straight ring up and down, and then trying a front double or a 
back ring up and down. 

There should be some of this scale ringing at each rehears 
al, practicing various rings and ringing in thirds, fifths, sixths, 
or octaves. These intervals can also be rung as broken chords 
rather than together. When a choir works out scale ringing for 
performance this ringing is called "handbell changes" or simply 
"changes." This, however, is much different from the traditional 
change ringing practiced in England.* 

* Traditional change ringing follows a mathematical pattern using available bells 
(especially tower bells) in a prescribed order. The first steps in change ringing 
are explained in Elementary Change Ringing, by F. F. Rigby, S.P.C.K., London, 



Scale ringing either alone, or in combination with chordal 
progressions, is a good device to use for any necessary modu 
lations when performing in a unit several short numbers which 
may be in a variety of keys. 

VIII. Simple Melodies 

The director should choose a simple tune or two which the 
ringers know and like, and have them play it as he points to each 
person when it is his turn to ring. If there is a member of the 
choir who would like to point out a tune, he should be encour 
aged. (See Chapter Six, Section III, which deals with melody 
line ringing.) 

IX. Introduction to the Chart 

Even if the choir does not have time during the first re 
hearsal to actually play from a chart, there should be one or 
two available for the choir to see. The director might have 
them read the first phrase of music from one of the charts, or 
perhaps just the melody of the first phrase, depending on the 
abilities of the ringers. (See Chapter Six, Section I, 1, A, which 
deals with the use of charts for beginners.) This would give the 
choir some idea of how a chart is used. However, no one part 
of the first session or two should be overworked to the point of 
tiring the ringers. The director should always be conscious of 
keeping the spirit of fun alive during rehearsals, and he should 
be especially mindful of this at the first rehearsal. 

X. Teaching without Bells 

It is possible to conduct rehearsals before the arrival of 
handbells. Any object (such as a pencil) can be used instead 
of a bell, and the potential ringers develop a feel for the arm 



and wrist movement essential for good ringing by pretending 
to ring these imaginary bells. Acquaintance with handbell music 
is made and each member of the group is assigned a note or 
notes just as ordinarily would be done. As each ringer pretends 
to ring his note he also sings the tone, thus developing an ability 
for sight-singing as well as becoming acquainted with the music 
he will later actually ring. 

It is also possible to use the small Swiss-type* toy bells, or 
to use glasses filled with water, tuned to various pitches. How 
ever, the use of either of these objects, while lots of fun and 
helpful rhythmically, does not teach the proper wrist movement. 
Actually for developing all-around good musicianship, the sing 
ing of the pitches is more challenging and helpful, although 
initially it would certainly add interest to make some use of 
toy bells, water glasses or some similar objects. 

The first rehearsal without actually ringing handbells should 
hold the same dramatic interest as the first session with the bells. 
However, to capture the potential ringer's imagination, even 
more careful preparation on the part of the director is necessary. 

! A Swiss-type bell is one which must be rung by holding the mouth of the bell 
predominantly downward, as the clapper stem of this type bell is usually a 
linked chain rather than solid metal. The Melode Bell is an accurately pitched 
toy bell which has been used successfully to aid in teaching music fundamentals 
to countless grade school pupils. 



Codes and Awards 

I. Purpose of a Code 

Because being in an active bell choir is a special privilege, 
directors should expect extra faithfulness and work from the 
ringers. Many handbell choirs have a great esprit de corps, 
while other choirs, sometimes within the same church, will need 
detailed standards to guide the members. 

A choir which has a second choir working on identical 
repertoire and which uses this second choir to provide substitute 
ringers for rehearsals and performances (see Chapter Five, 
Section V, 1, which deals with the subject of providing substitute 
ringers) will usually not need much in the code concerning 
faithful attendance. However, any system used for obtaining 
substitutes should be explained in the code. 

