Bellfolk Handbell Ringers: reflections from an adopted composer

Peter Yarde Martin reflects on his involvement on the Adopt a Composer scheme, and looks forward to what comes next.

With the first performance of my new piece ‘Starsong and Nocturne’ on 12th May, my Adopt-a-Composer project with Bellfolk Handbell Ringers reached its culmination. It was wonderful to hear my piece take shape over the course of the collaboration, and I was thrilled with how they performed it in concert!

In beautiful setting of St. George’s Colegate, the spatial effects and ethereal harmonies were positively spine-tingling.

Over the course of the last few months, I’ve really come to appreciate the intricacy and immediacy of the teamwork that goes on in handbell ringing. It’s no accident that, in Britain, handbell groups are called ‘teams’, and the close way in which ringers have to work together creates a form of music-making unlike any other that I’ve experienced.

Bellfolk have thrown themselves into the project with a huge amount of enthusiasm, skill, and relentless goodwill. Although I started with every intention of keeping it simple, I ended up using all sorts of aleatoric notation and intricate textures in the final piece! However, it’s been great to see Bellfolk tackle these difficulties with relish, and engage not only with the notes on the page, but also the musical expression, images and narratives behind them.

I’ve learnt a lot from the insightful questions and suggestions that they have provided, that will prove very useful in my future composition practice.

I’d like to express my huge thanks to the group’s director Linda McCord and Bellfolk Handbell Ringers, my mentor Jenni Pinnock, who has been on hand to offer musical and practical suggestions, and to Making Music and Sound & Music for putting on the Adopt-a-Composer project and teaming us up together!

It’s my hope that this project is just the start, however. We’re looking at creating a version of the piece for 5 octave handbell ensemble, to be played by larger ensembles, and also at future performances by Bellfolk – but also to collaborating on new pieces. So here’s to a long and fruitful collaboration between this adopted composer and the Bellfolk Handbell Ringers!