Just over a year ago, we had the extraordinary pleasure of seeing Vivace from Puerto Rico at the Area XII conference at Disneyland. Not only was it exciting meeting young ringers so dedicated to the art-form, but it was also amazing seeing another culture take on our instrument.
Sitting in on a class by Carlos Rivera and Carlos J. Avila, the directors of Vivace, was fascinating. There were some unique techniques and styles that this ensemble deploys in order to create such a lively concert, here are a few:
Most ensembles use the normal assignments on bells; each person has two bells for an entire piece and only in extreme circumstances would a ringer be willing to allow another to touch their bells. In Vivace, Carlos spends untold hours making his own assignments. The focus of the assignments is to make sure that a ringer never has to play two notes not on a strong beat, especially on runs. Watching the treble ringers on songs, you will notice that for some runs they all switch up half a position so that way no ringer has to interject into a run on offbeats. While preparing a piece, this method takes many hours away from the director, however, it is worth it when the ensemble can pull of more difficult pieces in a shorter amount of time.
Snare drum ringing
(I can’t remember the exact name they used)
This technique is used in order to play very quick and precise notes. If you watch during fast sections of the music, the ringers bring their bells lower and hold them almost parallel with the table. The ringing motion mirrors more of mallet styles than ringing. By holding the bells flat, the musician can use gravity to quickly draw the clapper down instead of using the wrist to fling the clapper back and forth. When ringing ridiculous passages, this trick has drastically helped me ring faster.
Sidenote for all jazz musicians out there: bells can comp under a solo just as well as any bass!
From that experience, we learned that every culture brings a certain type of ringing, and from every corner of the handbell world there are things that can be learned an incorporated into our own ringing styles.