At Distinctly Bronze West in March, 2016 participants were given a special treat. In addition to having the opportunity to play under the fabulous Toshikazu Yoshida for four days of intense upper division ringing, participants were treated to a concert by the Kinjo Gakuin University Handbell Choir from Japan. The all female group group wowed the audience with their technical skills and musical precision. Performing for an audience of fellow ringers is a challenging, exhilarating experience (as I found out first hand when my group performed at National Seminar 2013), but the group was as poised and polished as they are in all their videos on YouTube. After the conference, Mr. Yoshida released a video he had taken of the performance. This un-edited recording includes the full performance, including Arthur Syin’s entertaining monologues between each piece.
Watching this concert live was pure joy for me. I was sitting just feet from the bass bell ringers with a stupid grin on my face the whole time. You can probably hear me and everyone else cheering after every piece. Watching the Kinjo Gaukin ringers perform online many times gave me a great appreciation for their musicality and precision, but there are some amazing aspects of the group you can only notice from watching their performance live. For one, I never truly appreciated how incredible their bass bell plucking skills are. That seems like a weird thing to be memorized by, but watching the girls get that level of dynamics and speed and accuracy over and over while plucking was incredible. As someone who is not a strong bass ringer and who usually cheats and grabs mallets, I was duly impressed.
Also, watch and appreciate the level of bell choreography that is involved. They only perform on one set of bells, so if they need someone else to grab a note the bell has to be physically moved around the table. During this performance there are a couple impressive passes in the Disney Fantasy piece. I’m pretty sure I saw one bell move the full length of the table.
From this camera perspective you can also appreciate how intense the connection is between Mr. Yoshida and the ringers. The ringers have their eyes glued to him the entire concert, which allows him to bring out all sorts of subtle shifts and changes in the music. Handbells is an exceptionally difficult instrument to perform with musical grace, due mainly to the logistics of having a gaggle of ringers involved, but the Kinjo Gaukin ringers have mastered the technique. The massed group of ringers at Distinctly Bronze was certainly a talented group, but we struggled mightily at trying to follow Mr. Yoshida. You can hear Arthur at one point jesting with the audience about that in the video. Just watch the group’s final piece “Csardas” at 49:45 in the video. At many points it feels like there’s one person performing and emoting at a single instrument, not 13 ringers on 60+ bells.
I just want to give a huge shout out to Jenny Cauhorn, the Executive Director of Handbell Musicians of America, and the Kinjo Gaukin University for making this performance happen. I can’t imagine the logistics involved with bringing that many ringers across the ocean to perform for us, but I am very grateful that they made it happen.
What was your favorite handbell performance you’ve seen? Let us know in the comments below.