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Hay River handbell chimes

Choir getting in the groove

Dave Sullivan
Northern News Services

Hay River (Dec 17/01) - Handbell choir just raised enough for a brand new octave.

It can't be seen or touched, but extra notes in the octave will make NWT's only handbell choir more complete, with a lot more soft ringing sounds.

The purchase of some shiny new brass bells is a sign of the Hay River choir's progress since it was started in 1996 at Diamond Jenness School.

To chime out songs at the same level as other handbell choirs across the country, the group of nine Hay River students needs 11 more bells. That's will make it possible to perform more complex musical pieces, says director Kim Klassen.

"We're missing so many notes."

Octaves are all the notes in, say, a "C" chord. The Hay River choir had been plodding along with enough bells for just two octaves. But dedicated practice has made the students more skilled.

"We've had the two octaves for five years and we're getting to the point where in order to get more challenging music, you have to have another octave."

"There's not a lot of music written for two octaves, so we're very limited."

Ideally, a handbell choir has 88 bells, the same as the number of keys on a piano. That's 10 octaves. But Klassen isn't aware of any handbell choir that big.

When her students performed in London, Ont., in the spring of 2000, "the biggest we saw was six or seven octaves."

The $4,100 worth of new bells will arrive the day before Christmas break.

"Right now we have 27 bells," says Klassen. "After Christmas we will have 38."

Hay River has two handbell choirs -- junior and senior.

When the new bells arrive, senior ringers will be learning to play up to eight bells at once.

They're manufactured in a town called Plumbsteadville in Pennsylvania. The most expensive ones cost $500 each, and smaller ones are about $200.

Each bell can produce different tones, depending on how they're played.

Students in Hay River's choir have been shaking the bells, but they're going to work more on other techniques, like striking them with little mallets.

Klassen says handbell choirs evolved from church steeple carillon bells, which were rung by pulling ropes.