On a warm Saturday evening in October we made our way to Werrington, where we had been invited to ring at a concert in St Philip's Church together with the Cheadle U3A ‘Not Strictly Barbershop’ singers. These are friends of ours, having shared many concerts together. Sarah Williams, their Musical Director, is also a member of Alton Handbell Ringers, so she had a very busy evening!
We arrived early, as it takes quite a while to unload the car and set everything in place. Alan's car was laden down with tables, sponge cushions, cloths, bells, chimes, music stands and the many smaller items all needed for a successful performance. You catch the organisers of the event watching in amazement as all these items are carried in.
When everything was in place, and before the audience had arrived, we managed to run through several pieces, which helps to settle our nerves.
A goodly crowd arrived and after the Vicar had welcomed everyone, handbells got the Concert to a rousing start with our first piece, ‘Celebration’. This was followed by ‘Like a River Glorious’, ‘Prelude on Thaxted’, ‘You Raise Me Up’ and closing with a fun piece 'I've Got the Joy’, in which the bells are struck with mallets. We do tend to gather speed in this piece and tonight was no exception, Wendy struggling to keep up with us!! The audience showed their appreciation with loud applause, which is always a confidence booster.
Not Strictly Barbershop followed and soon got everyone's feet tapping. During one song they were accompanied by bells ringing - someone's mobile phone! The culprit was one of the performers, which caused great hilarity and one red faced, embarrassed singer. A welcome break followed affording us time to help ourselves to a drink and a slice, or two, of homemade cake.
Two teddy bears were in attendance. Not Strictly Barbershop's teddy accompanies them to all concerts, smartly dressed in matching uniform. At the moment we have been entrusted to care for the West Midlands Region of the Handbell Ringers of Great Britain's (HRGB) teddy bear who is travelling around the country in celebration this year of 50 years since the forming of the HRGB.
Alton Handbell Ringers celebrated 25 years in 2016 and, to mark the event, we decided to make a CD: ‘Bellissima’. This was done in conjunction with The Inn Ringers, who are based in Stone. We are very proud of our achievement and Wendy was able to announce that the CDs were on sale during the interval. In fact we sold 11 copies. I don't know whether that was due to Jean's persuasive selling technique but I am sure that whoever bought one will not be disappointed.
The second half got under way with the Singers putting everyone in the mood with Pink Panthers, "do, d, do, d" ing with pink gloves waving for their first song, the audience enjoying the golden oldies that we all remember. We started our second half with ‘Meditation on Blaenwern’, which is also the tune to the hymn ‘Love Divine All Loves Excelling’. A very pretty tune which always gets a good reception. This was followed by ‘Finlandia’ and then it was the debut of our next piece, ‘Polaris and the Northern Lights’. This is an interpretation of the night sky with the beauty and majesty of the North Star and also the swirling and shifting soundscape of the Northern Lights. Eventually the tranquil beauty of Polaris meets with the whirling of the Lights and the piece ends peacefully. This is a difficult piece and unlike anything we have played before but which we have grown to love. A great deal of counting and concentration is needed!
‘Blessed Assurance’ (with ‘Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring’) followed and we closed the Concert with a universal favourite,’ Over the Rainbow’, with the audience joining in the second verse. This brought the proceeding to an end and the Vicar thanked and congratulated us on our performances, the audience again giving the artists rapturous applause. We had many complimentary comments, especially from people saying that they hadn't realised what a variety of ways there are to ring a handbell, thus making the ringing more entertaining.
We were very pleased with our performance especially Polaris, which had taken us a while to master. This is due to Wendy's gentle encouragement allowing us to have faith in ourselves to tackle more challenging pieces.
The evening was tinged with sadness as Sarah is retiring as the leader of the choir. We shall miss our joint concerts but fortunately she is still ringing the bells. We wish her and Steve safe journeys and happy travelling.
Sue Robins 20.10.17
Photo by Alan Walters