Philadelphia Handbells on the Radio

Posted By Derek Nance on Feb 20, 2014 | 4 comments

The ringers of the Philadelphia Handbell Ensemble (PHE) have been performing on the airwaves around Christmas time the past few years, and what they have been ringing might surprise you.  Teaming up with the Preston and Steve Show on 93.3 WMMR, the ringers of PHE perform short snippets of pop songs which the listeners must call in and identify to win prizes.  This odd combination of pop music, handbells, and a local radio station occurred through strange happenstance.  Shelley Merrit, one of the members of PHE, explains how it happened.

One night I was attending a singles’ mixer hosted by the morning show on the station. I remembered hearing on the show that the Producer of the show, Nick McIlwain, was an alumni of Bucknell University, which happened to be my alma mater.  I decided to introduce myself and use that to break the ice.  We got around to talking, found out we were there at the same time and in trying to figure out if we had ever bumped into each other, I mentioned I was in the Rooke Chapel Ringers.  He asked if I was still involved in bells at all and naturally I mentioned PHE.  He then suggested it might be cool if we could put something together where we would play on air, maybe as a Name That Tune kind of thing.

That was in 2009, and they have been on air every year since.  Here’s an example of what they perform.  Can you name that tune?

If you guessed “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin, you would be correct.

The arrangements are done be several members in the group.  Each year they sit down with a list of songs that might sound good on bells, then play around with the arrangements until they get the sound they want.  My favorite part of watching through these videos is the interesting techniques they employ to create the sounds commonly heard in pop music.  Check out this reverse intinction technique they use (for those who are new to the blog, I am on a campaign to get the technique where you dip a bell into water named “intinction” instead of “aquabell”).  Can you name this tune?

The correct answer would be “Everlong” by the Foo Fighters.

“The radio is not the only ‘out of the norm’ place PHE has been” according to PHE’s new artistic director Brian Seemann.  “Last summer PHE participated in the Philadelphia 4th of July Parade, and will find themselves on a float in the parade again this upcoming 4th. Also be on the lookout for a television appearance on Thanksgiving”

Here are two more.  Can you name these tunes?

Survey says: “Creep” by Radio Head and “Better Man” by Pearl Jam

Last November, PHE celebrated its 10th birthday so this year they are celebrating by putting on a 10th Anniversary Concert on May 16th at 7:30 at the Kurtz Performing Arts Center at the William Penn Charter School in Philadelphia.  If you are in the area, you should definitely check it out.