NOVEMBER SERIES: Save the Date “Handbells with Praise Band!?”

I am constantly trying to think of ways to shift the balance in worship. Therefore, one of the ways that I attempt to break the monotony of the same format each week is to use the ensembles that I have and then join them together.  One the most common forms of this joint combination occurs every fifth Sunday when the Praise Band teams up with the Orchestra.  This directly leads to the creation of our newest combination: the idea of Handbells with Praise Band.

Several months ago I was pondering how I could make our Handbell Choir more relevant in the eyes of our younger members.  You see, our Handbell Choir is liked by most of the congregation, but let’s face it, a great majority of the congregation only associates the Handbell Choir with Classical Music and Hymn arrangements.  Because I do not want the Handbell Choir to become more and more antiquated and dated because of the music that is associated with it, a new plan and challenge was birthed.

The influence came in several parts.  First, I love the idea of fusion–two separate and seemingly unrelated things joined together to create something totally unique.  Second, there are some who are already pushing the boundaries in the Handbell world as to what type of music that can be rung.  One such group is the Raleigh Ringers–a professional Handbell Choir.  Click Here for more information.

Thus it was decided–if it were possible, we would combine our Handbell Choir with, of all things, our Praise Band.  The format was challenging. How was I to get the Handbell Choir with their tables, the Worship Choir (because they always lead!) and all the Praise Band on stage at the same time.  It required thinking a bit out of the box, but it worked well.  The next challenge came in the form of music.  There exists no (or very, very little) music for Handbells with Praise Band that is meant for congregational use.  (The sole reason for this fusion was for the congregation to sing along with us, not to create a spectacle.)  In the end, I ended up arranging all the pieces that we did that morning.  The process was quite simple, even if the work was toilsome.  For our situation, our Praise Band uses lead sheets as our main source of music, so it was easy to take the lead sheets that we were are currently using and then, using the exact format of the song, arrange it for the Handbell Choir.  The next major challenge was how to get the Handbell Choir to ring it correctly. This is a problem with all Handbell Choirs, and it became drastically more complicated with the addition of all the glorious syncopation and complex rhythms in the Praise and Worship music we wanted to ring.  A new Handbell Technique was about to be born.

This new Handbell technique is called “Ring it like your sing it.” Ok, it does not have the prettiest name, but it works!  The premise is:  most, if not all Handbell ringers can tell when they need to ring their part, so tell them to forget the rhythm and follow the notes as THEY sing the song.  It is that simple, it is that crazy, and it works!  For us, it only took 5 minutes a song to completely agree on a universal rhythm for each song. (Therefore, it is extremely important that you teach the congregation the correct rhythm to your Praise and Worship songs so that this will work properly!)

Our first service was October 21st and this was our play list:

Hosanna (Praise is Rising) – Baloche

The Power of the Cross (Oh to see the dawn) – Getty.Townend

Wonderful Merciful Savior – Selah

How Great is our God – Tomlin

Days of Elijah – Mark

Speak O Lord (Handbell Solo, played by my wife Becky) – Getty/Townend

The service was a great success.  The marriage of Handbells with Praise Band worked. It was a little strange at first–it was not normal, but by the end, it just worked!  The response from the congregation was overwhelming.  Some even told us that it would be great if we did that every month–and this from a Southern Baptist Church.

Do not be afraid to try something new.  We plan to do this again, with new music, of course, after Christmas.


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