Bellfolk Handbell Ringers: the last rehearsal

Putting in the final preparations before their Adopt a Composer concert premiere. Peter Yarde Martin reflects.

With only days until the first performance of ‘Starsong and Nocturne’, and the culmination of my adoption by Bellfolk Handbell Ringers, the project is reaching its final phase. This can be a strange part of the process for the composer having finished the piece nearly two months ago, while the Handbell team have been frantically rehearsing and getting to grips with what I’ve written.

Coming up for my last rehearsal on a beautiful April evening I’d barely listened to or thought about the piece since the previous month, which gave my composition a curious unfamiliarity when I listened to Bellfolk running it through.

When you’re completely absorbed in a piece, it’s almost impossible to have any kind of objectivity towards it, because the rhythms and sounds become so much a part of you. So I was gratified that, on hearing it again with a bit more distance between myself and the piece, it conjured up the sort of feelings and moods that I’d hoped it would.

‘Starsong’ is a series of gradually shifting chords, requiring the handbell ringers to do what they usually spend most of their rehearsals trying to avoid: playing out of time with each other! In this case, it creates a beautifully nebulous cloud of notes, slowly ebbing and flowing between peaks of loud and quiet, consonance and dissonance. ‘Nocturne’ is a chorale that is progressively treated with more elaborate accompaniment, building from some gorgeous sounds provided by hand chimes (an alternative instrument which we decided to use in our last workshop), through some full chords, and finally underneath flowing runs of notes in the higher bells, while the lower chimes again toll through the chords of the chorale.

I’m thrilled with how it’s sounding!

The Handbell team, led by director Linda McCord, have done an absolutely amazing job in learning the piece. They’ve risen brilliantly to its challenges, mastered its twists and turns, and all that was really left to do in feeding back was to suggest a few performance tweaks, and to let it settle down ready for the concert on 12th May at St. George’s Church, Colgate in Norwich.