Yesterday I participated, with my church handbell choir, in a "mass ring" handbell festival. This is when a large number of choirs prepare a set of pre-selected pieces and then come together for a day. The conductor for the day is often a well known handbell aficionado (composer/conductor/performer/etc) and rehearses the "mass choir" (all choirs playing at the same time) and then often a concert is given in the evening. The concert can include "solo" numbers by individual choirs, true solo ringing, and small ensembles to lengthen the concert and give the "masses" a little rest.
I am part of the Faith Bells from Faith United Methodist Church, Bellefonte PA. This is their 3rd year performing as part of the festival but only my 2nd year. The festival is the Nittany Valley Handbell Festival and State College High School graciously allows us to use their gym for the event. Yesterday there were 22 choirs! That's approximately 230 people (very likely more) all ringing the same music at the same time. Admittedly the acoustics of a high school gym + 22 handbell choirs are not always ideal. Last year this really bothered me but this year I adjusted my expectations going in (the point of this event is not to produce the most perfect, record-quality concert ever) and really enjoyed myself.
Nancy Hascall, the very talented composer/performer, was our leader for the day. Ms. Hascall did a nice job leading such a large group. Her rehearsal techniques were also quite effective and I took notes on her analogies and technique suggestions to use with the choir for beginners that I lead. My only complaint is that she would often raise her hands to start conducting, we would raise our bells, and then she would remember 3 other things she needed to tell us. Perhaps I am sensitive to this because it's something I'm trying to eliminate from my own conducting, but particularly when I'm lifting very heavy bells (G3-B3), I'd rather not lift them before it's necessary!
As a choir we have been working for months to prepare the 7 tunes chosen by Ms. Hascall (program available: NVHF):
- Celebration, Fred Gramann
- Blessed Assurance, arr. Cynthia Dobrinski
- Deep River, arr. Hart Morris
- All Creatures of Our God and King, arr. Sandra Eithun
- Nocturne in C Minor, Nancy Hascall
- Carillon, Dean Wagner
- Joy and Elation, Cynthia Dobrinski
We were also give the opportunity to perform a "solo choir" tune. So at one point in the concert all the other choirs sat down and Faith Bells stayed standing to play All Nature Sings by Brian Childers.
I enjoyed the music yesterday very much. The repertoire had variety of style and difficulty level. This is one of the things I most appreciate about this festival experience. Although we go as a choir and it should be a fun team-building event for the choir, I actually feel more independent at the festival than I do in my home church. I want to work with and make music with my choir, of course, but it's more important how I make music with the room as a whole. If my choir cannot quite play something up to speed, it's ok for me to follow the conductor (*gasp*) and play "with" the other choirs in the room at the designated speed. I think this event is a great opportunity for me to push myself and challenge myself instead of focusing solely on how I can blend in with and be musical with the people in my choir alone. Granted, pushing myself caused me to wake up this morning with very sore forearms and many red welts (but not blisters!) on my hands. I'm so glad I stretched as much as I did yesterday and drank lots of water (and took some preventative ibuprofen...) because today could be so much worse.
Yesterday was a great "battery charge" for the handbell side of my musical personality and it has me thinking about what solo ringing and other projects I would like to take on this summer. I'm also going to investigate becoming a member of AGEHR (or is it HMA now...?) or other handbell organizations that might help me stay better educated and better plugged in. Yay bells!