IL Preparation of a Code 

As rehearsals progress the director should keep in mind 
certain important areas, such as attendance, progress in memori 
zation, and the general attitude of the ringers. If the director 
feels that higher standards should be maintained, it is usually 
good to have two or three volunteers, or ringers with outstanding 
records, to work with the director in making up a code for 
the choir. 

Some choirs have officers. This is an especially good plan 
for boys' choirs, particularly of junior high age, because they 
often function better as a club. Through brief business meetings 



the boys have some say in the government of the group and in 
the planning of trips or other extra-curricular events. When 
choirs have officers, they can work with the director in formu 
lating an adequate code or set of rules, or other members of 
the choir can be appointed or elected to work with the director. 

III. An Example of a Code 

The following code could not be used by all handbell 
choirs, as it would not specifically meet the needs of all ringing 
groups. It merely serves as an illustration and as a guide for 
the director who may be planning a code or standards for his 
own group. Actually the illustration given is one that was used 
for a two-day bell choir program that worked integrally with a 
singing program. As must be the case with any code, this 
example was actually used to meet a particular set of problems. 

In order to execute a code which involves keeping a record 
of each bell ringer's progress, it is advisable to have an assistant 
present to take down and tabulate information during rehearsals. 


Code of the Bell Ringers 

ach bell ringer must have: 

1. Good standing in the singing choir. 

2. On a basis of two rehearsals per week, no more than one 
unexcused absence, plus no more than two excused absences 
in any two-month period, making a total of no more than 
three absences in any two-month period. Three latenesses 
equal one absence. Excused absences are those which the 
director knows about before the beginning of the rehearsal. 

3. Music books ready for inspection at each rehearsal notes 
played are to be circled or underlined, pages reinforced 
with circular tabs when inserted in notebooks, and the ini- 



tial of each ringer's note or notes should appear at least 
one inch tall on the top right side of the cover. If the 
director finds a notebook not in order, the ringer receives 
a demerit. 

4. Music completely memorized for the rehearsal which fol 
lows its issuance by seven days. The director may at any 
time during a rehearsal ask a bell ringer to play his part 
alone saying the words and numbers aloud or ringing with 
the piano. If he fails to play it correctly after the second 
attempt he receives a demerit. (If help is needed, the time 
to get it is after one of the weekday choir rehearsals.) 

5. A good record in rehearsals; i.e., no chattering, gum chew 
ing, or asking questions without first raising a hand and 
being called upon by the director. If the director must call 
a person's name the second time in a single rehearsal to 
bring him to attention, that person automatically leaves 
the room and takes a demerit. 

Further general rules: 

6. A bell ringer can have no more than five demerits in any 
two-month period. 

7. Although bells are permanently assigned with the ringer 
usually having these same bells, it may become necessary 
in some musical numbers for the director to distribute the 
parts differently, depending on the number of accidental 
tones used and the frequency with which they occur. The 
ringer must be prepared to ring any bell, and should enjoy 
the opportunity of becoming accustomed to a new bell 
or bells. 

8. If a ringer fails to notify the director of his absence before 
a rehearsal, the director may assign all his parts to those 
ringers present. 



9. At the discretion of the director, some bell ringers with 
only one note assigned may be called upon to memorize a 
second note, only to be played if and when the original 
assignee is sick.* This second assignment will be subject 
to the same rules as the original. 

10. Ringers must assume complete responsibility for acquiring 
music issued at any rehearsal they have missed. 

11. Bell ringers must expect extra duties from time to time; 
e.g., directing, assembling music, taking attendance, etc. 

12. Members of the bell choir are under the same rehearsal 
rules as listed under 5, regardless of whether or not the 
regular director is in charge or another member of the bell 
choir appointed by the director. 

13. Being a member of the handbell choir does not necessarily 
guarantee the assignment of a note in each musical number, 
as occasionally, due to the nature of the music, this is 

14. In the event that it becomes necessary, a second bell choir 
can be organized for new ringers and any experienced 
ringers who do not meet the standards enumerated but who 
want to continue working with handbells at a slower pace. 
Ringers in this second choir may participate in all social 
outings, but would not ring as frequently in performance. 

