How Did Handbells Get Included?

Evolution, Serendipitous, or Destiny?

Use of Handbells as part of the Hymns and Songs for Living recording may seem unusual. The use of handbells as an accompaniment to singing of congregational hymns is not a common, everyday choice. Handbells are most commonly used as a performing instrument, occassionally in combination with other instruments. So how did they get included on the Hymn and Songs for Living recording? 

The story here has similarities to other stories on this website. Examples include:

In the case of handbells, David's meeting at Duncan Memorial United Methodist Church to arrange use of their pipe organ to replace the electronic keyboard simulated organ accompaniments, caused him to notice the church's set of handbells temporarily sitting on the side of the room. Upon observing the handbells being in the pastor's office where they were meeting, he was informed they were only there temporarily, while the choir room was being refurbished.  Was that just by serendipitous happenstance, or destiny?

Appeal of Handbell Sound

That reminded David of how appealing the sound of handbells can be.  It also informed him there was a handbell choir in Ashland, VA at Duncan Memorial UMC.  It turns out the Slipped DISC  recording studio is just around the corner from the church. Thus, it would be logistically relatively easy to take the bells to the studio for a recording session.  That sparked thinking about the possibility of including handbells as an accompaniment to the last verse of:

The owner of Slipped DISC, Mr. McElroy, reached out to the music director of the handbell choir at Duncan to find out if he might be interested in having their handbell choir participate in adding an accompaniment to the last verse of that hymn. The director, Mr. Zack Cook, expressed conceptual interest to Mr. McElroy.  Thus, David followed up with Mr. Cook, who advised he wanted clearance of the concept from the pastor. After obtaining, Mr. Cook indicated he could pursue discussions about the possibility of Duncan’s handbell participating after the CIVID-19 pandemic.

There were two impediments to being able to record a handbell accompaniment:

Need for an Arrangement

All the music that could be found on the web for this hymn, Just A Closer Walk with Thee, were for performance by handbells as the solo insturments, versus being an accompaniment to vocalist singing the song, plus, the performance scores were not in the key of the hymn from the hymnal.

Therefore, Mr. Goettee contacted a number of persons listed on the Handbell Musicians' Association webpage where they indicated they wrote arrangements.

(If anyone is interested, the Handbell Musicians' Association webpage for handbell clinicians can be found at Handbell Clinicians.)


Of those who responded, Mr. Larry Sue had the time to undertake this project. Based on exchanges of the producer's preferences for including lower bass bells, and providing Mr. Sue with a pdf copy of the music from the hymnal used to record the hymn, plus an mp3 of the recording, Mr. Sue put together a draft empahsizing the use of bells in the lower octaves.

Thus, the impediment of an arrangement as an accompaniment in the key of the hymn has been addressed.

You can see Mr. Sue's credits under Phase II Arrangers at Larry Sue - Handbell Arranger.


We have not yet had a conversation about an arrangement for the last verse of Amazing Grace.


Possible Need for Lower Bass Bells

Based on the very cursory look David obtained of the Duncan handbells when he saw them in a box by the side of the room, it appears the church's set of handbells may be a 2 1/2 or 3 octave set. If so, that means to achieve the harmony affect desired with lower bass bells, it may be necessary to reach out to other sources to obtain use of lower pitch bass bells for use in the accompaniment(s).

The producer accessed an informal network of artist connections, and was directed to reach out to the music director of the River Road Presbyterian church in Richmond, VA, which has a 5 octave handbell set. We will see what interest the music director from that church might have.

If necessary, the producer may have to reach out to other performing handbell choirs in the DC metro area who have larger sets of handbells.

Resoultion to this impediment, as of 5-23-2020, is yet to be determined.

Your Judgement?

So, as in the story About Tortoise Climbing, it is up to the reader to decide. Was inclusion of handbells a logical evolution, serendipitous happenstance, or perhaps destiny?