Very Mellow Christmas –
by Ken Hoover
December 19, 2009, Raleigh, NC: Your holiday season “Bucket List” (things to do before you die) should include, at the very least, a performance of Handel’s Messiah, a concert or service in Duke Chapel, Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors, Nine Lessons and Carols sung by a boys (or treble) choir and a concert by the Raleigh Ringers.
Music feeds and nourishes the soul and here in the Triangle a banquet table is spread each year with a feast of seasonal delights. Community choruses and various musical ensembles, church choirs and university music programs fill the air with some first rate performances. In addition there are visiting professional groups on the one hand and a generous scattering of excellent high school choirs and ensembles on the other.
Meymandi Concert Hall is decked out in seasonal ornaments, bows and lighting and provides a warm and inviting venue for much of this feast. The broadly acclaimed Raleigh Ringers filled the hall with the mellow overtones of bells ranging in size from a small cup to a five gallon pot (or bigger) and sounds from a tinkle to a bong. Hand bell ringing is the converse of the organ which is an instrument with dozens of timbres and pitches played by one person, where as a bell ensemble acts as one instrument with each musician responsible for particular notes, sounding his or her assigned bells whenever that note appears in the music.
In the case of the Raleigh Ringers, sixteen players, through intricate coordination, provide the unified glorious sounds of one instrument. Variety of timbre and effect is achieved with different styles of bells and different techniques of initiating and dampening the vibration of the bells and the unique overtones built into a hand bell set. Clappers swinging on a hinge inside the bell make one sound. Mallets which may have heads of rubber, plastic or covered in wool provide another sound. The padded table is not just a place to put the bell down, but provides special dampening effects and sounds.
The first part of the program included seven arrangements of traditional carols including an audience favorite – “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” – four of them by well-known hand bell arranger Hart Morris, two by Arnold Sherman and an arrangement of “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” by Cathy A. Moklebust. One more selection, written especially for hand bell ensemble and specifically for the RR was “Toccata Allegro” by Mallory Ferraro, Julie Turner and Jefferey A. Hall.
The second half of the concert featured one of the outstanding high school ensembles in our area: The Sanderson High School Sandpipers under the superb leadership of Marshall Butler. The Sandpipers sang two selections with the RR and then a set of carols and a Hebrew Folk Song, all unaccompanied, solidly on pitch and sung with understanding and style. They closed their part of the program with two pop selections; “Everyday Christmas” and “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”, both sung with winsome enthusiasm. This group was quite impressive. Their entrances were solid and crisp, their diction was remarkable, and their intonation was as mellow as the bells they shared the program with. A couple of brief solos by choir members were awesome; commendations to Butler and bravo to The Sandpipers.
The Ringers returned to the stage to close the program with “Good King Joy” and “Stille Nacht” for which the audience was provided battery powered candles and lots of warm, homey feelings.
For an encore the Ringers did a skit/performance of a rock and roll hit by Guns and Roses. It sure did mellow out the punk rock! It was a lot of fun. The Raleigh Ringers is a unique show and well deserving of the pride of the community.