Lafayette's handbell choir, Kingdom Ringers, meets weekly throughout the school year and generally takes a break from organized rehearsals during the summer. Ringing pieces that require 6 to 11 ringers, Kingdom Ringers ministers periodically throughout the year - accompanying hymns, opening worship, and/or playing "voluntaries" (special instrumental anthems) during regular and special worship services.
Kingdom Ringers members also have the option of learning to ring as a soloist or in a small ensemble, such as a duet, trio, or quartet. These ringers self-coach with input from the Director of Music and play for worship when they feel ready.
Some members of the Kingdom Ringers take advantage of the handbell classes/ensembles held annually at the Montreat Conference Center in Montreat, NC. The Presbyterian Association of Musicians (PAM) sponsors an annual Worship and Music conference in late June - Week 1 and Week 2 (a repeat of Week 1). Handbell classes are offered at three levels: Beginning (learning how to ring handbells and read music), Intermediate (have ringing experience; ready for a reasonable challenge), and Advanced (very experienced, can "weave" and/or ring 4-in-hand fluidly).
Lafayette's bells were crafted by the Malmark Bellcraftsmen, a premier handbell company located in Plumsteadville, PA. Kingdom Ringers members traditionally ring 3 octaves, which is about half of all the Malmark bells you see in the banner above. The black and white handles correspond to the keys of the piano.
Can YOU Learn to Ring?
In a word, YES!! It speeds the learning process if you already read music, but it's not required - you can learn as you go. Beginners generally work with just 2 bells, and then gradually add a 3rd and 4th bell as you're ready. Come learn to ring and gradually add techniques: tolling, thumb-damping, plucking, using mallets, echoing, and playing martellato. "Singing bells" are fun, too, and add a magical "special effect" for the congregation to hear.
Unlike the piano, on which one person plays all the notes required for a piece, a handbell ensemble works as one, multi-bell instrument with several players playing just a few notes each. Handbell ringers learn quickly to time their notes to fit into "the big picture."
How Did Handbell Ensembles Begin?
Picture olde England ... and a lovely village with a church just down the street. In its bell tower are several bells, and several ringers are required to play them in increasingly complex patterns, a technique called "change-ringing." It's rehearsal night and ... Oops! ... one of the ringers made a mistake!
The entire town could hear every rehearsal, and new or inattentive ringers sometimes turned listening into a less-than-desirable experience for the rest of the villagers. So ... as the story goes, smaller versions of the bells--"hand" bells--were made so ringers could rehearse together without the entire town hearing their every effort ... and error!
What a boon for the rest of us so many years later! Amateur and professional handbell ensembles and soloists can be found in churches, schools, and communities all over Florida, the US, and elsewhere!