By Dean | August 8, 2008
Dean: Paul and I are sitting in the very back row of the bleachers. We are looking down over this very, very large room. In front of us we see the 850 ringers from the International Symposium, the entire Distinctly Teen participants, two grand pianos, a 20 person choir, the Orlando Concert Band, two conducting platforms and a whole bunch of people here to listen to this concert. The bleacher hold about 750 people and they are mostly full. Lots of room noise. Band members warming up. People talking and taking photos. The band is not tuning up.
Paul: As I sit here in anticipation of the final concert for the international Symposium, I am struck by the amount of people crammed into the rather large section of risers. It’s good to see so many people here to listen to this concert. Listening to bits and pieces of this concert throughout the week I am excited to hear all the songs in their entirety. It will be a truly once in a lifetime experience.
Dean: The concert begins with the usual announcements. The concert opens with selections performed by the Orlando Concert Band. They played three numbers. There are a number of people walking in during the performance. They should just wait until the piece has finished.
Paul: The concert begins with selections from the Orlando concert band. They are a very good concert band, but I am here to listen to handbells.
The Symposium Massed Choirs
Dean: Carmina Burana by Carl Orff/William Griffin Conducted by Deborah Rice (USA). Assisted by Jennifer Hughes and Michael Helman, Piano and the Orlando Concert Band. Debbie Rice takes the podium. The ringers rise and get ready to play. Bells up. From the opening chord I am struck with awe. They have really worked on their dynamics. When I listen to massed groups, there is always a little separation in the chords. With this group, that separation has been minimized. The addition of the Orlando Concert Band realy adds to this piece. Love the Gong. The second movement of the piece starts with flute and piano. The chimes are very haunting. There is this ominous sound behind the playing. Once again I am stunned by the control Debbie Rice has over her musicians. The third movement of the piece is back to the loud, in your face, sound, with the addition of the full band and the pianos. As I look out over the room, everyone is moving together. Its visually exciting to watch. What a powerful piece to do with a large group of handbell ringers.
Paul: Carl Orff’s seminal work begins the concert with Debbie Rice at the baton. It involves not only the handbells, but the concert band and 2 pianos as well. This is an incredible arrangement by William H. Griffin, no words can describe the raw power of 850+ ringers and a concert band all playing together. At first when I read they were going to play this I was a bit skeptical about how it would sound. Now there is no doubt that this is a handbell masterwork! It’s too bad that this is the one and only performance of this song. Word from the board is that this was a one-time performance and after the concert all the music must be turned in and destroyed.
Dean: The Bells in My Heart by Kazuko Okamoto Conducted by Toshikazu Yoshida (Japan). This is a great second piece. It is very different from the first. With very gentle moments and some fast and furious moments. The director has one of the largest batons I have ever seen. His control is also amazing. The ringers respond to his movements like he has been their director for years. What a wonderful piece. This is the fourth time I have heard a piece from this composer and I have to say that I am very impressed with her work. I will be asking some of the music distributors to carry her works. I cant wait to play some of them.
Paul: Written by a Japanese composer. A very lyrical piece that has a unique sound that I have not heard in most handbell compositions. It sounds very familiar and yet foreign to my ears. It is really a synthesis of the “traditional” handbell sound and the Japanese style of writing. I am amazed at how well this very large group of ringers is accomplishing the dynamics of this song. The director Yoshida has amazing control over this group and it is no wonder he is here representing his country on the podium.
Dean: Introduction and Toccata on “The Day Thou Gavest” arranged by Graeme Morton Conducted by Carmel Daveson (Australasia). The piece starts of with mallet rolls and and chimes, then moves to bells. The tune is familiar to me. There seems to be a lot going on and the melody gets a little lost behind the wall of sound. The more I listen to massed playing, the more I fell there are songs that are not meant to be played in a massed setting.
Paul: Song begins with a crescendo rolled chord. The composer Graeme Morton is a well known Choral composer/conductor in Australia and I am excited to see his name on a handbell composition. Once again I am confronted with sounds that are at once familiar and stretch my imagination. The trebles are playing an ethereal wave of sounds as the chimes slide a melody underneath which is at once taken up by the treble bells as the wave sound continues down into the battery. The melodies and tonalities of this song are very deceptive, as is the case in the Australian choral music that I have heard. Just when you think it’s going to resolve itself one way, it turns or sets you on the edge. A very lovely and unique song. On the final chord the bells are run, slowly raised above their heads and then back down to the table. Not only making a beautiful looking ending, but creating a crescendo, decrescendo to finish the piece.
