Christmas Handbells

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Music is a big part of the holiday season. One of the most unique musical sounds of the season is the hand-held bell. These are bells that are tuned to the chromatic scale, with large ensembles ranging to an eight-octave set – that would be 97 bells.

The earliest tuned handbells date to 3,000 years ago in India. The modern handbell was developed by the Cor brothers in England around the year 1700. Its uniqueness is due to its clapper and its ability to create overtones. The clapper is on a hinge such that it only moves in a single direction back and forth, and it has a spring such that it no longer touches the casting after the strike. This allows for the full harmonic sound of the bell. The shaft of the clapper is rigid, which allows the person ringing the bell to hold it with its mouth facing upward, which contributes to the pristine sound. For English handbells, the overtone produces an effect that is an octave plus five above the fundamental note. Handbells can weigh as little as seven ounces and as much as 18 pounds.

All of this leads to a beautiful sound. It takes special training and a lot of practice for a handbell choir to make exceptional music. There are many techniques to give the bell different sound effects, as well as techniques to ring multiple bells. Give a listen to the 18 musicians in Bethel University’s Handbell Ensemble as they perform Carol of the Bells. The end result really is “AWESOME”.

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