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What the heck are Handbells???

The C.L. Hoover Opera House has had the Raleigh Ringers, Rezound! Handbell Ensemble, and now they are hosting Forte Handbell Quartet. These acts travel around the country playing handbells, which are pretty popular. But as someone who knows nothing about handbells, I decided to research and figure out precisely what they are.

The only exposure I’ve had to handbells is an episode of New Girl where Jess teaches kids to play the handbells instead of having them attend detention. Then she discovers her roommate is amazingly talented at playing them.

Bells, like the one in our clock tower, have been around for thousands of years, but handbells were developed in the 17th century in England. Church towers in small towns changed from ringing bells to small wooden handbells to avoid disturbing the city during practices. In 1660 the Cor brothers created the first bronze handbell. Handbell sets were made to correspond with bells in specific towers.

Ringers soon saw the handbells’ musical potential; by the mid-18th century, every village had a band of bell ringers. You could say we wouldn’t have the big brass bands, Jazz, or even rock and roll without handbells! Perhaps one of the most famous of those early bands of bell ringers would be Crosland moor United out of Worcestershire, England.

Handbells were first introduced to the United States in 1845 with a touring handbell group arranged by the Greatest Showman himself, P.T. Barnum. Still, it would be another 100 years before handbells became popular in the US, and now there are ringers all across the US.

Did You Know?

  • Handbell players wear gloves because their hand oils tarnish the bells. This, in turn, is the traditional end of the season ‘Handbell Polishing Party.’

  • Most handbell players play one bell with each hand. Depending on the size of the ensemble and the complexity of the piece, they may play four in hand or even six in hand.

  • Most handbell pieces are four minutes or less, predominately used in religious settings. But they aren’t always!

  • The smaller the handbell, the higher the sound. The bells range from two inches to more than 15 inches in diameter. Some of the larger bells can weigh more than 15 pounds. For example, a C8 may weigh 8 ounces, while a G2 can weigh over 18 pounds.

  • Junction City has its own handbell ringers (People who play the handbells are known as ‘ringers,’ not ding-a-lings). The Glory Ringers Bell Ensemble are members of First Presbyterian Church, led by our Development Director, Sheila Markley!

Now you know a little bit more about handbells. As they say, learn something new every day!

-Brittany Lamb

C.L. Hoover Opera House Marketing Director


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