Reviewed by David L. Schriber
The Bronzissimo! select handbell choir rang a program of musical theater/cinema/opera Saturday (June 19) at Valley Christian Reformed Church in the Town of Chenango. With a light, whimsical flair and mostly familiar melodies, the ensemble invited audience participation through hum-alongs and pseudo-rhythm percussion.
Claire Bombard, who billed herself as the “mean” director (co-director Jessica Bowerman rang but is on maternity leave from directing), has been ringing since before some of her ringers were born (46 years). The average experience in this group is about 19 years (though the group does have a newcomer and two others with less than 10 years). The experience level is evident as Bronzissimo! plays the bells smoothly and in several modes of sound.
To Amy Root’s sustained ringing (akin to a flute/piccolo trill), the rest of the crew paraded to places wearing boas to open the show with “Broadway.” Medleys from Phantom of the Opera and The Lion King followed. Bombard says she doesn’t like medleys generally, but Bronzissimo! made the tempo changes easily and together. Violinist Sara Gill and percussionist Edlyn Dutton complemented the ensemble. A “live lion” with a mane like Bert Lahr (perhaps a harbinger of a song in the second half) and strangely resembling Pastor Al Gelder growled a friendly greeting to the crowd. The audience was recruited to be a group snare-drum brush to accompany the theme from The Pink Panther.
Bronzissimo! struggled a bit with the last piece in the first half, the overture from The Barber of Seville. In all fairness, handbells weren’t Rossini’s idea, but an arrangement by Martha Lynn Thompson. Now, I’ve only tried handbells once, in an audience walk-on workshop. I have some difficulty grasping (pardon the pun) how ringers can slice a long operatic run into individual notes. It seems a challenge something like a vocal exercise two of my chorus directors have used: Sing the do-re-mi scale but omit fa and la! It’s not so easy.
Following the free-will offering, during which the ringers encouragingly played “We’re in the money” to chuckles in the audience, the program resumed with Kermit The Frog’s “The Rainbow Connection” from The Muppet Movie, followed by Judy Garland’s classic “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Then it was Sebastian the Crab’s “Under the Sea” from Disney’s The Little Mermaid. Concluding the concert was “Ashokan Farewell” from Ken Burns’ Gettysburg.
Bronzissimo! members donned pirate attire for their encore, the theme from Pirates of the Caribbean. Roxanne St. Ives found it easier to play with an eye patch than Bombard did to direct with a pirate hook. Bill Butler wasn’t the least bothered by the parrot perched on his music stand. “I only play the black spots on the paper,” he quipped to me afterwards.
It was nice to have thumbnail bios of all the ringers (in standing order) in the program. Several significant others were listed as “roadies, ushers, and bouncers,” but the only bouncing was done by Eric Bowerman of 4-month-old Evan, who smiled broadly in approval. Despite a hot and humid evening, it was a very enjoyable concert, just the right length and in a church with comfortable pews (something you don’t always find).