Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Okay, do we call ourselves "Jubellee", "Bell Canto" or "Ring around the Rosary"?

Things I Never In My Life Thought I Would Do, Before I Moved to Texas:

10. Play Zimbabwean marimbas
9. Conduct a Baroque orchestra
8. Visit Waxahachie, TX
7. Sing the hymns of John Wesley to the tune of "The Yellow Rose of Texas"
6. ...accompanied by the accordion
5. ... in public
4. Learn to appreciate (if not to truly like!) the music of Olivier Messiaen
3. Sing a Bach motet entirely in German, in liturgical context (again... in Texas)
2. Eat fried chicken, chicken-fried steak, (deep-)fried okra, and cream gravy... in one meal

and notably:

1. attend a bona-fide all-wide handbell festival

Let's unpack that.

Yes, that's right – I am a ringer. This term, I am taking an elective course (ironic, isn't it?) called "Handbells in Worship," taught by admittedly expert handbell guru David Davidson. Now, I'm going to be honest here – I am really not into the handbells. I feel like they're a bit of an alternate universe. I just don't see the appeal. Interestingly, I'm finding that there are a number of American cultural phenomena that I feel lost in, and I realize it is because of their absolute lack of irony. There are some things Americans do that they are just going to take seriously, no matter how outrageous they may seem. The mystical rituals surrounding football, both college and professional. The overblown excesses of tailgating. The Academy Awards. Big-box worship and Christian Contemporary Music. And, English handbells. America is home to a panoply of un-self-referential, un-self-aware activities – and as I'm just a kid from Canada, I feel rather lost in most of them. I'm used to being an outsider, or at least being aware of what the majority of my pursuits would look like to an outsider. Not so in Texas, and not so in the case of handbells.

Now, you need to understand if you don't that they really, really, really like handbells here. Their use in worship is often taken for granted, and the presence of one if not multiple handbell groups in each church community is the norm rather than the exception.

Now, I am learning many valuable things in our course. David Davidson is a well-respected clinician and teacher. I now know a mart-lift from a mallet, a tower swing from a gyro, and that it's "damp," not "dampen." However, the epiphany as to why a group of otherwise intelligent people would want to line up and piece together a song two notes at a time (usually while sporting questionable fashion choices) is apparently still forthcoming. Oh, and to said individuals: Mickey Mouse called – he wants his gloves back.

Well, as part of our course we were required to attend a division-wide (they have divisions) meeting of the American Guild of English Handbell Ringers ("uniting people through a musical art since 1954"). I snuck in as part of my friend Henry's high school-age ringing group and filled in for the person who renders middle C and the B below it. (And get this – every now and then, Bb and C#!) This is an event you need to see to believe. There were twenty choirs of handbells present, and we all played together. These choirs have captivating names such as the "Epiphany Ringers," the "New Life Ringers," the "Covenant Carillons," and my personal favourite, "Bellissimo." I lasted three of the programmed eight hours of this tintinabulating event, and fled home to study Bach.

Apologies if you detect an overtone of sarcasm.

1 comment:

Larry said...

Haha! This is priceless. I have heard these bell ringer goups a number of times, and like you have always wondered - why? Your insight is great. THanks! :)