In That Case, You CAN Look

There are certain activities where participants are discouraged from staring at certain things. Like the ears of the horse one is riding. As one riding master I worked with put it, “If the ears fall off, you will have noticed other problems first.” He had a point.

Handbells are another case where staring at the thing is not encouraged. After all, they are a musical instrument, and eyes are to be on the score on the music stand, and on the director (or only on the director, if the music has been memorized.) As long as you feel the weight of the bell or bells in your hand, they are present, accounted for, and don’t need to be studied.

However . . .

The tale as it was told to me. Once upon a choir balcony in the end of an old church were a set of antique handbells. These were over a hundred years old, made of brass with leather handles and leather straps inside that held the clapper for the bell. Because the bells lacked the modern clapper stops, they requires a slightly different ringing technique, but nothing too unusual. The bells saw regular use, and the leather handles got cleaned and cared for with the care they deserved.

So, the church hosted a regional meeting of the US branch of the handbell ringers guild. Some of the senior members were invited to play the antique bells during the service. They were delighted by the chance, and practiced hard. All was well.

[A quick aside. Handbells are played with a circular motion. You lower your hand and move it forward, tip your wrist as if about to pour water, but keep the bell more upright and circle it up until you dampen it against your shoulder, then repeat as the music calls for. You don’t point the mouth of the bell out, unless you are doing some fancy techniques or the bell is on the table being plucked or played with a mallet.]

Sunday morning comes. The bell choir assembles in the choir balcony, at the back of the church. The service begins with the sound of the antique bells played by experts. It is wonderful. They get to the offertory. Bells peal, melodies rise, and the woman playing the B-flat below middle C rings the bell using perfect technique.

And the clapper flies out of the bell, through the air, and manages to miss any of the parishioners sitting fifty feet below the loft. She stopped ringing and stared at the bell. No clapper. Just the remains of a worn leather strap that really needed saddle soap and leather conditioner.


That is the one case where you are fully entitled to stare at the bell.

11 thoughts on “In That Case, You CAN Look

  1. Ouch… My luck I would have nailed the conductor between the running lights… LOL

    • At which point, you’d have a great story, and the envy of everyone else in the band.

    • Now, THAT sounds like a Gray Man short story, where one of the grandchildren practicing with something nails Dad – boom, out go the lights. Now go explain to Mom. 🙂

  2. Oh wow, thanks a bunch, that’s just gone and ruined the Fourth Elegy.
    And somewhere still, horses roam, all unaware in their magnificence
    that their ears have fallen off.

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