Christchurch Church Hall, Tean, Staffs, 10 July 2017

A Monday afternoon earlier in the year. Door bell rings. (no pun intended) Outside is a smiling Lynne clutching a small notelet. The notelet explains that AHR would like to recruit new members and Lynne wondered if I might be interested. I was and so the following Wednesday I attended my first practice session. 

I was immediately warmly welcomed by the group and made to feel at home. The next weeks were to be a very different learning exercise in producing music. This was certainly very different from my usual music lessons and playing with a band.

The music has no notes, in my case only numbers. There are no staves, no time signature, no key signature, no crochets, quavers, minims and all the other odd sounding notes that one might find on a traditional sheet of music.

The handbell ringers have their own method of indicating the note to be played, how long the ring should last and, as I was to find out in later days, what else one should do with the bell to produce different sounds. 

One of the first lessons involved keeping the bell upright having rung it. I was told by Sue to imagine the bell filled with milk and not to spill any. To be honest I couldn't have cared less if I spilled any milk but as soon as I imagined the bell to be filled with 'Speckled Hen' this concentrated the mind and technique much better.

Concentration levels are at their highest when playing, keeping track where one is on the music and counting the beats for each bar.

Anyway, the weeks have gone by and, after considerable encouragement and help from Wendy and support from Alan and Dave who stand either side of me, I was considered good enough to join in some numbers for a concert.

So here we are at Tean Church hall to entertain Tean and Checkley Senior Citizens. A pleasant summer evening and lots of  friendly faces arriving and taking their seats whilst we set up our tables. Ladies were already in the kitchen preparing for the cup of tea at the end of the show, always a good sign! 

After a very short meeting we were then welcomed and thanked for coming to entertain and so the show began.

'Celebration,' our first number, was received with a good round of applause and, above all, lots of smiling faces from the gathered audience showed that they had really enjoyed the piece.

As I was not playing for every number I was able to watch the audience’s reaction to different tunes.

'Thaxted' produced lots of interest at the start of the piece because of the 'Singing Bells.’  (see I have learned some terminology)

The use of Mallets at the start of  'I've Got the Joy' was much appreciated by a group of ladies who smiled and tapped their feet throughout.

'Polaris and the Northern Lights' was very well received and after the show several commented that they were surprised how quietly the bells could be rung and that they had arrived expecting the bells to always be loud.

At the announcement of 'You Raise Me Up' a murmur of appreciation went round the hall and several were humming along with the tune.

'Blessed Assurance' showed another involvement with the audience as it was particularly noticeable that many were nodding their head in time to the tune which illustrates how music affects those listening.

Audience participation was the call of the day for our final two numbers 'Over the Rainbow' and  'You are my Sunshine' when, with the help of a song sheet, the audience became one of us by being our choir.

We were thanked enthusiastically for our very enjoyable and varied programme and we all took a bow.

During tea and biscuits at the end there was a lot of interest shown and questions asked by many of  the audience about the music and bells and chimes.

Peter Walker 10.7.17

Photo by Alan Walters