| Dec 17, 2009

Back to HomeFeature Article - December 17, 2009 The Humdingers ring in the holiday seasonby Julie Druker

The Humdingers perform with the Tay Valley Community Choir, both under the direction of Ann McMahon in Maberly on December 5

Nothings sounds as festive during the holiday season as the ringing of bells, and thanks to The Humdingers, the 11-member bell choir officially known as the St. Paul’s United Church Hand Bell Choir of Perth, many had a chance to enjoy this unique ensemble's lively, bright, and festive sound.

The Humdingers performed recently at the Festival of Trees in Sharbot Lake on Dec.13 and were also special guests at “An Evening of Voices and Bells”, the annual Christmas concert of the Tay Valley Community Choir held at the Maberly Hall on Dec. 5, where there was standing room only.

Ann McMahon conducts both choirs and has been conducting the 17-year-old bell choir for three years on and off and regularly since March of last year.

The Humdingers are a three-octave hand bell choir and each of its members are responsible for ringing three individual bells whose notes follow consecutively. It is intriguing to watch them perform.


Ringers usually hold just two bells at once, one in each hand (unless the bells are smaller) and are required to pick up and place down the bells as they are needed.

There is a special technique to ringing a hand bell where the ringer moves it in such a way that the clapper strikes the inside surface of the bell. The ringer usually holds the bell against his or her shoulder, bell-upwards, and then swings the bell in an elliptical shape, causing the clapper to strike the bell and make it resonate. The ringer can then either allow the sound to decay naturally or manually stops the sound by damping the bell on their shoulder, depending on what the particular musical arrangement demands. The volume of the ring is controlled by the ringer who will ring it from the wrist to create a softer tone or use their full arm to get a louder sound.

The bells are stored in special lined wooden boxes. They require polishing and must be professionally tuned. Before a performance in the cold weather months, the bells must arrive early at the venue in order to warm up to room temperature, so they are in tune when played. Because the ringers do not take their bells home, they practise their numbers at home using spoons. Members of the choir must be able to read music and the musical arrangements are usually piano scores arranged for three octaves

At the December 5 concert in Maberly the Humdingers performed well-known Christmas favorites Silver Bells, Jingle Bells, Winter Wonderland, Silent Night and the much loved favorite Carol of the Bells. They were joined by the Tay Valley Choir, who sang along for Patapan and Christmas is Coming.

Ann McMahon explained that there are more similarities directing a vocal choir and a bell choir than differences. She explained, “A strong consistent beat is important in both cases. Each section (or bell player) needs to know how their part fits in with the other bells. The bells rely on the conductor to keep them together and to add "colour" through use of changes in the volume of sound."

Barb Guthrie of Perth has been a member of the bell choir for seven years loves the challenge that comes with being a ringer. She said,” It’s all about counting. That’s why when you see our faces when we are playing we are often not smiling because we are really concentrating on the tempo. The songs that have the quickest bell changes are the most difficult to play but playing them is very exciting and also very satisfying.”

The Humdingers’ next performance will be at the St. James Anglican Church in Perth on December 20 at 7PM.

Anyone interested in joining the Tay Valley Community Choir can visit their website at www.tayvalleychoir.com. Anyone interested in joining The Humdingers can contact Barb Guthrie at 613-264-0338.

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