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An Enjoyable Concert in Werrington

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

Litte Handbells Bear meets Big Choir Bear

Little Handbells Bear, a visitor from Handbell Ringers of Great Britain, West Midlands Region, met Not Strictly Barbershop Bear at a joint concert in St Philip’s Church, Werrington on Saturday. Little Bear was with us to celebrate HRGB’s 50th Anniversary. A great time was had by both bears, who tucked into delicious cakes in the interval and enjoyed the beautiful music.

 

Photo by Alan Walters

'Bellissima!' Launch of our first CD

We are really excited to launch our first CD with our friends, The Inn Ringers!  A lot of work from a lot of people has gone into producing it and we are very pleased with the result.  We have already sold some; they are available now from any member of the AHR team, priced £5, and will be on sale at our forthcoming concerts in Werrington Church (14th October) and at our Christmas Concert in Alton Village Hall, 2nd December.  

If you are interested in buying one please use our contact page and we will get back to you.
 

Photo by Alan Walters

 

TRACKS:

The Inn Ringers
1. RAF March Past
2. A Lover's Concerto
3. Calling All Workers
4. Scarborough Fair
5. Theme from "Margret"
6. Chariots of Fire 
7. Delilah
8. It's Toon Time

Alton Handbell Ringers
9. Celebration 
10. Meditation on "Blaenwern" (Love Divine All Loves Excelling)
11. You Raise Me Up
12. Like a River Glorious 
13. Blessed Assurance (with Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring)
14. Finlandia
15. Prelude on Thaxted ( I Vow to Thee My Country)
16. Over the Rainbow

 

The 11th National Residential Ringing Week Concert

Friday 4 August, The Edge, Sheffield University.

Wendy Walters, AHR Musical Director, flanked by Elizabeth Treweeks and Ruth Cantlay.

Photo by Alan Walters

The conductors for this handbell concert included the main man of the Singapore music scene, Damien Lim, the advanced American conductor, Michael Glasgow and maestro, Helen Secker, from this country.

The team of Ringers, including Wendy Walters, our Musical Director, had spent the week at Sheffield University learning to play a new set of handbell music which culminated in a grand public performance on Friday night. 

We, a group of five members of our Alton Handbell Ringers team, had the honour of attending the concert last Friday night and were impressed and held spellbound by the performance.

The array of bells laid out before us when we took our seats was amazing, ranging from tiny bells to huge bells, some of which were too heavy to pick up and ring and so had to be malletted on the table. There were also chimes, boomwhackers and percussion instruments.

A section of the chimes were so big they had to be mounted on a stand and were rung wth mallets.

The opening music was 'Polaris and the Northern Lights'. This piece was commissioned for the 50th anniversary of the Handbell Ringers of Great Britain (HRGB) and was composed by Brendon Bevan from Toronto.  Our Alton Handbell team has added this item to our repertoire.

It began as a quiet, haunting, ethereal sound which built up and crescendoed into loud, moving, sustained notes, which faded away at the end. It was very moving.

A Beatles number was next, 'Here Comes the Sun'.  We heard beautiful runs from the high bells, a rhythmic mix of mallets and damping of the larger bells, with chimes giving another dimension and elevation to the whole sound.

'Resound', composed by Karen Thompson, was an apt title as the bells were ringing out in rounds and peals, following on from one another in circles of resonating sound. There was also amazing use of ring touches on the table from the big bells.

The theme tune from 'Sesame Street' was next, where some of the ringers played Boom whackers: coloured tubes, which they could bang on anything handy to produce a musical sound!  The Ringers were brimming with joy in this one and were engaged and happy.  It was bright and jolly with a drum rhythm and chimes lifting the tone.

'Recollection', composed by Tim Woore, was a mindful piece of music, calming and thoughtful, transporting the audience to higher realms of fantasy and peace; a chance to switch off from reality.

The final piece of the evening was Elgar's 'Pomp and Circumstance', a stirring and upbeat rendition, very regal with lots of trills; some bells were played 4 in hand. The plucking technique on the big bells was very effective. 

I found the whole evening very magical and enjoyable; well done to the whole team of Ringers!

Jean 4.8.17

Checkley (Staffs) Church Bell Extravaganza 22nd July 2017

The 22nd July 2017 has been in my diary for several months. The Alton Hand Bell Ringers, of which I am a member, had been invited to take part in this significant local event.

However, for the people of Checkley this occasion was something they had looked forward to for many years.  The bells of Checkley Church fell silent decades ago after the bell tower was deemed to be structurally unsafe.  As an ex tower bell ringer myself, I can remember ringing in several church towers where you could feel the building move due to the inertia of several tons of bells swinging around.  It is remarkable how many old bell towers have survived as well as they have when you think about the mechanics of tower bell ringing.  The original oak bell frame at Checkley is thought to date back to 1575.  So, silence befell the church tower at Checkley and this was a great loss to the local community.

There had been talk of restoring the bells for many years and it was Clive Smith, the late husband of the current vicar of Checkley, the Reverend Irene Smith, who was the driving force behind this project.   Sadly, Clive passed away in 2016.   The total cost of restoration would be in the order of £100,000.  Undeterred by the scale of the necessary fund raising required, the people of Checkley, together with the support of local businesses, began their fundraising activities and phase 1 of the restoration project was completed in 2005 to strengthen the tower of the Grade 1 listed medieval Church of St Mary and All Saints.  The second phase of the project was to build a new steel frame in the clock tower to rehouse the six original Rudhall bells which were cast in 1762.  The bells had to be removed for the first time in 255 years, and they were restored and retuned by the Whitechapel Foundry in London, which is where our hand bells were made. Upon their return to Checkley, they then had to be installed in their new frame.  This work was completed in 2016.

So, the 22nd July was a celebration of the completion of this work.  There were all sorts of family activities in addition to tower bell ringing and even a mobile Belfry located on the Community Centre car park, enabling anyone to try their hand in the art of bell ringing.  Closed circuit TV cameras have been installed in the bell tower to give people in the church live footage of the bells being rung.  This is a great idea as most people have no idea what this looks like.  For the weekend celebrations, a temporary awning had been erected leading from the church to the pub next door which I thought was a nice touch!

The Alton Hand bell ringers’ performance had been billed as a Hand Bell Ringing ‘demonstration’ and we were not sure quite what this meant.  Would people be passing through as we rang?  Would they be talking?  Would there be much interest?  Well, we had a very attentive audience and our pieces were well received.  In fact I cannot remember another event where we had so much interest after we had finished ringing, with several people wanting to ‘have a go’.  So much so, that we played Aura Lee together with members of the audience which was great fun especially for the children, who found it easier to play the chimes and so played them along with the hand bells.  Any new recruits Wendy?

Dave Jones 

23.07.2017

Photo by Alan Walters

Find out more at http://www.checkleystaffs.co.uk/bellrestoration/index.html

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