Sunday, December 19, 2010

I Heart Hand Bells

What the hell is that?   I am sure that if you are bothering to read this then you are asking yourself this question.  Well I shall tell you...

Once upon a time I was in high school and at my little high school with a student body of 200 students we all had to take a "Fine Art" course in order to graduate.  Well, since I don't sing and I don't play a band instrument and can't act to save my life (I was that kid who spent the entire Christmas pageant waving at her parents instead of pretending to be a watchful shepherd) when my senior year came around the doors to the chorale, band and drama club were all shut to me.  Luckily, there was one last refuge, one last bastion of hope for talentless students.  This last chance station was known as Bell Choir.

We met in the back room of the administration building during seventh period.  And in a crowded little room we donned gloves and prepared to meet The Clinician.  The Clinician is sort of like the Dude from the Big Lebowski, okay he's really nothing like the Dude...but that's what you call a director of a bell choir...a clinician.  His name was Dr. Chip Spier.  He was a renowned cardiothoracic surgeon with a fever...a fever that could only be cured with a prescription for hand bells.  He left the hospital in the afternoons to come to coach us and he was all business.

Now for the uninitiated, the first thing that one does when joining a bell choir, besides donning silk/cotton blend gloves, is to get a hand bell assignment.  After one look from the Clinician I was assigned the C4 and D4 bells.  What are C4 and D4 bells you ask?  In short...they are the obscenely large bells that could also hang in the cupolas of old Taco Bells (back when Taco Bells looked like replicas of the Alamo)...

Photographic evidence of serving time in Hand Bell Choir with Patrick C.
Yes I have since learned that black turtlenecks on albino skin and a large chest are a bad bad idea...thank you.

Now prior to joining the Bell Choir I didn't know how to read music so I was already at a deficit.  Not only could I not read music but I couldn't keep time...probably because I am a white person and its not in my DNA.  Further, I don't work well under pressure...and there are few situations in life more intense than playing "Carol of the Bells" at the school Christmas pageant with the Clinician giving you the evil eye...that evil eye that communicates to you, You better not f#*k up my masterpiece!  So with no musical training, no natural ability and no strength of character I was poised to become an utter failure in the field of hand bell ringing.  But luckily the Lord gave me one secret special gifts that made me superior to all other hand bell ringers of my day.  What was this weapon, you ask?...a large rack.

Oh yes, you read correctly.  My secret weapon in the war of hand bell ringing was a DDD cup size.  Now why is this an advantage?  Does cleavage distract from a performer's complete lack of musical ability?  Well maybe it does for Britney Spears but for Whitny Braun it made me the best damn dampener in all of the San Gabriel Academy Hand Bell Choir.

You see in order to play the hand bells you have to pick them up and hold them to your chest, then thrust your arms out in a motion similar to walloping a punching bag.  The mallet inside the bell strikes the side of the bell creating the rich smooth echoing sound of the C4 and D4 bells.  Of course you don't want the bell to continue echoing on at infinitum.  Thus you must dampen the bell.  How does one do this?  You do this by quickly cupping the bell to your chest in a manner similar to the chest beating motion Celine Dion makes on stage.  When you are playing the D7 for example, which is a teeny tiny bell similar in size to the little bells you would ring to summon a servant with your tea, you can silence those in an instant by holding them against pretty much any relatively soft, relatively flat surface.  But to dampen the that takes a majestic chest.  And luckily for me...a majestic chest I do indeed have.

So back to the button or pin or whatever you want to call it that reads "I [Heart] Hand Bells" that inspired this I in fact love hand bells?  Well, I guess I do...but mostly I just like the sound of silencing them.


Anonymous said...

Good times, indeed. If you ever feel like playing again, I play with a group at a Presbyterian church in Anaheim Hills from September to May.


kcy said...

Love this and I am dying of laughter at the description of the Brauns as the ultimate bell dampener!