Eight-year-old Zoe McLaughlin is a study in concentration as she learns how to play musical bells. Dan Ferguson Langley Times

VIDEO: The classic art of bell ringing

Langley school hosts event for young ringers

Virginia Barteluk held two handbells upwards, and with a graceful wrist movement, produced rich, warm notes that seemed to hang in the air of the classroom for a very long time.

“That’s how we ring them,” Barteluk said.

On a table next to her was a precisely arranged series of handbells ranging in size from relatively small to intimidatingly large.

The “Ring Out! 2018” youth handbell event was underway at Topham Elementary School in Langley.

The weekend workshops marked the second year the event has been held at Topham, after several years in Burnaby and a brief one-year stint at a Surrey school.

The Feb. 17 event attracted 28 children from all over the Lower Mainland, ranging from Grade 3 to Grade 8 who had come to get an introduction to the centuries-old art.

“They’re catching on really quickly,” Barteluk said of the novice ringers.

The annual event is staged by the B.C. Guild of English Handbell Ringers (BCGEHR) for young ringers who would like to improve their technique and for beginner ringers looking to learn.

Barteluk was one of the clinicians who taught workshops at the day-long event.

She is a semi-retired music teacher who directs a bell choir in New Westminster, and a former director of the BCGEHR who has presented handbell/ handchime workshops at four school districts and at the local, regional and national levels.

“Bells called people, called them to a meeting, called them to worship (and) when people died, the bells rang,” Barteluk said.

“The appeal is that (it’s) an instrument where you’re a team player,” she explained.

“Instead of playing a piano by yourself, or the violin by yourself, when you play bells, you each have one or two notes, sometimes more and you get to ring when that note appears in the music.”

After a day of practice, all of the ringers took part in massed ringing rehearsals, followed by an end-of-the-day concert.

The BC Guild of English Handbell Ringers started in Abbotsford in 1993 and incorporated as a non-profit organization under the B.C. Societies Act on January 18, 1995.

Unlike an ordinary “clanger” the clapper on an English handbell is on a hinge and only moves back and forth in one direction.

The Langley ringers all wore gloves, something the online Handbell Ringers of Great Britain beginners guide explained, without endorsing the practice.

“Some teams maintain that wearing gloves stops oils from the hand from making the leather handles soft – which in turn makes them difficult to control,” the guide states.

Hand bells have been traced as far back as the 5th Century B.C. in China.

It is commonly said that the handbells of modern times are the result of complaints from neighbours about the noisy art of tower bell ringing in the 16th Century England.

Known as “change ringing”, it involved pulling on the ropes in a precise order to create a melody.

Because Tower bells were so large and loud, hand bells were developed so ringers and composers could practice behind closed doors.

The youth handbell event will be back next year, but the location has not been settled.

For more information about the event or bell ringing in general, visit the Guild online at https://www.bcgehr.com/ or email education@bcgehr.com.

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Bells clinician Virginia Barteluk. Dan Ferguson Langley Times

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