The internationally recognized handbell choir The Raleigh Ringers start off this year’s Chamber Music Festival with a wide variety of music Monday, June 18. Featured music ranged from Beethoven to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra to Kerry Livgren’s “Dust in the Wind.”
Phillis Scorse, president of Pittsburg’s Treble Clef Club, and Janis Saket, vice-president, worked together with Joseph Firman, director of the Bicknell Family Center For The Arts, in arranging for The Raleigh Ringers to kick off the festival, though referred to as the “Elvis of bell choirs” by Saket.
The Raleigh Ringers were established in 1990 under the direction of David M. Harris. The group has a total of six CDs and two DVDs of holiday concerts and has performed in 40 states, the District of Columbia, Canada, France, and England.
The Raleigh Ringers features 16 handbell performers this year, though often the number will change.
“We range from 15 to 18, it varies depending on the repertoire that we have for the year,” Harris said. “We host auditions in January and if you were in the group before you have to re-audition but do a little less of the audition process.”
The Raleigh Ringers promotes the art of handbell ringing by four beliefs. First, presenting entertaining performances of advanced handbell music to the widest audience possible. Second, commissioning composers to create works for advanced handbell choirs. Third, supporting and encouraging fellow handbell musicians. Lastly, offering educational opportunities through classes and event sponsorship.
The Raleigh Ringers are also well-known award winners. In 2006, the group was one of six recipients of the City of Raleigh’s Medal of Arts award, established in 1948 and bestowed to Raleigh native groups or individuals who have made exemplary contributions to the arts community. In November of 2014, the group’s PBS Special “Holiday Handbells” was nominated for the Midsouth Emmy awards in Entertainment and Audio categories. This took the group to the Awards Ceremony in Nashville, Tennessee.
The group brings a total of 494 bells on tour for performance, as each holds its own sound and place in their music.
“Our main set of bells are Malmark bell, represented in the bass of seven and one-half octaves,” Harris said. “Whitechapel bells five octaves of those, four octaves of Whitechapel cup bells. We’ve got Petit & Fritsen Dutch bells, three and one-half octaves of those. Two octaves of Schulmerich Silver Melody Bells. We also have six full octaves of choir chimes—a couple of years ago we got Deagan bells, two octaves of those. The combined cost of all the bells is about $200,000.”
The music The Raleigh Ringers performs is a combination of songs arranged specifically for the group, which includes commissions from composers, popular music, and classical music.
Halfway through the group’s concert, for all those who had served in the military or have close relatives who serve to stand for recognition by the audience and performing group. The Raleigh Ringers followed with a performance of the Armed Forces Salute arranged by Hart Harris.
When performing, often the Ringers switch positions in order to play a variety of bells and gain the most experience.
“Several reasons (we switch places), we like to make sure that the people playing the heaviest bells are not stuck there for the whole concert,” Harris said. “Those bells weigh up to 17 pounds. We also believe you should experience a variety of the bells.”
The Raleigh Ringers started the Chamber Music Festival with a ringing entrance and the rest of the weeklong festival will feature similarly astounding performances.