July 25, 2024
Bobby Caldwell Erie pa

Bobby Caldwell Discusses the Art of English Handbells: Ringing in the Christmas Spirit

Bobby Caldwell of Erie, PA is a lover of the Christmas season, who turned his passion into a career, selling Christmas décor and playing the English handbells for local holiday concerts. In the following article, Bobby Caldwell discusses the art of playing English handbells, what makes them so unique, and why this sound has become a trademark for Yuletide cheer.

When the holidays are just around the corner, one of the many things that everyone anticipates is the symphony of joyous sounds filling the air.

Bobby Caldwell of Erie, PA says that Christmas songs, Caroler’s voices, and the gentle jingling of sleigh bells are sure to bring a sense of nostalgia and excitement.

But there’s one familiar holiday sound that truly embodies the Christmas spirit: the enchanting chimes of English handbells. Steeped in history and tradition, handbell ringing has played an integral role in Yuletide celebrations around the world.

In the US, numerous church and community handbell choirs continue the tradition of playing concerts in the weeks leading up to Christmas Day. They grace churches, gatherings, and town squares with their captivating performances.

Truly, the artistry of the bell is an age-old tradition that makes the season all the more magical.

Bobby Caldwell of Erie, PA discusses more on their historical significance in holiday celebrations, and the joy of making harmonious music through handbell ringing during the festive season.

Bobby Caldwell Explains the Bells and Their Legacy

Handbells were not meant to make music.

In the 17th century, bells were only found in church towers and were used for change ringing. Change ringing is an art that involves changing the order in which the bells ring.

Bobby Caldwell of Erie, PA says that over time, townspeople began to practice change ringing using small, wooden handbells they made so as to not disturb neighbors. In 1660, the Cor brothers from Wiltshire, England created the first tuned bronze handbell. Soon, handbell sets were created with the purpose of corresponding to bells in specific towers.

It wasn’t long before bell ringers knew of the musical potential of these handheld instruments. Features were added so that performers were able to play familiar melodies. By the mid-18th century, handbell ringing became popular in England and eventually made its way to America in the early 1900s.

Margaret Shurcliff, a resident of Boston, was a keen handbell ringer. She introduced the artistry and music of handbells to America using the 8 sets of bells that the Whitechapel Bell Foundry awarded her. Soon after, she introduced the Beacon Hill Ringers, a well-known group of bell ringers known for their annual Christmas Caroling on Beacon Hill.

Bobby Caldwell of Erie, PA reports that today, during the holidays, the tradition lives on through many other groups across the country – a testament to the enduring magic of English handbells.

Bobby Caldwell Erie pa

Ringing in Harmony: The Art

Bell ringing is a musical art form that involves making melodies using a set of tuned bells. Each bell represents a specific note, and when played together creates beautiful harmonious rhythms.

Bobby Caldwell of Erie, PA says that though mostly performed by groups, handbell ringing requires teamwork and precision to get the melodies on point. The overall effect is enchanting – it’s like the entire ensemble operates as one instrument!

Methods and Techniques

There are numerous ways the instruments are played, and various techniques are used. Some of the most common are the following:

  • Off-Shoulder: The ringer holds the bell to their shoulder and rings it by moving it away from their shoulder.
  • Off-Table: The player rings the bell as they lift it off the table.
  • Four in Hand: Bobby Caldwell of Erie, PA explains that the ringer holds 2 bells in each hand at different angles for the clapper to move at right angles to each other, meaning that if the hand moved in one direction, one of the bells will ring, and moving the hand in the opposite direction will make the other one ring.
  • With Mallets: Another way to play a handbell is to strike it with a mallet, either by holding it in the air or positioning it on a table.
  • Damping: The technique called damping is used to produce various sounds and observe note values. It uses different methods, the most common of which is holding the bell against a table or a soft surface immediately after ringing.
  • Plucking: Plucking involves the use of fingers to move the clapper to make it strike the bell, as opposed to ringing it through the handle.

Bobby Caldwell of Erie, PA explains that the legacy of English handbells continues to thrive to this day. From its humble beginnings in the charming villages of England to the bustling cities of America, hearing its enchanting chimes reminds us all that the true essence of Christmas lies not only in the spirit of sharing but also in the music that unites everyone.