Bell ringers entertain

Sometimes our bells entertain, but usually that is not their main function. We certainly entertain ourselves, but our sole purpose is rarely to entertain an audience unless you ring tunes with a handbell team. However, earlier this week, we went somewhere with the intention of having a jolly time and brightening some peoples’ day.  We were not raising money for charity.  We were not educating or recruiting. We were not involved in worship. We were ringing and singing for the joy of ringing and singing and joyful it was.

We had offered to take our handbells in to the local care home, which is in the old rectory and stands next to Reedham church.  They put up with our tower bell practices every week and deserve a thank you for never complaining however crashy the rounds. It is not a traditional home for the elderly, although there are a few elderly residents, but a home for adults with challenging neuro-disabilities. The majority were youngish –probably under 30 – and clearly face many obstacles, but when it comes to sheer unselfconscious enjoyment, they beat others hand down. 

We took our music stands, our music and our bells and found a most welcoming audience. I had not realised just how many residents there were and it was a bulging dining room of more than 30 people who live at the home plus staff, not to exclude others outside who do not “do” crowds or dislike loud noises, sharing the occasion through the filter of French windows. They were most receptive, humming along to our carols and belting out old favourites, or at least the choruses, when it came to their turn. We took turn and turn about, we play, you sing, we play, you sing and sometimes we sang something more than once because everyone was having so much fun.  One lady quacked like a duck at odd moments but no-one seemed to mind, a gentleman had an epileptic fit during our first number. The staff quickly put him into the recovery position on the floor and we did not miss a beat. So appreciative was the audience that we even braved Hark the Herald Angels, all 3 parts where the melody wanders across the lines and sometimes we get lost. Not something to be undertaken lightly, but we had the measure of our public and they would love it however badly we messed up. Therefore we did not mess up at all.

The grand finale was Jingle Bells and We wish you a merry Christmas accompanied by hand percussion instruments doled out from the basket that I keep for toddler groups. Grins all round as residents shook mismatched pairs (maracas in one hand, mini handbell in the other – who cares?).

It was a joyful experience, both for us as ringers to share our enthusiasm for bells, and also for staff and residents to have Christmas come to them in a large plastic crate and a few music stands.

It will go on the calendar as a regular date but perhaps we should investigate starting a little handbell group at the home – not as music therapists because we are not, but as neighbours who have spotted a potential interest and can see an opportunity to add a little fun to lives of people whom we rarely see out in the community. Individuals who have been dealt a difficult hand to play but who, for the most part, appear to play it with good humour and enthusiasm.

Does anyone have any experience of such things and can advise?

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