IV. Awards 

It is usually good for the church to present an award to 
the ringers at the end of a choir year. This award can either be 

* Only an exceptionally fine ringer could be asked to memorize a single piece of 
music two ways; i.e., with the one note, and when needed, ringing two notes. 
It is more advisable, when possible, to have regular substitutes or to have a two- 
choir system. (See Chapter Five, Section V, 1, which deals with the subject 
of substitutes.) 



a personal one for the ringer to keep or, preferably, it can be 
an award which is worn on the robe the following year. This 
latter system provides more incentive for the ringers to remain 
loyal. The award can also take the form of a group award such 
as a trip.* A personal award should be given to the faithful 
ringer who must leave the choir, either because he is going away 
to school or moving with his family. 

Awards can be given to ringers who meet minimal stand 
ards or they can be given only for outstanding merit. Perhaps 
a director will want to issue awards to all those who have satis 
factorily participated in the program. He may want to give 
some special tribute or gift to the ringer who has done much 
more than was required in the regular program. If a ringer is 
to be singled out, his extra contribution to the overall program 
must be of such quality that there is no doubt in anyone's mind 
that he deserves special recognition. If a director uses some 
system of demerits, such as illustrated in the code in the previous 
section, the ringer or ringers receiving special recognition would 
have records largely free from demerits. 

In order to determine which ringers deserve awards, when 
all ringers are not to receive them equally, some directors utilize 
a point system whereby for each job done well (i.e., memorizing 
music, attendance, attention in rehearsal, etc.) a certain number 
of points is earned. 

Another method for determining the ringer or ringers with 
the highest merit is to begin with 100%, and for each rehearsal 
missed or assignment unprepared take off 1%. A director can 
set a certain per cent essential for achieving an award or special 

* Some churches supplement the money earned by the ringers for their trip, which 
may be to a festival or purely for entertainment. 



Actually, because of the high demands placed on all ringers 
in a carefully set up and executed program, it would seem wise 
that all ringers successfully completing a year of service should 
receive an award. 


Uses for Bells in Worship 

I. The Prelude 

Handbells played during the prelude to the service of wor 
ship are very effective. They can form the complete prelude, 
or can be used as a part of it, following or preceding organ 
music. Handbells used at this time can be played either alone, 
with soft organ accompaniment, or they can be used in a regular 
organ number arranged so that the bells have a prominent part. 
An effective number which can be used as a prelude is "Alia 
Trinita," arranged for organ and handbells. 

If the handbells are going to be rung only at this time 
during the service, it is often advisable that the choir be at least 
partially visible to the congregation since the actual physical 
act of ringing provides some interest. The choir can stand on 
the chancel steps, around the back of an organ console which is 
centered in the chancel, or in any other suitable location in front 
of or out of sight of the congregation. When the organ is being 
used with the handbells it is good to have the ringers as near the 
organist as possible so that there can be greater team work. If, 
however, handbells are to be rung during the service, it would 
probably be better to have the ringers take their places in the 
balcony or the narthex of the church for the prelude, provided 
the choir is not ringing with organ accompaniment. The con 
gregation, having heard the bells but not having seen them, 
would experience added pleasure in seeing them ring at a later 
point in the service.* 

* The use of handbells in the prelude is discussed more fully in A letter from 
The Handbell Choir Loft, Vol. I, No. 2, November 1958, p. 9. 



II. Processionals and Recessionals 

When the handbell choir is used on the processional or 
recessional hymn it processes as a singing choir, ringing on one 
or two of the several stanzas of the hymn. The handbell choir 
can ring the introduction by playing the handbell arrangement 
all the way through, or on long processionals (especially at 
festivals) in addition to ringing the introduction they can ring 
a stanza as an interlude either alone or with the organ. In order 
to give the congregation and singing choirs additional support 
in singing the opening phrase of the hymn when the bells take 
the introduction, the organ can join the handbell choir in one 
of the concluding phrases of the introduction, beginning softly 
and building up the organ to a full bell and organ conclusion. 

