bell choir

How to Start a Handbell Choir (with Zero Experience)

How to Start a Handbell Choir (with Zero Experience)

So, you want to start a handbell choir. The only problem is, you don't know the first thing about ringing and your ringers are mostly newbies without a whole lot of previous musical experience.

What's a want-to-be handbell choir director to do?

The good news is you don't need to have a lot of experience or professional training to lead and direct a handbell choir (though, that never hurts). With a desire to learn, a solid sense of rhythm and steady beat, and a little practical know-how, you'll be on your way to building and leading a handbell choir in no time.

A Dozen Budget-Friendly Collections for the Small Handbell Choir

A Dozen Budget-Friendly Collections for the Small Handbell Choir

There’s nothing quite like the thrill of playing through a new handbell piece. The challenge (you want me to play how many bells?), the excitement (a new technique!), the intrigue (how will it end?).

The only problem is, handbell music can be quite costly, sometimes as high as $5 per copy.

And if you’re a part-time director of a small handbell choir at a small church with a small budget, to match, you may be able to afford only 1-2 new pieces a year.

A practical solution? Handbell collections.

Instead of buying music one piece at a time (and spending $4-$5 per copy), a collection gives you 3-10 pieces for a fraction of the cost. Recently, I’ve come across several collections that work really well for smaller (2-3 octave) handbell choirs like ours.

Here are 12 budget-friendly collections you might consider:

25 Reproducible Collections for the Small Handbell Choir

25 Reproducible Collections for the Small Handbell Choir

It can be challenging to find good quality handbell repertoire for a small bell choir. It’s even more difficult to find music for a small, but intermediate-level group. Add to that the expense of buying new handbell music ($5 per copy, on average), which could cost you $50, or so, for one new piece in your library. If your bell choir plays several times per year, as most bell choirs do, this adds up quickly.

A solution? Reproducible collections.

When you purchase a single copy of a reproducible collection, it includes a license to reproduce as many copies of the collection as you need for your ensemble. Most of these collections run around $50, but they include 6-8 pieces for your bell choir to play. This is a significant amount of savings!

Reproducible collections are available from a variety of publishers and distributors. Some are even available as digital downloads (marked with an asterisk below), meaning you can purchase the collection, download it to your computer, and print it immediately without waiting for a book to arrive in the mail. This is a great time-saver if you’re shopping for new music just a few days before your next rehearsal!

How to Direct a Handbell Rehearsal

How to Direct a Handbell Rehearsal

Let’s say you just inherited your church’s handbell choir. You’ve subbed in handbell choirs a few times before and know the basic ringing technique (damping and that all-important snap in the wrist). Maybe you have some conducting experience, too. And the members of this particular handbell choir have been playing together for a long time.

I mean, the bell choir probably runs itself at this point. How hard can it be?

The truth is, it’s not that hard, but it is different from directing a vocal choir or even an instrumental group. Handbell music notation is different (and more complex), there’s often a greater emphasis on rhythm and counting, and the ins and outs of assigning bells and keeping track of parts from piece to piece adds another layer of preparation and planning to your plate as director.

Not to worry, though. Today, I’m sharing what I’ve learned about directing handbell choirs and my process for running a rehearsal. Enjoy!

10 Creative Ways to Use Handbells in Worship

10 Creative Ways to Use Handbells in Worship

One of my favorite parts of worship planning is finding creative ways to incorporate music into the services. From introits to benediction responses, prayer responses, transitions, and even underscoring.

Handbells are a great way to do this!

Over the past few years, SD and I have come up with several creative, meaningful ways to include handbells in worship, beyond the traditional prelude or anthem slot. We recently inherited a bell choir at church, so I’m revisiting some creative, out-of-the-box from our past experiences and coming up with a few new ideas for our group this spring.

I mean, who said you have to have tables and foam and covers and special folders and notebook stands to play? We're breaking with tradition and using handbells in a whole new way.

Here are a few of our favorite ideas:

5 Ideas for Creating Meaningful Advent Services

5 Ideas for Creating Meaningful Advent Services

Advent is a time of waiting. Preparation. Anticipation. Expectancy. Hope. We retell the story we all know by heart. We reread the prophecies and remember the journey - the years of waiting, the sense of unknown.

We light candles and sing ancient songs and dwell in the moments of darkness before the season of light, holding on to hope and promises yet to be fulfilled.

This is the essence of the Advent season, for me.

How can we convey this in worship? How can we make this season more meaningful? How can we capture the quietness, the sense of wonder, the shimmering light in the midst of darkness in our Advent services? 

Here are 5 ideas: 

50 Pieces for the Small Handbell Choir

50 Pieces for the Small Handbell Choir

Ever since we started directing handbell choirs, we've struggled to find music that is accessible and appropriate for worship for small groups of ringers. Sure, there are plenty of beginning pieces (Levels 1 and 2), but much of the literature calls for 15 or more bells (2+ octaves), which is hard to manage with a group that has as few as six players (especially if they're beginners). 

First, a quick word about collections: Over the past few years, we've come across a few collections that work great and pieces that are not only playable but also meaningful for all involved. Patricia Sanders Cota has written several arrangements for twelve bells (4-6 players), organized into various collections: 

Twelve Bells for Worship (Vol. I and II
Twelve Bells for Christmas (Vol. III, and III
Twelve Bells for Praise and Worship (Vol. I and II)