How Did Hand Bells and Hand Chimes Get Included?

Evolution, Serendipitous, or Destiny?

Use of HandBells and HandChimes as part of the Hymns and Songs for Living recording may seem a bit unusual, since use of handbells and/or handchimes as an accompaniment to singing of congregational hymns is not a common, everyday occurance. Handbells are quite percussive and are most commonly used as a performing instrument, occassionally in combination with other instruments. Handchimes are a bit more mellow and friendly to vocal singing.

So how did handbells get included on the Hymn and Songs for Living recording? 

This story has similarities to other stories on this website. Examples include:

  1. In the story About TortoiseClimbing, the question is posed about whether the original creation of TortoiseClimbing for private recordings, and then its evolution to a full-fledged record producer and publisher for public release was a logical evolution, serendipitous happenstance, or perhaps destiny.
  2. In the story about the Associate Producer, Mr. Bill McElroy, it is observed this is a small world, because one of the events early in his life was working for Edgewood Studios, where the director, and operatic singer, of David’s college choir recorded multiple albums.
  3. The process by which HandBells and HandChimes got included was a similarly serendipitous event.

That decision was precipitated indirectly as a result of David meeting with the minister at Duncan Memorial United Methodist Church to arrange using of their pipe organ to record replacements for the electronic keyboard simulated organ accompaniments used in Phase I. During their meeting, he noticed the church's set of handbells sitting on the side of the room. He mentioned it seemed unusual for handbells to be stored in the pastor's office. The minister informed him they were only there temporarily, while the choir room was being refurbished.

Appeal of HandBells

That little discussion about handbells reminded David of how appealing the sound of handbells can be, which sparked thinking about the possibility of including handbells as an accompaniment to the last verse of:

Since the handbells normally would not have been in the minister's office, was that just a serendipitous happenstance, or destiny?

Initially we reached out to the music Director at Duncan Memorial UMC, who was interested in the idea. But then the COVID-19 pandemic struck, and like most other churches, they went into lockdown.

In order to to be able to record handbell accompaniments, there were four impediments to solve:

  1. Since handbells are not generally used as an accompaniment instrument, there were no arrangements commercially available as accompaniments, and in the keys of the hymns;
  2. Finding a handbell choir that would record during the pandemic following safety protocols;
  3. A handbell choir with a large set of handbells, and
  4. Finding a recording engineer who had the necessary equipment and was willing to take that equipment to record the handbell choir on location.

Note. Research about handbells led to information about handchimes. A separate page about handchimes is included on this website that discusses their differences. (See HandChime Differences.)

Need for Arrangements

All the handbell music found on the web for both hymns, "Just A Closer Walk with Thee" and "Amazing Grace," were for performance by handbells as the solo instruments, versus being an accompaniment to vocalists singing the hymns. Plus, those performance scores were not in the keys of the hymns from the hymnals.

Therefore, Mr. Goettee contacted a number of persons listed on the Handbell Musicians' Association webpage where they indicated they wrote arrangements.

(If anyone is interested, the Handbell Musicians' Association webpage for handbell clinicians can be found at Handbell Clinicians.)

Of those who responded, Mr. Larry Sue had the time to undertake this project. Mr. Sue was provided with pdf copies of the music from the hymnals used to record the hymns, plus mp3s of the vocal recordings. Mr. Sue put together arrangements that included the use of Bells and Chimes.

That addressed the impediment of arrangements as accompaniments in the keys of the hymns.

You can see Mr. Sue's credits under Phase II Arrangers at Larry Sue - Handbell Arranger.

Interested Handbell Choir

That left the topics of:

There are such handbell choirs in the Washington, DC metro area, but presumably because of the pandemic lockdown, they did not answer inquiries about their interest. That resulted in locating and coordinating with the Westminster Ringers, who are discussed in detail separately. See Westminster Ringers.

Recording Engineer for on Location in Westminster, MD

The assistant director of the Westminster Ringers suggested a person in the Westminster area who had previously recorded them. However, he advised he was stepping back for being active in making recordings. (Could the pandemic have influenced that decision?) However, he was very helpful in providing background information about the Carroll Arts Center where the on location recording was going to be made, and provided all needed mic stands so they did not need to be transported. For information on him and the location see Mr. Gordon Masters and the Carrol Arts Center.

David searched the internet for a recording engineer in the area of Maryland around Westminster, and found a recording studio in Thurmont, MD. The engineer there indicated he was amenable to traveling to Westminster to record the Ringers.

However, in a subsequent conversation with Mr. McElroy, he indicated he had the capabilities to do on location recording, and was willing to drive from Ashland, VA to Westminster, MD for an overnight trip to record the Ringers., which is what we did.

Your Judgement?

So, as in the story About the evolution of Tortoise Climbing, it is up to the reader to decide. Was inclusion of handbells and handchimes as accompaniments on this album a logical evolution, serendipitous happenstance, or perhaps destiny?


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