University Handbell Ensemble rings in the new year with more complex tunes


Image courtesy of University Handbell Club

The University Handbell Club after their Halloween concert in Heinz Chapel on Oct. 30.

By Madilyn Cianci, Staff Writer

After jingling bells to conclude the fall semester and celebrate the winter holiday, the University Handbell Ensemble rings in the new year with their first rehearsal of the semester. 

Students may recognize the ensemble from their free shows held in the William Pitt Union throughout the year, or perhaps from their performance in the lobby of the Petersen Events Center before the Pentatonix concert.

According to Jesse Kimball, the director of the Handbell Ensemble and a junior neuroscience major, the group held a Halloween and winter concert last semester, with both shows limited to music centered on those holidays. Kimball said the spring semester offers the group more flexibility to perform “fun music” in their shows. 

“We do stuff from movies and songs that everybody would know,” Kimball said. “One of the things I’m trying to do this semester is a Beatles medley.”

As the ensemble prepares for their first rehearsal of the semester, Kimball said the group has goals to push their limits and take on more challenging pieces. According to The Handbell Musicians of America, handbell music is ranked on levels of difficulty from 1-6, with 6 being the highest. Last semester, the handbell ensemble performed pieces with a 4 ranking. This year, Kimball hopes the ensemble will play a piece with a 5 ranking.

The Handbell Ensemble is unlike other musical groups because handbells can produce several different pitches, but an individual handbell can only play that one single note. This means members work together to create the sound of one collaborative instrument. According to Kimball, this is why handbells are “unique.”

“One of my other officers, Ben, says that with a normal instrument, one person can play a lot of notes, but with bells, you have a lot of people that can only play one or two notes,” Kimball said. “So it’s very collaborative.”

There are currently 18 ringers in the ensemble, including Beck Barrett. Barrett, a junior political science major, said they are excited to return to the ensemble because they love the “unique musical experience” the club provides. 

“We’re unlike other musical ensembles where you can go home and practice because you can’t take the bells home,” Barrett said. “You have to be really attentive in rehearsal to learn your music.” 

According to Barrett, rehearsals take place Thursdays for two and a half hours, with each practice requiring commitment and focus to one’s personal role. As the director, Kimball sets up weekly rehearsals, plans for concerts, directs and conducts the music.

Members also have to focus on the performance of their fellow ensemble members to properly collaborate with one another. 

While rehearsals require an extreme amount of focus, group members are also excited to practice and be with fellow ensemble members. Barrett said the club is fun because it is filled with “great people.” 

“It’s a great group of people. We have a lot of fun just joking around in rehearsal,” Barrett said. 

After a fall semester of diligent practice, Kimball said the ensemble is entering the spring performing better than ever before. 

“Honestly, I’m really happy with where we’re at right now,” Kimball said. “I think our ensemble is the best it’s ever been.”

Barrett said they are able to “drift around” in the club and play different notes as needed. As a musician themself, Barrett said they love the opportunity to play multiple roles in the ensemble because it allows them to grow in their craft. 

“I’ve been a musician my whole life, and getting the chance to really focus on specific skills and learning these really complex pieces is something I really love,” Barrett said. 

Like Kimball, Barrett’s new year goal for the group is to play harder pieces. They said the fast pace and the key changes make the performance look more impressive. 

“I think it not only looks cool when we do it, but it really helps us grow as musicians because, as I said, you can’t go home and practice,” Barrett said. 

Although a date is set for their spring concert, Kimball said students can follow their Instagram page to stay up to date on events within the ensemble.