An Open Letter To The Handbell Community: Let It Go Already

Posted By Derek Nance on Feb 3, 2015 | 3 comments


Part of running a blog involves spending lots of time watching handbell videos online.  There is one piece of music that I can’t manage to let go of, no matter how many videos I watch.  It seems to be frozen into the repertoire of every ensemble this past year.  For those who might not be able to guess the piece I’m referring to, here’s a video of one of the top handbell groups performing one of the many arrangements.

From the 2013 Disney film Frozen, this is the ever popular song “Let It Go”.  Written by the husband-and-wife songwriting team Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez and performed by Broadway star Idina Menzel, “Let It Go” did so well outside the movie that it was the first Disney song to hit the Bilboard 100 chart since “Colors of the Wind” in 1995.  In fact, Menzel has become so popular since “Let It Go” was released that you may have noticed her singing the national anthem at this weekend’s Super Bowl.

This piece has literally infiltrated every corner of the handbell world.  You can find arrangements of it in every configuration; handbell solo, handbell quintet, handbell septet, kids on handchimes, bell plates, and a medley with other songs from Frozen.  Many arrangers have done arrangements of it, from unnamed students, to friends of the blog like Brian Seemann, Greg Urban, and Micheal Lopez, to big name composers including Sandra Tucker and Kevin McChesney.  At National Seminar in 2013, every one of the large ensembles played a different variation of the piece.  In fact there are so many videos of “Let It Go” on handbells that I can’t list them all.

Brian Seemann and Elsa

I will admit that I also enjoy this piece.  The catchy melody, beautiful singing, and powerful lyrics combine to make “Let It Go” a wonderful piece of art.  Who among us doesn’t need to be reminded from time to time that there are some things in life we need to just walk away from for our own health and sanity.

“Let It Go” also makes for a great handbell piece.  The flowing melody and big chords are ripe for handbell interpretation.  There are also fast runs and flourishes that more advanced groups can add to make the piece more challenging, creating a song that can be adapted to every level of ringing.

So today I am asking everyone in the handbell world to let this piece go.

The handbell world is a small community and when we find a song that sounds great on bells we all tend to latch onto it.  This same phenomenon happened several years ago when we discovered the music from Pirates of the Caribbean sounded great on bells. I truly love the fact that even groups that play mostly classical music have tried playing “Let It Go”.  It is great to see so many groups trying to play pop music on bells.

“Pop” music has been booming with the rise of the internet.  Because of the ease at which musicians can get their music to listeners, the selection of music to listen to has been growing steadily.  There are so many fascinating indie bands that combine seemingly non-related genres into beautiful music, like Electro Swing or  Thai Psychedelic. New music is seemingly endless these days.

My challenge to handbell groups is to keep pushing the boundaries of what is possible on bells.  Instead of everyone just playing the standard arrangement of “Let It Go”, think about what parts of the song you like the best and figure out how to get the same effect from other pieces of music.  I am continually amazed by the ingenuity of bell arrangers.  As a community we have barely scratched the surface of what is possible on this instrument, so the sky is still the limit.

With that said, can we all collectively repeat these words from Elsa:

“And one thought crystallizes like an icy blast
I’m never going back; the past is in the past!”

Let’s leave “Let It Go” in the past and see what the future holds!

What song do you think will be the next pop hit on handbells?