Editor’s note: this review was written by young composer and arranger Matt Compton. He went through the entire Chorister’s Guild catalog and gave us his thoughts. You can click on the title of each piece to find more information about it.
“Angels from the Realms of Glory” arr. John Behnke
This arrangement is one of the better “ring and sing” settings. I generally find that I can’t stand arrangements that are stanza, interlude, stanza, etc. but this one is one that is much better than most out there. I do enjoy the variations on the tune rather than just the same melody with no interesting changes. The minor stanza and the final stanza make this arrangement stand out.
“Now Thank We All Our God” arr. Anna Laura Page
I generally really do not like level 1 music, but this arrangement is not bad! I really enjoy the use of an additional instrument and I like that the composer isn’t afraid to put some bell changes and added techniques to make this arrangement a little more interesting. I wouldn’t necessarily use clarinet as the additional instrument. With a tune like this I think trumpet is the best way to go.
“Celebrate the Season” arr. Cathy Moklebust
This will be a big hit and is a great resource for churches with a smaller budget or just someone who doesn’t want to have to buy $300+ of music a season. Plus, directors are getting some great music from one of the best composers out there. This is a great thing for Choristers Guild to release. As a note on the one song they show us, “‘Twas in the Moon of Wintertime”, it is very well written and for being a level 2 piece, it’s quite interesting! I also know the “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus” arrangement and that one is also very well written and it’s so much fun!
“Holy Manna” arr. Susan Geschke
I am not a huge fan of a piece that is entirely played with mallets and I especially hate mallet clicks, but I do enjoy this arrangement. Personally I would simply remove the mallet clicks. However, as a whole, this is a well-written arrangement! I love the various dynamic shifts, especially the crescendo-decrescendo patterns.
“The First Noel” arr. Kevin McChesney
Wow! This arrangement is a stand out to me. Everyone knows this tune but most definitely not in 4/4. I love the flowing eighth notes throughout the arrangement; it really keeps the piece moving. I love the way that the composer changes the refrain early on but still make it recognizable. The echoes are a nice touch. One of my favorite things that composers can do is use passing tones in the bass line, which is used very skillfully in the second refrain. It adds such a great transition. Great work here!
“Exultant Variations” by Michael Helman
Finally!! An original! This is a really unique piece. I really enjoy the minor variation because minor keys are just so much cooler especially when most of the piece is major! But overall I would say that this is a refreshing, creative, and very enjoyable original from Michael Helman. I really enjoy how this piece sounds a lot harder than it really is, making it a good choice for groups looking to work on advancing in levels.
“Long Ago, Prophets Knew” arr. Linda Lamb
I hate to say it this way, but this is a prime example of why I really do not like level 1 music. I think the piece is too simple in the sense that there is not much in terms of interest. I get bored very easily when it comes to easy pieces and there are ways to make the piece more exciting. With a slow, solemn piece like this, maybe use chimes, echoes, suspended mallets on the off-beat chords maybe? This just needs something to spice it up, even a little.
“When Morning Gilds the Skies” arr. Sandra Eithun
It doesn’t help to listen to a piece and judge it fairly when it is an arrangement of a tune I just do not like. However, I do rather enjoy this arrangement. It’s a very good choice to give a small ensemble trying to become a little more advanced or, like the recording says, as an option when there is a “shortage” of ringers. This is also a well-written arrangement for being so simple.
“Comfort Ye” arr. Margaret Tucker
This piece is quite beautiful. Looking at the music in the sample score booklet, I didn’t think I would like it but this piece is very moving. I love the harmonies of the various melodic lines and accompanying lines. I also love every single bell change and how it enhances the piece. This would be a great piece for groups that can learn notes without difficulty but need to work on the musicality aspect of what bell music can do. Wonderful work here!
“God Be With You Till We Meet Again” arr. Cathy Moklebust
Thoughts: I personally am not a huge fan of this arrangement. I do enjoy the double choir aspect but this is not one of the better examples. I will say that this piece will be a good way to involve more ringers, especially if there is a desire to involve youth on the handchime part.
“Transformation” by Kevin McChesney
A very unique piece to say the least! But I really enjoy this one. The extensive use of the singing bell is quite the addition and I think personally this is one of my favorite examples of the technique. I love the middle ringing section too, with the flowing eighth notes and the really simple chord progression. This is a very pretty piece!
“Fling Wide the Door” arr. Jane McFadden
I know that these CD demos are meant to just be that, a demo however; I think that this recording should have been done a lot faster. I went to my metronome and found that the group played the piece even slower than the minimum 108 tempo marking. But the music itself I find to be a little boring as well.
“Christmas Carols for Twelve Bells” arr. Jason Krug
I never find these too be the most impressive arrangements ever because they are only for 12 bells, but it can showcase ringers in a small ensemble setting. It’s always good to take these and go out into the community and showcase handbells in a public setting rather than just in a church. This is a great set of music here.
“Promised Land” arr. Anna Laura Page
A very solid arrangement showcasing a unique way to superimpose melodies from different tunes. I enjoy how each piece transitions into each other. This is a good solid level 3 to add to a concert where an extra space is needed to be filled.
“Peace in Our Time” by Cathy Moklebust
I like the idea of these three pieces quite a bit. I think it’s a great way to honor people who have had such an impact on the fight for peace (which is always in interesting statement to make). The violin adds a nice touch too. In “Tribute” I can visualize people walking across Texas in old times with their cart and buggies and going into the “old west”. I really enjoy this one!!
“Morning Hymn” arr. Sondra Tucker
Again, a level 1 where some techniques could be put in, but a solid effort in adding to the bell literature. This is a good example of choirs needing music to work with dynamic changes and different dynamics between parts. This is a good learning piece!
“God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” arr. Julie Stitt
I think this is a fantastic arrangement and so needed for a fresh take on the traditional carol. I love the chord progressions in this song and the alternating time signatures really add a neat effect. I love the way the composer changes the melody in after the key change. I love the addition of drums and bass as well. This is so much fun but definitely a challenge. This will be a hit at concerts. I highly recommend this one.
“Music of the Masters 2” arr. Sharon Elery Rogers
Obviously seeing as this had a major demand for its release (after the first set of music), their settings prove to really aid handbell choirs looking to progress in their skills. I think the list of music that is included is a good mix of styles.
“When in Our Music God Is Glorified” arr. Cathy Moklebust
This is a good piece for singing in church and getting bells involved with congregation for the hymns. However, this is a good example of stanza-by-stanza writing that I don’t find to be too impressive. The piece will be a hit when you get all the instruments with it, however I do not feel that the piece itself would stand alone too well. It’s something that I feel just gets too repetitive without too much variation on each piece.
I think this was a very good mix of music with some very well written, exciting pieces in the catalog. However, I think this catalog needs more originals, a couple more challenging works, and more options from a slightly wider range of composers. Yes, I understand that arrangements will sell more, but composers have a lot of originals I’m sure they would like to get out there and honestly, if an original is well written, it will sell well. I personally look for new composers to see what new ideas will be coming to bells. While I love Moklebust, McChesney, Sherman and Dobrinski to death, I really do look forward to new composers’ music and I tend to give their music more of a chance. I don’t think I am the only one. This is because we have grown to expect something from each well known composer and we tend to be let down if each piece from those composers isn’t like our favorite. Another thing I know will not sell as much is more challenging works, but they are sometimes more exciting to listen to and there are groups who WILL play the pieces. Thanks Choristers Guild for another solid catalog!