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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

 

Checkley, Staffordshire, Bell Extravaganza and Fun Day, Saturday 22 July

Alton Handbell Ringers' 12 bell team will be ringing tunes from 12-12.30pm in the Church.  The Fun Day runs from 11am until 4.30pm.  There will be a demonstration of Tower Bell ringing before and after the Handbell ringing.

The Mobile Bell Frame will be in the Community Centre car park between 11.30am and 4.30pm.  Afternoon tea will be served in the Community Centre from 2pm.

 

Leek Arts Forum Celebration Evening 29.6.17

Tumultuous applause and whistles!  Well, this was the first time ever! 

At the annual celebration evening in Leek, we rang a selection of 12 bell tunes to a very appreciative audience.

Ours was just one of the many performances by talented musicians, actors, humorists and poets who came together from Biddulph, Cheadle, Alton and Leek to share the range of performance arts that are alive and well in the Staffordshire Moorlands. 

The Alton Handbell Ringers (AHR) are very fortunate to be supported by Cheadle Arts Forum which is a branch of Staffordshire Moorlands District Arts Forum.

Art Development Grants are available for members of the arts forums and over the last few years we have benefited by receiving grants to help with the following projects.

1.Travelling expenses for the team to attend the Annual Rally of the Handbell RIngers of Great Britain in York where we rang and attended workshops.

2.Buying new music stands.

3.Setting up our own website.

4.Recording our own CD.

All of us in the AHR team are very appreciative of the support that encourages us to play and share our music in the Staffordshire Moorlands.

Wendy Walters, AHR Musical Director

 

A Different Sort of Sunday

Part One - Before

Where are we off to early tomorrow morning (Sunday) all dressed in our smart black outfits, with blue scarves for the women and bow ties for the men? To church? No. To work? No. To record our first CD? Yes!

By lunchtime 8 tracks should be safely captured. (We’ve been practising 9 to have a spare, in case….) Handbells, not their ringers of course, can be quirky at times, so best to be prepared.

Checklist for the morning: outfit (don’t forget the scarf), no jewellery because the bells zing off it, packed lunch, comfy shoes as we’ll be standing for 4 hours, bottles of water for me and the dog, who has to come, tho’ she doesn’t ring. Oh and don’t forget my special specs that focus exactly on the music. Leave home at 8.15 am, pick up Sarah and set off for the Summerbank Recording Studio in Tunstall, Stoke-on-Trent. 

We have to be there by 9 am, to finish recording by 1pm because then a plumber’s coming to repair a leak in the studio. Doesn’t sound propitious, but we’re used to ringing in tricky venues: crowded pubs, a church where the lights were so dim we couldn’t read our music, cold village halls, sitting on a stone wall in the rain for a well dressing, under canvas on a day so windy that the music flew off the stands.  A real recording studio should be a luxury!

It’s thanks to The Inn Ringers of Stone, Staffordshire, that we’re off on this new venture.  They it was who invited us to take part in this enterprise and share a CD with them. So very kind. Let’s just hope we can do them justice. 

One thing I’ve learnt from taking up handbell ringing: there’s never a dull moment!

 

Part Two - After

Well, this has been a great experience!  The venue, when we arrived, still slightly bleary eyed, didn’t look too inviting. Situated in the centre of Tunstall, one of the Potteries 5 Towns made famous by Arnold Bennett, it seemed unchanged since his day, until we went inside. 

The studio space itself was surprisingly bare, the technical stuff and the recording engineer all in a separate room. We somehow fitted our 5 tables into the space and laid out our equipment: 3 and a half octaves of bells and chimes, singing bell sticks and mallets, all carefully arrayed on blue velvet cushions and positioned around our transparent music stands. Quite a clutter really.

Paul, musical director of the Inn Ringers, kindly came along to see us settled in and helped to relieve the tension with jokes, for which he is well known. The recording engineer, also Paul and the very epitome of patience, critiqued each recording attempt with a skilled and professional ear, suggesting improvements and encouraging us to raise our game for yet another take.

So sensitive was the recording equipment that we were warned to be absolutely quiet before, during and after each piece: no shuffling, sneezing, coughing, clinking bells together, speaking, counting aloud, tapping feet. Breathing was just about the only permissible movement apart from playing the instruments.

Three and a half hours later we emerged into the sunshine, relieved, tired and exhilarated, and invaded the local Asda for a celebratory cup of coffee.

 

Sue Fraser 2.7.17

Photo by Alan Walters

 

A Walk on the Wild Side

A magical Moment

Iridescent colours rise and arc,

Floating lights, an ethereal wonder,

With luminous, ghostly dancers in the dark.

A colourful, shimmering waterfall of fire and light,

Swirling and whirling against the dark backdrop of the night

Rainbow ribbons intertwining, colours flowing and curving

With rippling waves of fluorescent light,

Dancing, dipping and rising, then finally fading out of sight.

Recently the Alton Handbells ringers team have set out to practise and perfect a new musical composition called “Polaris and the Northern Lights”.  It was written by Brendon Bevan who resides in Toronto and is studying music and musical composition at York University.  Apparently he first began playing handbells at the age of five at his home church.

When we first tried this new music we were not quite prepared for the impact it would have on us individually.  We were all very impressed by the powerful effect that emanated from the sound.

 What first seemed like a series of uncomplicated individual notes gradually blended together and became a surreal, heavenly sound which transported us into a space amongst the stars.

As we practised and perfected the piece we became involved and immersed in its beauty.  We could imagine looking up and witnessing the magic of the swirling lights spreading across the heavens, together with the star, Polaris, burning brightly in the night sky.

 

Jean Reilly 6.6.17

 

 

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