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Can You Hear the Bells?

posted Aug 20, 2011, 7:10 AM by Unknown user   [ updated Jul 25, 2014, 4:53 PM ]

I recently discovered that as a seminarian, Fr. Robert learned to play (and enjoyed playing!) handbells!

There is no record of when the hand-held bell was invented; though they’re mentioned in Exodus as part of Hebrew worship.  When Constantine recognized the Christian church and it came out of hiding, its bells increased in size and were hung outside.  Priests would ring them at appointed times for daily worship, which became the peoples way of telling time.  (The word “clock” derives from the Dutch word for bell: klok.)  “Modern” handbells were developed in the early 18th century as practice instruments for “change ringers”, who rang the various bells in the church tower.  In the days before electronic controls, this allowed them to practice ringing hymns and carols in the right sequence without offending the neighbors. 

When I attended the American Guild of Organists regional convention last month in Morristown, NJ, I discovered what Fr. Robert already knew; the unique sound of handbells can be a beautiful and joyous accompaniment to the liturgy when used sparingly with psalms and chants.

Kathleen Demny’s spirited Mass of Joy that we’ll sing for school and children’s Masses has a part for handbells, which is why I put a children’s set on our IHM Music Classroom Wish List on Amazon.com.  And if you want to listen to an audio sample, visit the Mass of Joy page.

A complete set of new handbells can be expensive.    And it seems that there isn’t much activity in either the buying or selling of used ones.  But like any musical instrument, letting them sit idle isn’t good for them.  So if you know of any church that has a set they’re not using, or some other way to obtain a donated set, please let me know.