The Distinctly Teen Choirs
Dorian Dance by Michael Joy Conducted by Tim Waugh (USA). I love this piece. They Distinctly Teen groups are way in the back of the room. Everyone is leaning in, ready for the piece to start. Tim Waugh starts them out with his very enthusiastic directing. The teens are responding very well to his direction. What a fantastic piece and what a great group to perform it.
Paul: At this point in the program the Distinctly Teen ringers play Dorian Dance led by Tim Waugh. They are way in the back of the huge ballroom.
The Symposium Massed Choirs
Dean: Dancing Raindrops by Patricia A Thomson Conducted by Susan Carscadden-Mifsud (Canada). The piece starts out very soft with thumb damped bells. There is a rain stick, or more then one. There are many repeated notes sounding like a gentle rain shower. Ouch bad ritard. More rain sticks. The piece ends with a soft section and more rain sticks. Its a nice piece.
Paul: Susan Carscadden-Mifsud from canada is the director for the next piece. Song begins with thumb damped bells to paint the picture of “raindrops”. The addition of the rainsticks could have been nice if they were farther away and not so prominent. I really love how martellatos sound in this room. Either the ringers are really accomplished at doing them gently or the room is very kind because they sound marvelous.
Dean: Praise the Lord! Ye Heavens, Adore Him! By Fred Gramann Conducted by Keith Rowland (United Kingdom). Keith does not use a baton when he directs. He uses his whole body, much as a choral director would. I love the upper chimes with the melody on this piece. Now the chimes have moved down into the battery, then the whole thing on bells. The dynamic control is amazing. Debbie Rice is now singing. Is there anything Debbie cant do? Now the whole room is singing. WOW. The blending of the voices and the bells are wonderful. I think this is the first time the bells have drowned out the voices. Amazing. I hope some day to ring under the direction of Keith Rowland.
Paul: Keith Rowland from the UK directs this Fred Gramann arrangement. A single melody line begins this song and then is joined by ascending arpeggios that sound like angels in the clouds. I am amazed at how well the single melody notes are together. The chimes begin with the melody “Hyfrydol” which crescendos and then ends with a single bell note. We temporarily waver between major and minor tonalities as we head into the transition of the piece. Debbie Rice now steps up to the microphone and begins to sing the melody of the hymn tune with a beautiful soprano voice…is there anything this woman cannot do!!?!?! Chills as the entire 850 ringers join in with the hymn tune while they ring. What a glorious sound! The voices end on a held note and then are cut off to allow the last measure of the song to sound on the bells. Amazing!
Dean: Moon Over the Ruined Castle by Rentarou/Kazudo Okamoto Conducted by Kunihiko Taniuchi (Japan). Another piece from Kazudo Okamoto. What a haunting beginning. The crescendoed shake with the melody underneath is wonderful to listen to. The composers use of the different tonality of the chimes adds a lot to this piece. It has become very clear that we should be looking at the Japanese for their leadership in the handbell world. Their composers, directors and choirs are simply amazing. And this composer in particular really understands the instrument and how to get the most from it. The ending just took my breath away.
Paul: Kunihiko Taniuchi conducts the next song written by a Japanese composer. Quick shakes in the trebles begin the song with a soft bell/chime melody underneath. It is at once gentle and sharp sounding. The a-section ends with a single bell note and the b-section is taken up on all chimes. This section ebbs and flows with crescendos and decrescendos bringing forth a beautiful lyrical melody painting this picture of “the ruined castle” in our minds. Again I am amazed at how the Japanese composers have taken our handbell sound and mixed it with a uniquely Japanese sound to create sonorities that are so engaging. The third section has quick descending arpeggiated treble bells while the battery/upper bass take the melody. The end is a wall of sound with descending bell lines and chords, shakes with the final chord on the bass bells/chimes. Wonderful.
The Festival Handbell Choir – Conducted by David Weck (USA)
Dean: Morning Has Broken arranged by Joel Raney. This song starts with chimes and triangle. It adds a bell melody and Joel Raney playing piano with the groups. The use of bells with chimes and the marted bells makes this piece very interesting to listen to. What is usually a very soft and flowing piece is punctuated with little surprises. Wind Chimes! I love wind chimes. David has great control over the ringers. Every change in tempo and style were exactly what they should be. This is a piece I will have to look at for my group.
Dean: Carnivale by Michael J. Glasgow. Concert whip and ratchet…Cool. Having met Michael Glasgow this weekend, I can really see his personality in this piece. Slide whistle. Juggler. Acrobat. Even the director is having a little fun with this piece. Sword swallower. A whole lot of silliness and some great handbell ringing too. What more could anyone ask for.
