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Bells are ringing for Sunday Night Unplugged

Sunday Night Unplugged will offer a very special way to celebrate Mother’s Day this Sunday evening at 5 p.m. at St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church, with musical offerings by The Quadlibet Handbell Choir from Community United Methodist Church.

This service of meditation accompanied by music offered by local musicians was established three years ago at St. Patrick’s and has become an anticipated form of prayer and spiritual contemplation by the many who attend this free once a month service.

The Quadlibet Handbell Choir rang their first musical offering on Mother’s Day in 1982. The choir was formed by Jody Hott, who served as director until 2003. Jody now participates as a ringer and the choir is directed by Lynn Constan. The initial two-octave set of 25 bells were bought with funds donated to the church in memory of Jody’s mother-in-law, Fern Hott.  Over the years the choir’s inventory has expanded and now includes five octaves (61) of bells and three octaves (37) handchimes.

The name of the choir,“Quodlibet” is Latin, “quod” meaning “what” and “libet” meaning “it pleases,” or what pleases you. 

Quodlibet is also a musical term referring to a piece combining different melodies, often lighthearted and humorous.  The name reflects the unique nature of the handbell.  Unlike an orchestra or vocal choir in which each member has a melody line, a handbell choir is a single instrument combining the talents of the members, with each ringer responsible for only two notes.  Small ensemble ringers however, play entire melodic lines which involves picking up and putting down numerous bells and some fancy footwork at times.  Although choir members take their playing seriously, rehearsals frequently involve light-hearted and humorous moments.

Handbells were developed in England in the 1600s and became an excellent way for tower bell ringers to practice their changes. Tower bells numbered from six to twelve bells of various sizes that required strong men to pull the ropes. These bells were rung in a wide variety of sequences that involved extensive practice by the ringers. Neighbors became weary of the constant barrage of sound coming from the bell towers and handbells provided a very practical and expedient way for ringers to practice their changes without offending the neighborhood.

Handbells made by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry were introduced to the United States in 1902 by Margaret Shurcliff. Though handbells used by handbell choirs across the United States now most likely are made by foundries in the states, they are still referred to as “English Handbells” due to the fact that they are precisely styled after the original English handbells.

The handbells used by the Quadlibet Handbell Choir were made by Schulmerick Carrillons in Pennsylvania, one of only two handbell foundries in the United States. The bells are cast of bronze, an alloy of copper and tin.  Each bell is machined at the factory to play one specific note and, unless damaged, they never go out of tune.  

Playing in a handbell choir is a lot of fun, but requires a good deal of concentration, coordination, and practice. Choir members at CUMC rehearse once a week for an hour and a half.  The small ensemble ringers participate in up to two additional hours of rehearsal per week. Since each person is responsible for playing two or more bells, representing specific musical pitches, it is very important that each member be present at rehearsals, as each player is dependent upon the others to help make the music come to life.

Seven members of the choir will be participating in Sunday Night Unplugged, presenting both small ensemble music (duets, a trio and a quartet) and full choir music.  Pianist Sally Neel will accompany the bells on two pieces. 

The music selections chosen for Sunday Night Unplugged include some traditional hymns such as “Just As I Am” and “Sweet Hour of Prayer,” an original composition for handbells titled “Meditation,” and a moving arrangement combining “Amazing Grace” and “It Is Well.”  In addition to ringing, the bells can also be played with mallets which give an entirely different tone and feeling to the music.  Two of the selections chosen incorporate extensive use of mallets.

The choir generally rings once a month during services at Community United Methodist Church and has played with the Pagosa Springs Community Choir, at the Senior Center and at the Chamber of Commerce in the past.

“We are delighted to have the Quadlibet Handbell Choir play for Sunday Night Unplugged,” says Fr. Doug Neel, rector of St. Patrick’s. “They are a rather well-kept secret in our community, in spite of the fact that the choir has been in existence for over twenty years. We are happy to offer the wider community the opportunity to enjoy the uniquely beautiful sound of handbells played by a very dedicated group of musicians.”

Sunday Night Unplugged brings the talents of local musicians to assist in their monthly service of meditation and contemplation. The 5 p.m. service is open to the public free of charge at St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church, 225 S. Pagosa Blvd.

For more information, call 731-5801.

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