Only handbell arrangements which follow the harmonic 
structure of the hymn as written in the hymnal should be used 
for processionals or recessionals using bells, voices and organ 

When the bells are ringing an introduction, the congrega 
tion should be prepared by having this fact noted in the bulletin; 
i.e., "Introduction by handbell choir" or "Introduction by hand 
bells and organ." Otherwise the congregation might not know 
when to begin singing. 

III. Descants 

Handbell descants are most effective when rung either with 
small congregations or on the more quiet hymns. However, at 
festival times when several choirs ring the descant together, it is 
especially effective as it has greater carrying power. 

Another use of the descant is to ring it with the organ on 
the introduction of a hymn. All kinds of hymns lend themselves 
beautifully to the combination of bells and organ. The descant 



can also be used on a stanza or two of the hymn. Even when the 
ringing is almost impossible to hear above the organ and con 
gregational singing, it lends a certain fullness which contributes 
to the overall effectiveness of a hymn. 

When a descant is rung with the organ on the introduction 
it is important to note this fact in the bulletin so that the people 
will be prepared to sing on the first stanza. 

A handbell descant and a straight handbell arrangement 
(which do not conflict harmonically) can be used together when 
several choirs are participating in the same service. 

IV. Accompaniment for Hymn Singing 

Occasionally the director will want to have either an entire 
hymn or a stanza or two sung with only the accompaniment of 
handbells. This accompaniment can either be a regular full 
arrangement (see "All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name") or a 
descant written especially for unison or a cappella singing. This 
descant can be used alternately with the regular arrangement. 
(See the arrangement of the hymn tune St. Catherine.) When 
handbells are to be used solely as the accompaniment for hymn 
singing, they should also ring the introduction, and this fact 
should be noted in the bulletin. 

V. Responses 

There are various places in the service of worship where 
it is appropriate to incorporate handbell responses. These re 
sponses can be adapted from choral responses, amens, short 
hymn tunes, or from a phrase or two of a longer hymn. (See 
"Softly Now the Light of Day.") These responses can be used 
during the sacrament of infant baptism in place of a choral 



response, after prayers, during the presentation of the offering* 
or after the final benediction. 

Some responses sound best alone, but often a soft organ 
accompaniment adds color. Responses can be harmonic, using 
a full bell arrangement, or they can be purely melodic. In rung 
responses, pure melodic line is usually more effective with 
organ than without. However, there are some instances in which 
the utter simplicity of melodic line creates a mood which can 
easily be destroyed by any embellishments from the organ. 

When responses are rung the ringers should be as incon 
spicuous as possible, taking their places to the side or to the 
rear of the church. Although the ringers should ring from a 
position as nearly out of view of the congregation as possible, 
their position must be favorable to the tone of the handbells. 
When possible there should be a solid wall behind the choir to 
reflect the tone and add resonance. Most choirs find it necessary 
to experiment to determine the position in the church which 
contributes the greatest resonance to the ringing. 

VI. Prayer Hymns 

Occasionally the minister may want to use the bell choir 
to set a mood for prayer. This mood can be set either before or 
after the words "Let us pray" are spoken. 

