Good Vibrations

Last weekend I attended the OGEHR (pronounced “ogre”…think Shrek) (Ontario Guild of English Handbell Ringers) festival in Hamilton, Ontario.  The festival is held every two years and is a gathering of handbell choirs from across the province.  (At this year’s festival there were also choirs from Quebec and the United States.)  There were 54 choirs at this year’s event.  That’s more than 400 ringers!  Participants ranged in age from 8 to probably over 80 (no one would admit). 

Three different levels of handbell ringers were represented at the festival.  There was the “Tin” division (beginners), the “Copper” division (intermediates…my group is in this category) and the “Bronze” division (the most experienced ringers).  We worked on pieces of music within our own division and also on “massed” choir pieces in which all ringers played.  At the end of the festival we performed a concert for an appreciative audience comprised mostly of family and friends.  During our time in Hamilton we also attended workshops and enjoyed “mini concerts” with music provided by volunteers from among the groups in attendance.

A set of handbells is expensive to purchase.  Very few individuals own their own set (a few solo ringers do…but that’s a story for another day).  Typically, handbells are owned by churches.  As a result, most of the music written for and played by bell ringers is church-type music.  At the festival we had the oppportunity to broaden our horizons a bit.  In keeping with the festival’s theme, the massed choir even played a handbell version of the Beach Boys’ hit “Good Vibrations”.  A guest bass player and drummer helped the ringers exerience what it means to “rock out”.

Aside from the beds (We stayed in the university residence.  The beds were “mate’s beds” which were basically a slab of wood with 2 inches of foam on top.  I suppose that’s OK when you’re a young co-ed, but at my age…ouch!!), it was a fantastic experience.  I’m looking forward to the next festival in 2013!

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