Try your hand on a bell
If you are looking to expand your musical horizons, add an interesting experience to your life resume or just hoping to sneak in one more family fun activity before the end of summer, tomorrow’s free Handbell Boot Camp is the perfect opportunity.
“This will be a fun, energy driven session,” said Marilee Anderson, director of music at First Lutheran Church and artistic director of the auditioned hand bell group The Bells of the Bluffs.
Sponsored by Bells of the Bluffs and First Lutheran Church in Red Wing, the first of two boot camps takes place from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday Aug. 14 at First Lutheran.
Upper elementary students through adults are invited to participate in the Thursday’s event.
This first boot camp is catered to beginners — those who have never picked up a handbell before or even read music. It is also a requisite, so to speak, for the second boot camp, which will take place 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday Aug. 21.
The second boot camp is set up for middle school students through adults who have interest and some experience in handbell playing and musical note reading from the first boot camp or prior experience.
“Once you fall in love with handbells, it’s addicting,” Anderson said.
She describes the first boot camp as “basic training in how to ring handbells — learn how to ring and how to stop the sound, learn proper ringing style, take a look at how the music looks on the printed page and how to ring your notes at the right time.”
She said the church has English handbells, which means the “clapper,” the part that swings against the bell to create the musical chime, only swings back and forth as opposed to a dinner bell, which is swung 360 degrees to create the ringing.
This creates the need for certain playing techniques and timing, which will be taught and sharpened during the boot camps.
The second boot camp will dive into the “pesky handbell markings” on the music, how to play them and how to make them sound good.
“All these make the music more interesting to hear and to play,” Anderson described.
She said that by definition, a “boot camp” is a short, intense session to learn something, which is exactly what participants have to look forward to Aug. 14 and 21.
The church is located at 615 W. Fifth St. and registration is required through email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 651-388-9311 ext. 19.
Bells of the Bluffs
The timing for an auditioned handbell group fell into place a year ago for Anderson and several members of the community who “stepped forward” to create the choir.
“It’s a team effort,” Anderson said in regard to handbell choirs, “everyone has a position and a responsibility.”
According to Anderson, each player is responsible for “essentially two bells and the ‘accidentals,’” (the sharps or flats that may appear in the piece).
Anderson, who has been the director of music for First Lutheran for almost five years, played in an auditioned group Bells of the Lakes before her move to Red Wing.
“It was lots of fun — a good chance to go outside the normal church bell choir and participate in a semi-professional bell choir,” she said.
About two years ago, Anderson was looking to bring the same experience to the Red Wing area but “the timing wasn’t right.”
Now, after a year of existence, Bells of the Bluffs members say they are looking forward to another season of performances together.
“It is a faith-based group with a community feel,” Anderson said. “We are sponsored by the church but open to the community.”
They are also looking to grow, having held auditions for three openings and seeking sponsors and donations for the fourth and fifth octave sets of bells.
Anderson said that the bells are made of 80 percent copper and 20 percent tin; there are only two manufacturers of handbells in the United States, Schulmerich and Malmark, which are both located in Pennsylvania.
Because the bells are made only when purchased, “It takes at least five weeks to get an order,” Anderson said.
She also said that a set can cost $5,100 and they require cleaning after practices and performances to avoid tarnishing.
First Lutheran’s set was refurbished recently, which Anderson said is like having a new set to play.
The Bells of the Bluffs comprised players from three different Red Wing churches and surrounding areas, including Hastings, Minnesota, and Prescott, Wisconsin; the player profiles can be seen on the website www.bellsofthebluffs.org.
Performances this season will include a Christmas concert at the Anderson Center, which will feature music with the Red Wing Singers; a Valentine’s Day concert with plans for a silent auction fundraiser; and two spring concerts with the venues to be determined.