This American Handbell App

Posted By Derek Nance on May 26, 2013 | 6 comments


Handbell App interface

Both Bryce and I are self professed National Public Radio junkies, and one of our favorite shows is This American Life.  If you haven’t heard of the show before, each week the host Ira Glass presents a hour long radio show filled with stories about everyday life.  One year ago this month they decided to present a live show that was beamed into movie theaters across the country in real time.  On our way into the theater we were told to download an app to our smart phones that we would be using during the show.  The app looked like the picture on the right and played three different handbell tones, depending on which button you pressed.  There were four different versions of the app that were different colors and played different notes that loaded randomly. We had no idea why we had downloaded the app when the show started.

Act 3 of the show comes around and Ira Glass is joined on stage with Ok Go, the rock band most famously know for their music video consisting of one gigantic Rube Goldberg machine.   They explain that we the audience were going to play along with them during their next piece.  On the giant screen behind the band 5 bands of color appeared and goal was to touch your corresponding color and symbol when it reached the bottom of the screen (much like a popular video game series).  The camera panned right, revealing the band members standing behind a table full of Marlmark bells instead of their usual instruments.

I will spare you the description of how the members of Ok Go actually rang, because watching it was painful (if anyone knows how to get in touch with the band, I would love to spend a couple of hours with them on their ringing).  Regardless, we had a blast using our phones to play along with the band.  It was such a fun concept and everyone in our theater was playing along.  The arrangement was difficult enough to give even experienced musicians a challenge following along.

OK Go on This American Life

The whole experience really got me thinking about how we can incorporate smart phones into our performances in other ways.  I would share with you the video of the performance, but because of copyright I don’t have that ability (however, if you want to donate $5 to This American Life you can download the entire 2 hour show here.)

As we have mentioned here before, our group is performing the opening concert at the Handbell Musicians of America National Seminar.  I have been wracking my brain for ideas to integrate smart phones into our performance, but I haven’t thought of anything good.  How have you seen smart phones used during concerts?  Or what do you think would be an interesting use of phones during a concert?  Let us know in the comments and we may try and use your idea at our national performance!