20 September 2018

Of the bells, bells, bells, bells, bells, bells, bells

What a world of merriment their melody foretells!
– Edgar Allan Poe

If we knew then, what we didn’t know then . . . .
Porridger’s Almanack (Breakfast of Ganglions)

The first consideration before this blog post is: periodically, as Music Director at Holy Trinity UMC, I need to populate the folders of the handbell choir with music.  It’s not just “the job,” it’s a pleasantly stimulating task.  A game, and not a chore.

The second consideration is: at the beginning of each year, I may not have a clear idea of how many bell-ringers I need to accommodate.  The more, the merrier; yet, if I put a piece in the folder which needs ten people, but only seven come in, the ten-ringer piece is not serviceable.

The third is: part of my Job Description is (here I paraphrase) Composer of Ad Hoc Musical Requisites.  Hey, this is partly why I contracted for the job.

The fourth consideration is: as in my regular, non-directorial composing, I happily rely on the fecund whimsicality of my Muse.  She ain’t let me down yet.

Sometimes, I just leaf through the hymnal.

(There are still uses for old-school books.)

This Sunday past, I chanced to find a hymn adaptation of “The Call,” from Vaughan Williams’s Five Mystical Songs.  Practically immediately, I wanted both to adapt it (in a breezy, minimal-effort way) for the choir to sing during Communion, and to arrange it for the handbells, together with our doughty young flutist, Marissa Bell.  With our first handbell rehearsal this Sunday, the flute-&-handbell arrangement perforce came first, and I finished that yester even.

I wanted also to revisit Rejoice from the spring.  Originally scored for 12 bells and optional drum, we had four players manage three bells each by playing with mallets.  (Then, as we did have a reliable fifth participant, I hastily drew up an additional ringing bell part.)  Originally, too, I meant it for a smoking tempo; in our spring performance, we opted not to smoke.

So this time, I want us to ring the piece, and I want to start out with a conception of tempo which is reasonably achievable.  And the drum will not be optional, since we found that the drum is even more helpful than my simply conducting–if I am conducting, they know where beat 1 is, but if they are suffering any doubt, they may not know for which measure I am beating 1.  For this adaptation–Rejoice (II)–I wanted to do without the Zen-like ‘empty spaces’ at the beginning, which at the original smoking tempo are dramatic pauses, but which at a slower pace practically invite folks in the audience to shout “Get On With It!”

So, I woke up early.  Normally my alarm goes off at 4:20–okay, my alarm went off at 4:20, as usual, today, only I awoke an hour ahead of the alarm.  And, well, I rather wanted to see to Rejoice (II) ahead of the work day, so my Muse was probably telling me something.

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