Paula BarnesThis article written by Paula Barnes, Oklahoma Representative

Handbell ringers like to play bells; we like the music. So why are bell players so somber and unexpressive when they play? Most will say they are concentrating, but I suggest it is because we do not practice that portion of the bell performance!

I am a dancer. Music moves me physically as well as spiritually. I can usually follow the instructions to move with the music and not to stand completely still. When asked to smile or express the music on my face, I have to work at that. Just as standing there stiff as a board hampers bell playing, not reflecting the music in your face produces a less than optimal result.

If directors would expect, dare I say require, as much expression/passion to be shown on our faces and bodies as they do for any other musical notation, our choirs would truly be pleasurable to hear and WATCH!

I offer three suggestions for improving this in your playing:

1. Relate to the Music- your expression should emulate the feeling of the music. A smile does not work in a sad, furious, intense piece of music, just as a grave, overly-concerned-about-getting-the-right-notes expression does not match to an uplifting melody. Open your heart to the music, breathe and then release the appropriate expression through your face, your eyes, and your bell and body movements.

2. Offer This Music to Your Audience – In a church choir setting, of course, the music is in praise and worship of God, so prepare and practice that feeling each and every time you play through it. Be grateful for this talent and express that to the God who gave it to you! In a concert setting, it is more about performing to those who came to see the show. The audience will be more engaged if there is visual interest as well as musicality. Put yourself out there! Give the audience a show and help them experience the music visually.

3. Practice, Practice, Practice! – Practice your music until you KNOW IT! That will alleviate some of the looks of concern on your face – Have I seen this before? Practice techniques so they become comfortable, and there will be less need to furrow your eyebrows when ringing an exceptionally difficult pattern. ‘Fake it till you make it’ DOES work, you know! Put the appropriate expression on your face each time you practice and it will become part of the muscle memory that happens when you play that piece.

Finally, I was reminded this morning of the uniqueness of music as art. Music is an art form that does not leave something behind to enjoy again and again. Even with the ability to make high-tech recordings, the live version is so much more! Another great reason to make each performance all it can be.

We play bells because we LOVE to, so let’s SHOW it!