Elaine Eddins interviewed about bell ringing: Jan. 9, 1977
By TIM PALMER Pampa News Staff A bell in the hand at times may be worth two in the belfry. That idea has led to the formation of six handbell choirs in Pampa. The First United Methodist Church has an eight - woman choir and the First Baptist Church two childrens choirs, two youth choirs and an adult choir that performs at church services. Handbell choirs evolved from the English bell towers, according to Morris Kille, director at the Methodist church. Ringers pulling the ropes in sequence produced the harmony. "That got to a little tiresome." Kille said, "so they manufactured these handbells. They were neither so tiresome nor so hard on the ears of the people in the community." It grew from there. P.T. Barnum brought the famgus "Swiss bellringers" to the United States with his circus and the idea caught on. The American Guild of English Handbell Ringers has brought the choirs to their greatest popularity in this country, beginning in the late 1950s. Today, handbell choirs are alive and ringing. Kille, who has been directing bell choirs since 1956. started his Pampa group about two year sago. "Most directors used to have to arrange their own music," Kille said, "but now there is a lot of music arranged for bells." Both Kille and John Glover, director of the five bell choirs at the First Baptist Church, still do some of their own arrangements. "The music we play ranges from hymns and gospel songs to the classics," Glover said. "The bells are also used in accompaniments and in descants for the choral music." The Methodist bellringers accompany singers and often ring the entrances for the church services by tolling the hour. "Almost anything can be played by handbells as long as the notes are in the ranges of the set of bells," Glover said. The Baptist choirs, for example, have a three - octave set of English handbells from London's White Chapel Bell Foundry, makers of bells since 1570. With the addition of a set recently ordered from Pennsylvania, their collection will total 74 bells. "The bells are cast of 'bell metal.' and alloy of copper and tin, the proportion being approximately 80 per cent gf 20 per cent." Glover said. "The bells are fitted with handles made of leather straps which allow the ringer dynamic control." Control is all-important in a choir's performance, according to the ringers themselves. "If you have more than two bells to play, it can be difficult," said Mrs. Ann Hamilton, a member of the Methodist choir. "Onetime I had four bells so I had to change, but you must keep your place.'' "A handbell ringer is many times responsible for four bells." Glover agreed. "Since a person can only play two larger bells at a time, they must know exactly when to lay down one bell and pick up another." According to Kille, "rhythm is as important if not more important than reading music." "The greatest asset," Glover continued, "is in the area of concentration and coordination. It is easier to teach music reading than the other two areas. Music reading is not essential to ring in our choirs." But it helps. "I have been with the bell choir since it started about four years ago," said Elaine Eddins, First Baptist Church. "I had had musical training since I was a child, so for me it was easy. You have to know your musical notes. For other girls who try out for the choir without any musical background it's difficult, but with proper training it can be done." The choirs are responsible for producing the correct tones. "There is a definite technique to ringing the bells," Mrs. Eddins said. "You don't just clank it out there or ring it like the Salvation Army bell to produce the best sound. A beautifully made bell can still make a harsh sound of it's not done right." Both the Methodist and Baptist choirs tone up for one hour a week to prevent any tinny tintinnabulation. "The technique we use we call 'threading the bell,"' Mrs. Eddins explained "The reason we call it that is because we teach the children, on sustained notes, to ring the bell out to about table level and bring it up slowly, like threading a needle. The bell produces a pretty tone and when you bring it up slowly the sound of the bell carries." The ringers hold the bells at their chests with their elbows at their sides. Playing a note requires a stretching of the whole arm upward and outward in a smooth, jerking motion. Kille instructs his choristers that "it's all in the wrist." He explained that the bell is held "in a cocked position, with the clapper restrained by a spring from moving and hitting the brass part of the bell." The correct jerking motion of the wrist releases the clappers from the spring and allows the sound to be produced. Unwanted sound is carefully controlled. Glover said the bells for his choir rest on tables covered with two to four inches of foam rubber. Since some of the bells may weigh up to three pounds. Glover said that "when we begin choir each year I always have many complaints about soreness in the arms and shoulders. It is very good physically since the arms are in motion continuously." Kille added that the ringers, in their hour - long practices, have to wear' gloves to protect their hands. "The friction between the leather and the hand causes blisters after so long a time." This spring. Glover will take his choirs to the State Handbell Festival in Waco, where they will be judged on technique, interpretation and preparation. Both the Baptist and Methodist bell choirs will perform for civic groups on request. Despite the strenuous activity and the applied techniques, "I enjoy it very much." Mrs. Hamilton said. Pleased with the musical product their efforts evoke, the choristers mighl agree with Poe that, because of the bells, "all the heavens seem to twinkle with a crystalline delight."