Music News and Notes: May 25, 2023
The Journey Begins for Handbells
This week Music News and Notes is devoted to our beloved collection of handbells. Our collection of handbells dates back to the 1950s when former choir director, E. Helen Pendleton, gifted the church two and half octaves of handbells from the English bell foundry, Whitechapel. Another octave-plus of bells from American bell maker, Malmark was added in the 1960s - taking our current bell set up to four octaves - a total of 49 bells.
The Whitechapel Bell Foundry company was formed in 1570, though roots to the Master Bell Founders date all the way back to 1420. Whitechapel cast many of iconic and recognizable bells including the Liberty Bell, Big Ben, the National Cathedral, and the bells at Westminster Abbey. The final bell was cast by the foundry in March of 2017.
In order to keep our 70-year-old set of handbells in working order, it is important to maintain them. Unfortunately there is no one local who can work on the bells, especially the Whitechapel bells - now that they have gone out of business and parts are difficult to obtain. This means we have to pack them up and ship them to Jeffers Handbell Supply, in Irmo, South Carolina (near Columbia).
This week, with the help of long-time choir member Chris Whitman, we bubble-wrapped each individual bell, boxed them all up, and prepared them to be shipped out for service. Vestry member Scott Evans volunteered his brother Russell to currier the bells to the Carolinas - and they left the church for Jeffers on Wednesday afternoon. They are scheduled to begin service the week of June 5 - and it should take about a month for them to be completed, before we figure our the best way to retrieve them later this summer from South Carolina.
A full service of the bells includes disassembling the bells, cleaning and polishing the castings, repairing any mechanical problems, adjusting the settings of the bells so they are easy to ring both softly and loudly. This also means that all springs are replaced on the clappers of the Malmark bells, and all springs and felts are replaced on the Whitechapel bells.
A very special thank you to Chris, Scott, and Russell for your help with the first leg in the journey to get in tip-top shape and ready for lots of bell music in the autumn!