Paul: I was drafted to play in the festival choir, so I am not going to review it, but rather tell a few things about being in it. It is always wonderful to ring under David Weck. Of all the conductors I have rung under, David is by far the clearest and most accomplished musical leader. We first played Joel Raney’s new arrangement of Morning has Broken. A beautiful piece with low chimes and a very “early morning” feel to it. Then we played Carnivale by Michael Glasgow. This is a hoot of a piece that mimics carnival music. David added all sorts of people doing different things like juggling and other circus type things. However, as he was doing the additions he made it clear that he would not be doing this if the music we were playing was not being played so well. It must be good music before you add the other stuff because the music is the most important.
They Symposium Massed Choirs
Dean: A Mighty Fortress Is Our God arranged by Cathy Moklebust Conducted by Jae-Weoul Song (Korea). This week it has been rare that I recognize a tune. I have played this piece. It has a fun malleted bass line. I know this piece is not the easiest to play. WOW loud chimes. The bells really are playing soft enough that the chimes come out above them. You can tell that the director has taken the time to bring out the parts of the music that are important while keeping control over the dynamics. I am very impressed with that performance and its even more impressive that this was a massed group.
Paul: One of our own Handbell Community members is the next conductor. Jae-Weoul Song takes the stage to conduct this arrangement by Cathy Moklebust. The song opens with the melody and then the melody in parallel 4ths as the trebles do some random (or what seems random) like ringing. I enjoy that Cathy has not used the square metered version of this hymn tune. She has kept it livelier by sticking closely to the original un-metered version. In the middle, however, the square metered version of the chorale is heard on a full compliment of chimes as the treble bells shimmer underneath. To listen to this piece with a massed choir is like hearing the hymn played on a mighty pipe organ. The bass line is malleted to sound like the pedals of the organ as the song ends. Very original and very fun to listen to.
The Symposium Massed Choirs, The Distinctly Teen Choirs, and Chorus
An American Tapestry by Arnold Sherman Conducted by Jason Wells (USA). Assisted by Jane Holstein and Joel Raney, Piano and the Orlando Concert Band
March. – As Jason Wells steps up to the podium, he moves the music stand away. If you have never seen Jason direct, his whole body is involved. This is not your typical march, there are a lot of different things happening. Fast repeated thumb damped notes, slow sections, loud and soft spots.
Jazz Rag. The Jazz style is very hard to do on handbells. Some people are having difficulty with the syncopation. With the addition of the piano, band and chorus, this has rounded out the music. This is a fun piece to watch. Everyone is really getting into the music. I see many people dancing along with the music.
Spiritual. After a nice intro, this piece starts hopping. A great representation of a rousing spiritual. With close to 1000 ringers and only about 20 singers, its amazing that we can still hear them. Great dynamic control from the ringers. There is so much sound in this room, I feel like I am at a rock concert.
Paul: The final number of the concert will be conducted by Jason Wells and was written by Arnold Sherman specifically for this event! It is a song for everyone who has participated tonight: Massed ringers, Distinctly Teen, The Orlando Concert Band, Joel Raney & Jane Holstein on the piano, as well as a vocal choir. The first movement is a March and sounds very Sousa-like. The trebles are doing little tremolos doubling with the flutes in the concert band. As is typical in the march style, the ending broadens out and crescendos in a final statement of the theme. The second movement is jazz rag which will feature the vocal choir. The opening of the second movement sounds vaguely like Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. Then it grows and adds the pianos and choir to sound more like a traditional ragtime song. Then a transition into another section that hints at Gershwin. What an interesting piece. Arnold Sherman really has captured this style and also created a new style of Gershwin-rag-jazz. The third movement is a Spiritual. This movement begins with “study war no more” a slower version of the ending of the melody to “Down by the riverside”. Then it picks up and we hear the traditional spiritual “down by the riverside” in the faster tempo we all know. How amazing that with all these ringers, the syncopation of the melody has not gotten faster or dropped any beats. This just confirms the high caliber of ringer that attends this event! What a great ending to the concert…a wall of sound with band, choir, handbells, and dual pianos. Jason is about ready to fly off the podium.
Dean; Conclusion. For a massed concert, this was one of the best concerts I have been to. For the most part, the ringers were together, they followed the directors, and they created wonderful music.
Paul: As I watched this concert I am struck by how rude and completely oblivious audience members are to the rules and decorum of concert listening. People walk in the door and across the front of the ringing area without a second thought. As a music educator I am challenged and saddened by this. It is obvious to me that we need to teach adults as well as children how to be a respectful audience.
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