Handbell Festival

With finals week almost upon us, I had eighteen more pages to write and the last few reading assignments to complete. Naturally I headed out of town during one of the precious weekend days of test prep.  I typically spend my Friday nights at work, and this semester I added seeing the SUB movie to my standard Friday night routine.  This weekend, I trekked three hours away up to Lansing, Michigan for a Handbell Festival with four other members of the Notre Dame Handbell Choir.

We all signed out a van from Notre Dame and crammed it full of five undergrads, their backpacks, six gigantic table cushions, and only five of our handbell cases.  That was quite a car ride, in which one of our members was partially squashed by the foam but also utilized it as a great napping surface.

At the Festival, we had the amazing opportunity to join together with over 400 other handbell ringers from five different states to make music. We had five people, three octaves of bells, and had the back table in the gigantic gym-like space.  Our three tables made us look miniscule in relation to the other choirs, who had five octaves of bells and at least a dozen ringers each.  They came from churches all around the area, and we were the only college there. We were also some of the youngest people there, but shockingly not the youngest.  Still, we fielded quite a few questions regarding our ages and the school.  We happily told the other choirs about the chance to play in the Basilica and that yes, we have more than five members, but they are more responsible and wanted to actually prep for finals.

That Friday night we had a chance to watch another choir perform, and I cannot believe the guts they had to perform in front of hundreds of other ringers.  You can watch any individual and criticize their techniques.  But they were lovely, and really managed to perform and charm the audience in a manner that we don’t really get a chance to in the Basilica.

Saturday began with an early morning rehearsal yet again, but by that time we had gotten into the rhythm of playing with 400 people.  We did struggle a bit to see the conductor from the back row, but we followed by ear.

The middle of the day was spent at workshops playing bells in smaller groups.  In the first, we had the chance to play secular music, from Over the Rainbow to the Muppets Theme, and it was an awesome experience.  I got a chance to play some high notes when I usually stick with middle C or lower, even if the lack of weight to my bells threw me off for a bit. In the afternoon, we participated in a competition, where we did some rhythm exercises and were scored on our ability to play them quickly. Our team, Ring Down the Thunder, managed to place first, and we gained some blue ribbons for our efforts.  

That night, we played a concert with 400 people.  That is one of the most amazing events I have ever participated in.  The Notre Dame group had a great time, and the sound of all of us playing was amazing.  They even added in some brass instruments to balance out the sound.  I think it was a pretty great way to spend a weekend, even if it means I give up some sleep to prep for finals.


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