The typical hand bell choir found in many churches has at least a dozen members.
That is why what hand bell expert player Christine Anderson does is so spectacular — when she performs, she plays all those parts by herself but creates the sound of an entire hand bell choir.
“I guess nothing much surprises me anymore, but even after all these years it surprises me how much people respond and enjoy my ringing,” Anderson said. “Children, especially, seem captivated. There is a universal appeal to the sound of hand bells.”
First Presbyterian director of music Mike Henry said he learned Anderson would be in Atlanta for a workshop this weekend and decided to invite her to the church.
“She is going to play in our morning worship services at 8:45 and 11 a.m., and then she will lead a workshop for our adult hand bell choir Sunday afternoon,” Henry said, adding that this will be his first time seeing how Anderson plays so many hand bells solo.
“It’s impressive for those that can pull it off,” he said.
Anderson will be performing the prelude, postlude and three pieces during the worship service. The prelude piece will be “When Morning Guilds the Skies” with quotes from the Peer Gynt Suite “Morning.” The service music will be “In Thee Is Gladness,” “Fount of Blessings” and “Be Still, My Soul.” The postlude is set to be “Rejoice, Ye Pure in Heart.”
“I’ve always loved music and have played several instruments since toddlerhood, as well as having sung all my life,” Anderson said. “But it wasn’t until I discovered hand bells ... that I felt like I could settle into one form of making music and do it with joy and excellence.
“I loved the challenge of making music with 20 other hands, ringing just bits and pieces of melody and harmony but together weaving a musical journey.”
Anderson began playing the hand bells in 1972, then after five years she completed her music degree at Florida Atlantic University and produced “Voices in Bronze,” a video featuring her hand bell choir.
Shortly after, she discovered she could play hand bells solo. Her solo career spawned written arrangements, recordings and books.
Today she performs solo and with the Medallion Ringers, teaches hand bell workshops and attends festivals where she also teaches.
To perform hand bells solo and make it sound like an entire choir takes specific techniques. For example, Anderson plays two to three bells at the same time.
“The basic solo techniques haven’t changed at all, but added to those there has been a tremendous change in my style and advanced techniques,” Anderson said. “When I first started, I rang mostly melody notes, with little flair or added hand bell techniques ... I also rang one bell at a time and kept them in strict keyboard order on the table.
“Now, I ring two or three bells in each hand quite often.”
Anderson has recently begun using the singing bell technique, which moves “bells all over the place,” she said.
“Hand bell ringing in general, and solo ringing in particular, has changed and grown unbelievably in the last 10 years or so,” Anderson said.