Often when a handbell choir is visiting a church, it is 
effective to have the first ringing in the service come during the 

* Handbells can be used during the presentation of the offering by having the 
bells repeat the sung response. For example, in churches where during the 
presentation of the offering the Doxology is sung followed by a prayer of dedi 
cation, it is effective for special services to have the handbell choir repeat the 
Doxology (either with or without soft organ accompaniment) after the congre 
gation has sung it. The minister would have to be aware of this so he would 
wait until the bells had concluded before giving the prayer of dedication. If 
"Our Father's God to Thee" is sung after the prayer of dedication, the handbell 
choir can repeat it. This provides music while the ushers return to the back of 
the church. 



prayer, after the minister says "Let us pray." Then there is 
complete quiet in the church, and as eyes are closed or averted 
from the ringers, the congregation is able to hear without dis 
traction the sheer beauty of the music of the bells. As they 
listen, the worshippers are drawn closer to God. 

As in the case of the handbell response, the prayer hymn 
should be performed with a minimum of attention drawn to the 
ringers. Also, it is best not to note this hymn in the bulletin, 
but rather to have it come as a surprise, with any necessary 
details worked out ahead of time with the minister. 

VII. Anthems 

Regular handbell arrangements or organ numbers with an 
added handbell score can be used in place of a sung anthem. 
As in the case of the prelude, the handbell arrangements can 
be rung with or without organ accompaniment. However, the 
more elaborate bell arrangements are complete in themselves 
and are usually most effective when rung alone. 

Regular anthems arranged for bells and voices, or for 
bells, voices and organ are generally the best suited to this part 
of the service. (See "Vesper Hymn.") The singing can be done 
either by the singing choirs or by the ringers themselves. If 
the ringers do the singing it is usually best to have unison sing 
ing.* Occasionally a choir will be able to master two-part 
treble singing and ring simultaneously. If the vocal parts are 
regular S.A.T.B. music, they should be done by the singing 
choir, except in the very rare instance when the ringers are also 
expert singers and there is a balanced distribution of the parts. 

* This should not be attempted unless it can be done well. As well as musician 
ship, the ability of ringers to attempt singing depends mainly on the composition 
of the group ; i.e., a mixed choir or one with changing voices should not attempt 
singing with ringing. 



When the bell choir joins the regular singing choir or 
choirs in presenting an anthem in which bells and voices inter 
weave, the ringers and singers should be placed together. This 
makes it easier for voices and bells to balance. 

When the bell score is complicated and the handbell choir 
is performing with the singing choir, it is usually best to have 
a separate director for the bells. The bell choir director should 
be able to see the organist or choir director easily. The bell 
choir should rehearse with the singing choir at least once, and 
because there are usually more singers than ringers, the bell 
ringers should arrange to attend the regular singing choir re 
hearsal. Also, when bells are being used in the anthem, it is 
good to have a final rehearsal of all choirs just preceding the 
service of worship. 

VIII. Two-Choir Possibilities 

Antiphonal ringing can be done if the church has two sets 
of bells, or during handbell choir festivals when several choirs 
are present. A bell arrangement with identical phrases is often 
effective, having one choir ring a phrase and another echo it 
from a distance; or a complete number can be rung, having 
another choir echo it or ring a second more elaborate version. 

Two or more choirs can also ring together. Choirs ringing 
together can lend more tone to an arrangement. The most im 
pressive touch to a festival comes when many choirs ring to 
gether on a hymn, actually dominating the organ and the 
congregational singing. 
IX. An Example of a Festival Service: 


"Kyrie, God, Holy Spirit" Bach 

"Carillon" Sowerb ^ 

"Trisagion on NICAEA" Griffiths 




"All glory, laud and honor" ST. THEODULPH 

arr. Watson 


ANTHEM "The Message of Bells" Watson 


Bells for freedom; bells for strength; 

Bells for peace; bells for faith! 
God, in this hour touch our hearts; 
Leave the noise of discordant strife behind us, 

That we may perceive that which is right, good and noble. 
Purge from our souls all injured pride. 
Build within us strength of deed, that with steadfast mind and heart 

We may face the future of this land. 
Encircle our lives with the ringing truth 

That God's law must be sought. Doris Watson 

God The Father 

(The creator of the universe, who has a personal concern for each of us.) 

