I am strongly interested in worship arts and utilizing many aspects of artistic elements in worship as much as possible. One thing that is an easy augmentation is to use handbells more creatively in worship. Besides ringing a special selection there are many other ways to use handbells in worship.
Accompanying a choral anthem – many choral anthems have augmenting handbell parts (e.g. Seven Songs for the Church Year, Michael Bedford, Choristers Guild, CGA693) or can be accompanied exclusively by handbells (Creation Will Be At Peace, Anna Laura Page, Alfred 12392 bells, 4248 SATB, 5898 SAB, 5899 2-pt)
Accompanying Psalmody – for congregations who chant or use psalmody with responses, it is easy to find settings already prepared, play right out of the hymnal, or write out parts for yourself after obtaining permission.
Accompany hymns and service music – if the handbell choir plays the offertory, have them accompany a Doxology that may follow. If they play the prelude, have them join in the first hymn. Have a service where the handbell choir accompanies all of the singing. There are many hymn collections available in publication.
Handbell with other Instruments – there are many publications that use handbells with organ, piano, and solo instruments such as flute, oboe, trumpet, etc.
Handbell trees / Malmark Cymbells® – trees for processional or Cymbells® for accompaniment. There are published works for handbell trees or it is easy to develop your own. The Hopson book is particularly useful in this area—(see source list). A favorite use of trees and Cymbells® is to peal octaves on Easter or Christmas hymns, such as "Christ the Lord is Risen Today" or Joy to the World." I transpose "Joy to the World" down to C so ringers can do scales on Cymbells®. The pattern of DO-do-la-fa-re-ti-sol-mi (where DO is low C and do is high C) interspersed with true diatonic scales is very effective.
Ensemble or solo ringing – The most eager ringers may want to try some solo, duet, trio, or quartet literature. Talented ringers will enjoy the challenge of ringing more than just two diatonic notes.
Random Ringing – this technique is very accessible. It can even involve folks who are not involved in a handbell group. Chimes or bells could be distributed among the congregation. Try this with Of the Father's Love Begotten. The only challenge to the director may be selecting the right notes to add. Generally, adding do, re, sol and la in the key of the music will work.
Singing Bell – use the singing bell technique to underscore portions of the liturgy. A few ringers interspersed throughout the congregation to start singing bell ambiance during the Great Thanksgiving portion of the communion liturgy is remarkable starting at the words, "Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here . . . ." or during baptism liturgy at the words "when nothing existed but chaos, you swept across the dark waters . . . ."
Tolling – usually a whole note using an open fifth (do and sol) on the first beat of each measure—this can be added on hymns such as Of the Father's Love Begotten, What Wondrous Love, or O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. It also is effective to toll a single bell from various locations in the Sanctuary for reading the names of departed on All Saints day.
This topic is assisted greatly by many publications available. The two volumes of Hal Hopson's The Creative Use of Handbells in Worship listed below in the source list are excellent. Also, for young or beginning ringers, the Margaret Tucker collections are a great help. It only takes a little bit of time to go a step beyond just playing a piece of music with your bell choir.
Annotated Source List
Honoré, Jeffery. Handbells in the Catholic Liturgy. Carol Stream, IL.: Hope Publishing Company (code #2120), 1999.
This volume is designed to be used with The Creative use of Handbells in Worship by Hal Hopson. This volume is presented in two parts: 1-suggestions on how to write for specific uses in the Catholic Liturgy and 2-Practical ideas for handbells that enrich the congregations' song.
Hopson, Hal H. The Creative Use of Handbells in Worship, The Creative Church Musician Series, Vol 1., Carol Stream, IL.: Hope Publishing Company (code #1956), 1997.
This is one book in a series of useful manuals. It describes itself as a "mini-course in Handbell arranging for specific use in Worship Service." It contains many examples of ways to enhance hymn accompaniments, including random ringing, ostinati, peals descants, etc. Permission is granted to the owner to copy parts for handbell choir.
Hopson, Hal H. The Creative Use of Handbells in Worship, Book 2, The Creative Church Musician Series, Vol 7., Carol Stream, IL.: Hope Publishing Company (code #8282), 2006.
Like the previous volume with more tunes and additional creative settings.
Moklebust, Cathy. Hymn Stanzas for Handbells, Augsburg Fortress (code# 11-10722), 1996.
This collection includes 18 hymn setting from The Lutheran Book of Worship and With One Voice – one stanza in regular setting, and one with descant or fuller chordal arrangement for a final stanza. Many of these are level 3 in difficulty.
Tucker, Margaret R. Harmonies for Hymns, Chordal Accompaniments for Ten Familiar Hymns. Garland, TX.: Choristers Guild (code #CGB251), 2001.
This easy collection (level 1+) is useful for beginning choirs or for children and youth. As it describes itself it uses chordal accompaniments and the melody is written on a separate staff that a soloist, congregation or another solo instrument could follow. Parts for C and Bb instruments for both treble and bass clef are included. Sing along sheets are also included. Both parts can be copied for use with the collection. The collection includes the tunes: Hymn to Joy, Foundation, Dix, Bradbury,. He Leadeth Me, Italian Hymn, Converse, Bethany, St. Elizabeth, & Jesus Loves Me.
Tucker, Margaret R. Harmonies for Hymns, Set II, Chordal Accompaniments for Ten Familiar Hymns. Garland, TX.: Choristers Guild (code #CGB445), 2006.
The second volume includes the tunes: Truro, Regent Square, Morning Star, Hamburg, Ellacombe, Redhead, St. Kevin, Trentham, Eucharistic Hymn, & Kremser.