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Tulsa handbell choir rings in the holidays

December is the choir's busiest time of year.

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Tulsa handbell choir rings in the holidays

The Tulsa Festival Ringers handbell choir spends the fall months "basically preparing for December, which is our busiest time," said Mike McCrary (center), the group's director.

To the layman's eye and ear, being a part of a handbell choir might seem like an easy, pressure-free way to make music.

After all, an individual is only in charge of sounding two or three notes of the scale. And just about anyone can ring a bell, right?

Not hardly.

"There are all sorts of challenges and techniques in handbell ringing," said Mike McCrary, who has directed the Tulsa Festival Ringers for the past five years.

"Yes, each individual is responsible for certain notes, but if for some reason that person can't be at a performance, then you have to work around those notes," he said. "Also, each ringer has to be very much aware of what everyone else is doing, so that everyone is ringing in the same way, so that each musical phrase is properly shaped.

"It's really more like putting together a puzzle, where the notes are the individual pieces that have to fit together exactly," McCrary said.

The Tulsa Festival Ringers started in 1990, and over the years, have performed at many area churches, at OK Mozart in Bartlesville, as well as part of holiday concerts with Tulsa Opera and the Signature Symphony.

The group has also been a regular guest of the Tulsa Performing Arts Center Trust's Brown Bag It series of noon-time recitals, to the point that the group presents two shows in the 428-seat Williams Theatre at the PAC to accommodate the audiences.

The PAC concerts are the first of several shows the ensemble will be performing in and around Tulsa this month.

"This is our busy month," McCrary said. "We basically spend what we call our fall semester preparing for the Christmas season."

Handbell ringing began in the early 1700s in England. The small tuned bells allowed practitioners of a form of campanology called "change ringing" (sounding tuned bells according to a series of mathematical patterns called "changes") to rehearse their art without disturbing the populace by using the bells in the local church tower.

"Change ringing is very mathematical in nature," said McCrary, who is a professor of accounting at the University of Tulsa. "Because of that, it isn't necessarily melodic. Although handbells came out of change ringing, they soon started to be used for more melodic purposes."

McCrary added that handbell ringers can use a variety of techniques to create large and subtle variations in the sound of the bells, to produce certain musical effects.

"One thing I say early on is that the music on the page is really just a starting point," he said. "The real fun comes in using all these techniques to create new sounds, new ways of phrasing notes or passages."


Tulsa Festival Ringers will present two free concerts Wednesday at the Tulsa PAC, as part of the Tulsa PAC Trust’s Brown Bag It series. Performances will be at 11:30 a.m. and 12:45 p.m. in the PAC’s Williams Theatre, 110 E. Second St. Admission is free. The ensemble will also perform at 7 p.m. Dec. 12 at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, 1442 S. Quaker Ave.; noon Dec. 13 at Trinity Episcopal Church, 501 S. Cincinnati Ave.; and 7 p.m. Dec. 19 at the First United Methodist Church in Stillwater.

James D. Watts Jr 918-581-8478 SUBHEAD: December is the choir's busiest time of year.

Original Print Headline: Ring in the holidays with handbell choir


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