"Let us with a gladsome mind" MONKLAND 

arr. Watson 

"Alleluia" Mozart 


"0 wondrous type, vision fair" DEO GRACIAS 


"Come, ye thankful people, come" ST. GEORGE'S WINDSOR 

arr. Voester 

"A mighty Fortress is our God" EIN' FESTE BURG 


HYMN "0 God, our Help in ages past" ST. ANNE 



God The Son 

(God as revealed perfectly in human life in Jesus Christ our Saviour.) 
SCRIPTURE READING: John 1:1-5, 9-14, 16-18 

"Jesus, Lover of my soul" ABERYSTWYTH 

arr. Watson 


"Beautiful Saviour" SCHONSTER HERR JESU 

arr. Conover 

"Be Thou my Vision" SLANE 


"Come, ye faithful, raise the strain" ST. KEVIN 

arr. Grambling 

"Now the green blade riseth" French 

arr. Lancaster 

HYMN "0 sons and daughters" o FILII ET FILIAE 


(The congregation will rise and sing the entire hymn except 
the fourth stanza which the handbells will ring alone.) 



arr. Watson 

Hark! the vesper bells are ringing, 

Bringing beauty to this hour. 
In the fullness of this worship, 

May we know God's calming power. 

Teach us, with Thy love unfailing 

In this hour Thy truth to see; 
That with hearts and voices singing 

We will strive to follow Thee. 
Jubilate, Jubilate, Jubilate! Amen. Doris Watson 





God The Holy Spirit 

(The divine spark -within every man which can respond to the resurrected 
Christ who is with us still.) 

SCRIPTURE READING: Acts 2:1-8, 12-13, 38-39 

"Alia Trinita" XIV Century Melody 

'arr. Dickinson-Watson 

"Onward, Christian soldiers" ST. GERTRUDE 


"Come, labor on" ORA LABORA 


"Once to every man and nation" TON-Y-BOTEL 

arr. Grambling 

"Christ of the upward way" SURSUM CORDA 

arr. Lancaster 

"Jacob's Ladder" Spiritual 


HYMN "Faith of our fathers" ST. CATHERINE 

descant by Watson 




Let us now depart in Thy peace, Blessed Jesus; 

Send us to our homes with God's love in our hearts. 

Let not the busy world claim all our loyalties. 

Keep us ever mindful, dear Lord, of Thee. Amen. Anon. 


"All hail the power of Jesus' Name!" CORONATION 

arr. Watson 

SILENT MEDITATION (The congregation seated) 

"Carillon" Vierne 

(A list of the participating handbell choirs and clergy should appear at 
the end of the program.) 



Program Planning 

I. Planning for a Purpose 

Despite the fact that the choir will make some attempt to 
limit engagements other than ringing for services of worship 
(see Chapter One, Section I, which deals with the role of the 
handbell choir) there will be many times when it will seem 
right to accept a program engagement. 

In planning the program the director will want to keep in 
mind the occasion, the approximate age of the audience and 
any past experience they may have had with music or handbell 
ringing, and the amount of time to be consumed by the ringing 
program. The type of occasion will determine the degree of 
formality or informality of the presentation. Sometimes a pro 
gram chairman will want a group of three or four numbers 
presented in the framework of a larger program. Provided there 
is an overall master of ceremonies for the program, and the 
timing of the music is to be fairly accurate, the director's respon 
sibility will be primarily to select and time the music. If the 
director is asked to provide an entire program of a half hour 
to an hour in length, in almost all situations the music should 
be presented in an informal verbal framework; and to some 
extent, there should be audience participation. 

To determine what emphasis should be developed in die 
program, the director should find out from the program chair 
man the purpose he has in asking the handbell choir to ring. 
This can range from sheer listening enjoyment to providing an 



incentive to a group for having its own choir. The director 
should also talk over with the program chairman his idea of 
keeping a handbell presentation informal, to see if there is any 
decided reaction one way or another to this suggestion. In a 
few circumstances it is not possible, or advisable, to have audi 
ence participation, and if this is the case, the director should 
know it before attempting to plan the program. 

