Updated: Dec 16, 2023
Handbell Ringers of Great Britain, South West Region, Christmas Concert,
Lovely Bells and Loveny Voices, 9 December 2023, St. Petroc’s Church, Bodmin.
200 empty chairs awaited the 200 people who pre-booked tickets for the afternoon concert. Usually, the venue hosts more than double this number, but due to 62 Christmas trees, market stall, choir and bellringer areas and a horseshoe of tables occupied by handbells, St. Petroc’s Church only had room for 200.
Paul Scoble next to St. Petroc’s Bellringer tree Paul greeting Bodmin’s Mayor Cllr Phil Cooper Choir gathered in their blue blazers
Lights on the trees and garlands twinkled as Paul Scoble welcomed the audience. The role of compère was Paul’s as he is chair of the Handbell Ringers of Great Britain, South West Region.
The choir was introduced. Loveny Male Voice Choir are internationally renowned and winners of many competitions including 41+Voices at the Cornwall International Male Choral Festival in May 2022. From their base in the beautiful Cornish town of St. Neot, through which flows the Loveny river, they perform at many events across Cornwall.
Matt Harrison, the choir’s musical director and accompanist Melanie Farley, led the choir in beautiful song.
As choir members returned to their seats, bellringers took their places. Paul explained there was one instrument in view - all the bells together ringing in perfect time and harmony.
Paul, a natural teacher, held up a rather rusty bell that rang as soon as it was moved, with a piercing sound. A bell like that could be bought, on a good day, for £65. He exchanged the bell for a golden one with leather handle. It looked the business but did not ring! Paul explained that handbells only ring if moved in the correct way. Paul expertly struck the bell and its sound delighted the audience. A bell like that cost about £350! Bells of all sizes, costing a huge amount of money, were ready for ringing. During the interval, the audience would be invited to get up close to the bells and talk with the ringers. Bells are to be kept free from metal stains, so no touching is permitted, unless gloves are worn.
Conductor Fiona Willis led the ringers as God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen was rung.
As the concert continued, bellringers and choir entertained, separately and together, with music from around the world.
Handbell Ringers of Great Britain was formed in 1967 with the aim of advancing and encouraging the art of ringing music on handbells. It is the only national organisation supporting Belleplate players, with, more than 2,000 members.
The South West region is one of the society’s largest and most active areas. The emsemble of ringers represent almost every county, from Cornwall, Devon (Okehampton), Dorset, Gloucestershire, Somerset, Wiltshire to Oxfordshire. The experienced ringers, many conductors or leaders of local teams, meet monthly in Taunton, giving them a chance to ring.
One bellringer, Beryl Bariana, joins the monthly practice, as well as being part of her local team, Lady St. Mary Bells, Wareham in Dorset. She plays G5 and A5 which are large bells but not as big as the ‘buckets’, the affectionate name for the huge bells! Beryl is often asked how long it takes to learn how to ring. She says: “It takes two to three minutes to ring one bell but to learn to play with a group and produced a tuneful sound, takes many weeks. Also, it’s as if you start learning again with each new piece. You constantly go on learning.”
Continuing, Beryl said: “You receive your new music and mark your notes. You can practice at home with two wooden spoons, but when with the team, the person on your left is slower than you and the one to your right is faster and is anyone looking at the conductor? This is what takes the time.”
As an experienced ringer, Beryl took the opportunity of committing to the monthly practice with the Sou'westers Handbell Ensemble. Ringers choose to do this to improve their standard and musicality as well as increase their interpretation of the music, and, of course, simply for the love of ringing.
Local teams might join occasionally, for an informal event, but it is only the second time that the South West region has performed in a public concert. Bodmin was fortunate to host the second magnificent musical event of its kind. Here’s hoping the team will continue to convene performances annually.
For more information, please visit handbells.org.uk.