Last Sunday, nearly 200 people filled Memorial Park Baptist Church (also now home to St. Andrew’s Anglican Church) in Vestal to hear the Bronzissimo! Community Handbell Choir’s winter concert. The program offered familiar carols and Christmas favorites from the French, English, Ukrainian and American traditions. The bells were joined at times by flute, wind chime, drum and keyboard.
Bronzissimo! is a select group of the best ringers from several local handbell choirs. This concert featured 14 ringers playing five octaves. For more details, click here.Well, actually it was 13 ringers at a time. Co-directors Claire Bombard and Jessica Bowerman both like to ring, and you can’t direct and ring at the same time … well … actually Bombard did that when ringer Ann Fitzgerald played flute to “Un Flambeau, Jeanette Isabella.”
How many ways can you play a handbell? I counted four in this concert, but there are at least nine. Then there are hand chimes, and … oh yes … there were finger cymbals, too!
Two ladies … four hands … eight bells … one seamless, delicate close harmony. Carol DeJager and Amy Root from First Congregational UCC Church in Greene played a lovely duet of “Ding Dong Merrily on High.” Think of the runs in the chorus, and you’ll realize how together these women had to be.
Have you ever wondered how you can hold two bells in one hand and play only one at a time? The secret is in how you hold the bells. A handbell clapper isn’t free to swing any-which-way like a school bell; it tracks to and fro in a straight plane. If you hold the two bells with the clappers at right angles to each other, when one bell sounds, the other cannot. Selecting which bell sounds is just a matter of rotating your wrist 90 degrees, from “hammering a nail” to “knocking on the door.”
DeJager told me there is even a technique for ringing three bells in one hand, though she and her fellow players haven’t mastered that yet. Should be simple enough, right? Just a different angle maybe … yeah … uh-huh….
Two of the dozen pieces combined two tunes in one arrangement. Valerie Stephenson’s arrangement of “The Holly and the Ivy” had “Joseph Dearest, Joseph Mine” hidden inside. And Kevin McChesney’s arrangement of “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” contained “Sing (or should we say Ring) We Now of Christmas.” This latter piece Bronzissimo played with 10 other handbell choirs at the Area 2 convention of the American Guild of English Handbell Ringers this past summer in Scranton, Pa.
The audience got a chance to sing along, too, at Sunday’s concert with the 1957 Bobby Helms classic “Jingle Bell Rock.”
Bronzissimo!’s encore, “Hyfrydol,” is a tune sung commonly to several Christian hymns, including “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus” and “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling.” It was a favorite of Bronzissimo! founding member and former director, the late Doris Eggleston, and honors and remembers her to the choir and the audience with each ringing.
Many folks will be disappointed that Brozissimo!’s tones will not be echoing in St. Patrick’s Church this year at Binghamton First Night!, as they have for many years, but we hope they’ll be back next year. And, meanwhile, we’ll look for their next concert in the spring.
— Dave Schriber, a.k.a. CyberBassDave