II. Specific Suggestions 

The following are some ideas to keep in mind when plan 
ning a program : 

1. Select the music: Pick out the numbers which the ring 
ers know best; and if there is ample time for preparation, select 
additional music which may best illustrate any point you may 
want to cover in your spoken presentation. 

2. Organize the program: Think of the ideas you want 
to cover and arrange them in what seems to be a good order. 
Then fit the music as appropriately as possible around the 
spoken framework. 

3. Remember the audience: Consider ways to get audience 
participation : 

A. Through the demonstration of special rings: Have a 
ringer demonstrate the ring and teach a volunteer from 
the audience. 

B. By ringing in a special number: Have a volunteer 
come up forward and ring in a number which is done 
in single note or octave ringing. (See Chapter Six, 
Section III, which deals with melody line ringing.) 
The director should choose a bell which rings fairly 
frequently. Before the volunteer attempts to ring in 
the number, the ringer who ordinarily plays the bell 



should demonstrate the technique involved in straight 
ringing, letting the volunteer try the ring until he does 
it fairly accurately. 

C. Have the audience sing with the bells: (This is often 
a good way to conclude a program or to provide a 
break in a lengthy program. It should be a very 
familiar song, arranged simply and in a good key for 
group singing.) Have the audience stand and have the 
ringers play the number all the way through for an 
introduction, and then have the audience sing with the 
ringing. Usually it is best to have the singing done on 
just the first stanza, so there is no problem with words. 

4. Get acquainted: Toward the beginning of the program 
be sure to include some time for the audience to get to know the 
ringers individually. An easy way to do this is to start from 
the bottom or top of the choir and have each ringer announce 
his name (and perhaps age or grade in school when ringing for 
young audiences) and then ring the bell or bells he plays, giving 
the name of the note. 

5. Interest the audience: Keep the element of surprise 
alive in a program. Don't always tell an audience the name of 
a number before ringing it. See if someone can identify it. It 
is especially good when working with young audiences to keep 
their interest by having them listen for something. Perhaps after 
explaining a certain ring you might have the audience try to 
hear it in an actual piece of music. Or if a choir rings the 
Cambridge Quarters, it might be interesting to tell the audience 
the time of Sunday morning worship through the striking of 

the hour bell. 

6. Watch the clock: Never agree to provide a program of 
more than an hour. A program of thirty to forty-five minutes 



is more desirable. Ringing is not a variety show, and a high 
point of interest should be maintained throughout the presenta 
tion period. 

7. Interest the choir: If possible, present some new idea, 
joke or new music on each program so the ringers themselves 
will be more interested and challenged. A happy choir conveys 
the Christian Gospel much more rapidly than an obviously bored 
choir. For example, if the choir is capable, have them ring a 
new single note number as the director points it out. This makes 
the ringers alert and pleases them when they do well. On the 
other hand, never do anything surprising that is beyond the 
choir's ability. 

8. Use a chart: You may want to bring a chart and dem 
onstrate its use. In a workshop situation the members of the 
group can try ringing from the charts. 

9. Follow through: Scrap books or charts illustrating 
handbell ringing or containing bits of publicity can be made 
available to an audience at the close of the program. 




The most exciting element in working with handbells is 
the opportunity for creative thinking. The methods described in 
this manual have come about through trial and error. Other 
methods are possible, but those outlined in this manual have 
worked for the author, and it is hoped they will be helpful to 
others. However, in working with a handbell choir it is impor 
tant to look for new vistas, to keep the spirit of creativity alive. 

The church that has a handbell program finds that both its 
worship and fellowship life are strengthened. The very nature 
of handbell ringing demands an integral relationship of the 
ringers with each other. It is believed that any church, school 
or community group can be enriched by inaugurating a full 
handbell program. 




CD ;