Handbell ensemble to perform Sunday

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 6, 2010

The First Baptist Church handbell ensemble will perform during the church’s Sunday-morning service.

“We are playing three numbers,” said FBC minister of music Ed Rush. “These are all arrangements of spirituals along with an arrangement of ‘How Great Thou Art.’ They will also play on Easter Sunday morning, and will play two of my arrangements during the annual composer weekend on April 24 and 25.”

There are 11 people taking part in the handbell ensemble.

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“It’s always 11,” Rush said. “From time to time, we will change one or two performers. Somebody will not have time to do it this semester, so somebody will come in to take their place. We usually try to have 11, because it takes that many to ring the number of bells that we have.”

The handbell ensemble has been known to perform during Christmas on the River week, one of the musical highlights of Demopolis’s annual festival. The group did not perform last year, due to Demopolis High School playing in the state championship game during the festival week.

For its Easter performance, the handbell ensemble will perform “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” and “Crown Him.”

“For my program, I did an arrangement of ‘The Church’s One Foundation’ and an arrangement of ‘Give Thanks,’ a contemporary song that we’ll be doing,” Rush said.

Rush has been the minister of music at First Baptist Church for more than 13 years, beginning his musical ministry career when he was a freshman in college in 1962.

“I enjoy mostly writing music – or, I should say, ‘having written music!’” he laughed. “The struggle sometimes is the actual doing of it, and that gets frustrating sometimes. I love directing the choirs, especially the sanctuary choir. I like all of what I do, but some things I just like better.”

Rush said there are a number of things that go into arranging musical pieces.

“For handbells, there are some parameters that you have to follow because you only have a certain amount of notes,” he said. “It can only go so high or so low, so you have to keep that in mind. You try to find some ways that the melody stands out, but also do some interesting things with the rest of the bells so it’s not just a dull presentation of just a straight song. So, a little variety is involved with that.”

Each player has three to four notes assigned to him, exchanging bells depending on which key the song is in. It takes not just a musical ear but also terrific hand-ear coordination.

“Some people just can’t do it,” Rush said. “It just makes them too nervous. Also, you’re not playing all the time, so you have to really count the measures and count the number of beats before you get to play again.”

Rush added that the gloves that the players wear help to keep sweat and other skin oils from staining and causing wear to the brass-covered bell.

Hearing a handbell ensemble perform is a unique musical experience, and hearing it perform an arrangement by a local musician is even better. Those who have never heard a handbell performance are invited to share the experience at First Baptist Church this Sunday at 11 a.m. Those who have heard the group perform will not need an invitation.

Other musical programs coming this spring to the First Baptist Church of Demopolis include:

Sunday, March 28, 6 p.m.: Children’s musical (grades 2 through 6), “It’s Cool in the Furnace”

Good Friday, April 2: Adult ensemble, “Sayings from the Cross”

Tuesday, April 6, 7 p.m.: Alabama Singing Men (ministers of music from Alabama)

April 24-25: Composer weekend, program of music composed by Ed Rush (concert April 24, 7 p.m.)

Sunday, May 30: Senior adult choir, “Forever Praise”