Carols at the Roundhouse in Alton

We had a good time at the Carols at the Roundhouse in Alton on Friday 15th December. There were quite a few people there enjoying Christmas carols and the nativity scene in the village Roundhouse. The Handbell Ringers then rang some Christmas carols and songs while folk gathered round with mulled wine and soup and warmed themselves by the brazier. Lynne, Peter and Sonja clearly enjoyed themselves too!

Text and Photos by Alan Walters

“What the Dickens?” Christmas carols on bells in the Sculpture Gallery at Chatsworth House, Thursday 7th and Friday 8th December.

“Great Expectations” was the setting for our carol concert this year.  A ghostly Miss Havisham glided into the Gallery from her cobweb covered, yet magnificent, dining room as we arrived….. 

Thursday afternoon:

We set off in plenty of time to reach Chatsworth and set up our bells ready to ring at 5:30pm. It always takes longer than we think to check in and be shown into the Sculpture Gallery where we play. This year we were led in through the house itself and so got a glimpse of the wonderful decorations and trees on display and actors dressed in Dickensian costume. What a magical sight!

Tonight we have a team of 8 ringers plus Wendy, our conductor, enabling us to change in and out as only 6 of us play at any one time. It is quite tiring playing for 2 hours and standing for that length of time. It is always chilly at Chatsworth and those of us who have been before know to go prepared with plenty of layers and warm drinks.

We set up our stands and music, picked up our bells and had a run through of a couple of carols before people started to filter through from the guided tour of the house. Initially only one or two people came through but then larger groups appeared; some just walked through, others stopped to listen, some for more than one tune. We had some gentle applause and many favourable comments as to how nice the bells sound. We rang a selection of carols and Christmas music and finished ringing at 8pm.

Friday afternoon:

We woke up to snow this morning and wondered what the weather would be like up in the Peak Park; set off mid afternoon for Chatsworth not knowing what sort of journey we would face. We had not had any further snowfall but the higher parts of the route still had compacted snow on the roads, which made driving hazardous in places. However, once we reached the A6 the rest of the route to Chatsworth was clear.

We set up our bells as on the previous night but tonight we are a team of 6 plus Wendy, meaning we are all ringing all of the time. Wendy rings bells occasionally to give each of us a break but this means we then have no conductor.

Good ringing again tonight and many appreciative comments once again. Some young children helped us out by ringing our sleigh bells along with us for ‘Jingle Bells’ and they really enjoyed that, so much so that one family came back for another go.

We closed the evening again at about 8pm and made our way home, this time using the main roads, as by this time it was freezing, and although this took a bit longer at least we all arrived home safely.

All in all a very enjoyable couple of evenings in the run up to Christmas.

Josie 9.12.17

Photos by Alan Walters

£1,446 raised for the Donna Louise Trust

Ring and Swing 2.12.17

A magical evening with Alton Handbell Ringers and the Denstone College Swing Band, joining together in a charity concert for the Donna Louise Trust, packed Alton Village Hall to capacity on Saturday 2nd December 2017.

Wendy: "What a fantastic evening. The hall was filled with chatter and people enjoying themselves and such a lovely atmosphere. The band were terrific and we thank them for joining us at what is a very busy time for them all. We raised £1,446 for the Donna Louise Children's Hospice."

Jean: “The Village Hall filled with people. They came in their droves. Every nook and cranny and every chair was taken. It was incredible! There was chatter and excitement. It grew louder and heralded the start of an evening to remember.

The lights in the hall were dimmed; only the stage lights shone out over the waiting Denstone Swing Band performers, quiet and still, gathering their calmness and composure. No sign of the handbell Ringers. Where were they? 

There was a hushed silence from everyone in the audience, full of expectancy.

In the foyer, nerves were subdued; we were ready to perform! 

Wendy raised her wand, we raised our bells and the MAGIC began! As they rang out we gradually processed through the hall, weaving round the tables until we reached our places in front of the stage, our rhythm gathering momentum to lead us in to the beginning of our first piece, ‘Di Tanjong Katong’.

Rapturous applause inspired us as we went on to play ‘Over the Rainbow’ and then ‘Thaxted’, my favourite piece. I felt quite relaxed and completely enthralled by the intricacies and variety of our bell ringing techniques in this arrangement of “I vow to thee my country”. ‘Polaris’ and ‘Three for the Road’ completed our first set.  

We were followed by the Denstone Swing Band kicking in, full of life and vibrancy! The young players were incredible, so positive and confident playing their variety of instruments.

After a feast of pie, peas and puddings, the Denstone Swing Band opened the second half, and gave us another immensely enjoyable set of tunes, culminating by raising the roof with ‘Tequila!’. 

Now in our red and gold Christmas scarves and red bow ties, we raised our bells again. We burst into laughter as Wendy slowly revealed a large printed smiley face. Feeling lighthearted, we launched into ‘Frosty the Snowman’ and a selection of Christmas tunes, ending with ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’ as a grand choral finale for the audience to join in, which they did lustily.

Our Christmas concert was an outstanding success! Everyone was uplifted, happy and smiling to the very end!

I feel very proud and privileged to be part of our Alton Handbell team and it is lovely to think of us making a difference to children’s lives by supporting our chosen charity each Christmas.”

Peter: “What a wonderful evening.  Not only was the occasion a wonderful opportunity for dedicated performers to delight a very appreciative audience with two contrasting types of entertainment, but it was also extremely noticeable that the whole event was very much a social occasion, when friends old and new get together. A good time was had by all, with the added bonus of raising a lot of money for The Donna Louise Children's Hospice.”

Wendy: “Paul Denning, our compère, did a great job, guiding us, filling in and keeping us in order throughout the evening with humour, wit and pleasantries.”

Judith: “The audience made it all worthwhile; who would have thought that playing with a Swing Band would be such an amazing experience!”

Photo by Alan Walters


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


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