By Jill Miller
Handbells may be instruments normally heard in churches, but Union University has a handbell choir that adds to its musical repertoire.
Participants rehearse Monday and Wednesday afternoons under the direction of Dr. Joshua Veltman, associate professor of music.
All members of the handbell choir have musical backgrounds.
If a student has a musical background, he or she can learn how to play fairly quickly, Veltman said.
The group consists of 11 students, faculty and staff.
“It’s nice to interact outside of our normal roles,” Veltman said. “Everyone’s kind of on equal footing, because the faculty and staff members get to be just ‘one of the group.’”
One member is Susan Bolyard, secretary to the psychology department. She said much of practice time is spent laughing and telling stories, and the group gets along well.
“I like to have a structured rehearsal, I like to be focused and task-oriented, but that doesn’t rule out joking around and having some fun at the same time,” Veltman said.
Rehearsals begin with stretches of the fingers, wrists, arms, neck and back muscles to keep the players from straining their muscles, because ringing is exercise, Veltman said.
Some of the larger bells can weigh up to 10 pounds. If a player is not warmed up, it can lead to some injuries in the muscles and tendons, he said.
Next, the group runs through its pieces, rehearsing section by section.
He said sometimes a particular set of bells is singled out if a portion of the music proves to be more difficult.
Veltman described several techniques ringers use. Players can use mallets to “mallet” the bell, or strike the case of the bell while it’s still sitting on the table, or use the “suspended mallet” technique, where they strike the bell with the mallet when it isn’t on the table.
The “martellato” technique involves players hammering the bell into the foam pad on the tables. “Plucking” occurs when players reach inside the bell and hit the case of the bell with the clapper themselves, while the bell rests on the table.
“All these different techniques add interest and variety and tone quality of the bells,” Veltman said. “Instead of just straight ringing all the time, you can have some more expressive effects.”
The handbell choir will perform with the string ensemble at 7:30 p.m. today in the W.D. Powell Theatre. Pieces include ‘With Peals of Thanks and Praise,’ ‘Prepare the Way, O Zion,’ ‘Sussex Carol’ and ‘Highland Cathedral.’
The handbell choir will participate in ‘A Union Christmas’ at 7:30 p.m. Dec.4 in the G.M. Savage Memorial Chapel, where it will perform ‘Sussex Carol’ and play with other ensembles for congregational hymn accompaniments.