Bells Can Sing — And Dance

Handbells, I’ve decided, are the only percussion instrument that sounds like a human person singing. And when a soloist plays the bells, it’s like a dancer who sings but does not have to worry about saving her breath.

I just heard the most amazing concert, played by pianist Akiko Hosaki (on left), and handbell soloist Hyosang Park (center) to benefit United Front Against Riverblindness, headed by Daniel Shungu, shown on right. It was at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, a beautiful contemporary church in East Windsor.

Park and Hosaki collaborated on Lenten hymns, using rubato (pauses, ever-so-slightly varying tempos) that twanged the heartstrings. Some were their own arrangements (solo handbell is so difficult that it can be hard to find good ones, they say). Especially wonderful were their arrangements for Jules Massenet’s “Thais,” Vivaldi’s “Winter,” and my absolute favorite, Erik Satie’s “Gymnopedie” #1. Especially in the Satie, the bells seemed to crescendo and decrescendo on the same note. The telecommunications engineer/musician who was sitting with me informed me that this was the Doppler effect, that if the sound-producer is moving, it makes a different sound. (Did I get that right, John MacDonald?).

Disclosure, I’m a member of Princeton United Methodist Church, where Park directs the handbell choir. I never had the ambition to ring, but now I do. To watch her is to be amazed at her tour-de-force, but to listen is to hear an exquisite voice.

The next handbell concert in this series will be at Princeton United Methodist Church on Saturday, May 15, 7 p.m. Here is a link to a YouTube excerpt that will charm you.

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