Handbells have been traced as far back as the 5th Century B.C. in China. The oldest existing bells with handles are found in China dated from 1600 B.C., although bells of various kinds and shapes have been found all over the world.
Handbells as they are known in Europe and the United States are descendants from the tower bells in England. Around the 16th Century, the art of tower bell ringing was becoming established in England. A set of five to twelve bells was rung in a numerical sequence as opposed to a melodic pattern. This was called “change ringing”. It took hours of practice of pulling on the ropes that caused the bells to ring in different orders creating the intricate patterns of melody. This much ringing of the tower bells was disturbing to the surrounding villagers, so small bells or handbells were developed so the ringers could practice indoors out of the cold bell towers and therefore, also not disturbing the neighbors!
Eventually, this type of bell ringing became an art in itself. As the art became more and more sophisticated in the 18th Century, larger sets of handbells were cast. “Tune ringing” (ringing melodies and simple harmonies set to music for festive occasions such as Christmas) peaked around the middle of the 19th Century. By the 20th Century, the popularity of tune ringing began to wane.
Then at the end of World War II, tune ringing began to resurface. English handbells are thought to have been introduced to America by the Peake Family Ringers in the 1830’s and in 1840 by P.T. Barnum, famed circus entrepreneur.
The English handbells come in various sizes, the smaller ones having the higher pitch tones and the larger bells having the lower bass tones. The bass bell also has a longer drawn-out tone. The bells are made of bronze (copper and tin), cast and pitched in a factory so that heat and cold will not affect the tone. The handles were once made of hard leather but now are made of vinyl. The clappers will only move up and down and have special springs to prevent the clapper from resting on the bell. Each bell is marked with the musical note on its handle.
Rehearsals are very important as few “ringers” own their own bells. The group practice is the only “ringing” time they have. The ensemble members divide the bells for ringing. It is very important each person (or their substitute) attend practices and presentations since if a person is not there, an important tonal section would be missing.
WESLEY RINGERS HANDBELL ENSEMBLE
Our Wesley Ringers Handbell ensemble was established in 2013 as a result of a generous memorial gift by Jerry Johnson in memory of his late wife, Jane H. Johnson. The original purchase consisted of a 37 (3-octave) set of handbells, travel cases, tables, table cushions, mallets, and books. The inscription inside the handle reads: “In glory to God and in loving memory of Jane H. Johnson. The handbells were dedicated Sunday, January 27, 2013. Karen Wyld became the founding director.
We believe the purpose of the Wesley Ringers handbell ensemble is to praise God through music, provide musical support to other music ministry ensembles, provide Christian fellowship, and support one another in a small group setting. The Wesley Ringers is an opportunity especially suited to those who enjoy praise and expression through music.
We believe the ensemble is one of Christian fellowship, supporting each other spiritually, emotionally, and physically. As part of the body of Christ, we are committed to faithfully serve others whenever we are called.
We extend an open invitation to teens and adults to join in the fun of “ringing the bells” unto the Lord. Whether you read music or not, or whether you have played handbells or not, you will be given instruction. The ensemble participates several times a year during worship services and rehearsals are held Monday evenings from 7:00 – 8:30 PM in the Music Suite.
We welcome all who will commit to rehearse weekly, be eager to learn, and willing to share their talents to glorify God in worship and at special events.
Contact Karen Wyld, director, at 843.707.7454 or email at email@example.com
Ella W. Davis
Director of Music