Rings of the Lord.
March 13, 2009 3:56 AM   Subscribe

this is why I love the Internet. nice post.
posted by theora55 at 4:51 AM on March 13, 2009

Love bell choirs. And the distinctive little move they make after when they want to dampen the sound. Oh and the gloves.
posted by DU at 5:25 AM on March 13, 2009

Woah! That second link, the video starts trippin' balls at 3:37.
posted by P.o.B. at 5:26 AM on March 13, 2009

So is it a personal preference whether someone whips the bell backwards or forwards? And are the gloves for presentation or are they for comfortability with all the vibration?
posted by P.o.B. at 5:28 AM on March 13, 2009

The bells (specifically, the clapper inside them) are designed to be more easily sent forward, P.O.B. Occasions (like shakes) call for the clapper go both ways, though.

The gloves are to protect the bells (oil from skin, etc.).
posted by aswego at 5:31 AM on March 13, 2009

There's really no vibration in the handles, but on the heavier bells, you can get blisters if you don't wear gloves. That said, the gloves are mostly for show.
posted by Stylus Happenstance at 5:32 AM on March 13, 2009

I thought the gloves were to keep fingerprints off the shiny brass. Could be a sweat alleviation thing too. Don't want to accidentally bean the audience with a heavy bell.
posted by DU at 5:32 AM on March 13, 2009

The gloves are primarily for protection of the bells. The oils on your fingers can do serious damage. However, sweat alleviation is definitely a bonus - your palms get very hot from the friction and gripping the slick material of the handles, and sweat happens.

Playing in a bell choir is super fun. Part of what I loved about it was that each person just had one or two (or four, if you were good at it) notes, and yet as a group you came together to make this amazing music. Also, we did a few songs where we experimented with different moves - plonking the bell on the (foam-covered) table, or striking it with a xylophone mallet, etc, to make different types of sound.
posted by marginaliana at 6:29 AM on March 13, 2009

...each person just had one or two (or four, if you were good at it) notes, and yet as a group you came together to make this amazing music.

Which partly disproves this earlier thought I had.
posted by DU at 6:36 AM on March 13, 2009

When I did this, we had one number where, after striking the note, we had to rotate the bell, pointing at the audience. It was a cool effect. And yes, the gloves are to protect the bells.
posted by Goofyy at 7:35 AM on March 13, 2009

Great post, great post title.
posted by abc123xyzinfinity at 8:35 AM on March 13, 2009

I was a very active bell ringer through High School and College. I've been a member of up to 4 bell choirs simultaneously, and have probably been in at least a few hundred performances.

It was a fantastic experience and one of the things I miss most about my former musical immersion.

Bell ringing is almost unique amongst musical pursuits because on your own, a single bell ringer can do (almost) nothing. (There are solo pieces, but they are mostly novelties.)

Good recordings of bell choirs are notoriously difficult to produce. Much like a pipe organ, it is something that must be experienced to truly "hear". They produce a magical sound in person, and hearing the clear, pure tones mesh together in harmony and reverberating within the auditorium is just musical ecstasy.

I played primarily the bass bells. They get to be very large and start growing at an alarming rate as you drop in pitch. It is not uncommon for a new bell ringer to develop bruising on the chest, where you dampen the bells.

The gloves are primarily for protection of the bells. We were forbidden to handle the bells bare-handed. They do perform a secondary function of sweat absorption and blister prevention. That they look cool is a lucky bonus.

There is actually a surprising amount of technique required to properly ring bells. It is not like a dinner bell that you just pick up and shake. The distinctive method of ringing has a visual aspect as well as an auditory aspect. The bells "sound" best when the lip is directed towards the audience, and the circular arm motions cause the sound waves to pass over the audience in a kind of sweep or miniature doppler.

Besides ringing, you can hit bells with mallets, you can "pluck" them by manipulating the clapper inside with your fingers, or you can perform table strikes called "martellatos", and a large number of more subtle techniques.

I highly recommend bell ringing to everyone who has even a modicum of musical interest. You do not have to be an accomplished musician, and if you can read music at all, you can probably pick up the basics of bell ringing in a single day.

Bell choirs are typically found in churches, but some communities have public choirs, and many college music departments have bell choirs, and membership is usually open to anyone, not just music majors.
posted by Ynoxas at 8:38 AM on March 13, 2009 [4 favorites]

When I was much, much younger, I played bells in a bell choir. There's something horrendous about twenty-something eight year olds trying to play complicated bell pieces.

We wore the gloves, too, though we were told it was part of our "ensemble" (red robes + bell gloves, woof) - a more... exuberant, shall we say, member of our group was playing a piece and ended up getting overexcited and flung his bell at the director. Director never saw it coming, knocked him out cold mid-performance. Still friends with the kid, we still call him BR (short for bell ringer) to this day.
posted by Mali at 8:51 AM on March 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

I am heading the bell choir at the church I grew up in. It is really hard to describe exactly what hand bell ringing is to those who don't know. I find it interesting mathematically, because it isn't like singing or playing an instrument where you can play each note in sequence on your own. We use sheet music that has been highlighted based on the part; players can ring without knowing how to read the notes on the staff as long as the words are below and they know which word they ring on. It would be cool to write out bell parts as a binary string.
posted by frecklefaerie at 9:07 AM on March 13, 2009

frecklefaerie: That is interesting you see it that way; the long-time director of one of the choirs at my old church was a Geometry teacher.
posted by Ynoxas at 9:39 AM on March 13, 2009

In the main post video, more proof that Mr. Rogers may be the coolest man that ever lived.
posted by Muddler at 10:27 AM on March 13, 2009

the white gloves are for BLACKLIGHT!
posted by sexyrobot at 10:36 AM on March 13, 2009

posted by leotrotsky at 12:51 PM on March 13, 2009

Some of the players in my bell choir (including the director) never wear gloves in practice, and it doesn't seem to hurt the bells. Our bells are several years old, and still look new. Of course some of the handles have been replaced, and I've broken the long screw on a couple of mine (C4 through E).

Seconding those above who've said that bell ringing is a blast and that you have to see it live. Of all types of music, recorded bell ringing always sounds flat and dull. One thing about bell concerts, though - the audience will be about 90% ringers. My choir went to see the Raleigh Ringers at a concert hall that holds about 1300, and almost every hand went up when the director asked "Who here plays bells?"
posted by Stylus Happenstance at 2:24 PM on March 13, 2009

Ironically, my lovely wife is off this evening to a regional bell choir conference (Ocean City, Maryland, if anyone is in the area). this event features a multi-bell-choir performance after a day and a half f workshops and practice. Multiple, massed bell choirs, playing well in a room with good acoustics is one of the coolest, trippiest experiences I know.

When our daughters were younger, we took advantage of the church youth bell choir as a way to introduce them to playing music. Both of our girls played with bell choirs for a few years as youngsters and both are now good instrumentalists with a grounding in basic music, a comfort performing, and an understanding (if only subconsciously) of the relationship between physical vibration and music.

Among the many reasons I count myself lucky and blessed in the woman that was kind enough to marry me is the fact that she is a musician and a bell choir member and that we have shared that as a family for more than 20 years now.
posted by mmahaffie at 3:12 PM on March 13, 2009

Playing in a bell choir is super fun.

I tried it, and it had its moments, but it just seems like bell choir composers/arrangers over-stylize the music with the intent of highlighting the unique sound of the bell choirs, but to me it either sounded like showing off (if played correctly) or a train wreck (if not played correctly). I liked the people in my bell choir, and at times the music, but in the end I just grew tired of the whole sound.
posted by Doohickie at 10:47 PM on March 13, 2009

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