The Raleigh Ringers Passages (2-CD) self-release, 2014
The Raleigh Ringers are a semi-professional handbell choir, formed nearly three decades ago and based in Raleigh, North Carolina. A single handbell ‘instrument’ is actually a collection of separate bells, each tuned to a specific note on the (Western) chromatic scale. The bells are played by a group of musicians, each of whom holds (usually) one in each hand. Playing even simple handbell melodies requires several musicians to ring separate bells in precise, coordinated succession.
Handbells were first developed in England in the early 18th Century. They’re made of cast bronze with semi-flexible, usually leather, handles. A handbell’s clapper has a hinge which allows it to swing only in a straight line. The clapper also has a spring which holds it away from the outer portion of the bell after each strike, so that the bell can ring freely. Additionally, the clapper is rigid, allowing the bell to be held with its mouth facing upward.
Handbell designs vary, and different designs are constructed to produce different sets of overtones. The Raleigh Ringers use an expansive set of equipment including multiple handbell sets, as well as some unusual implements resembling large tuning forks (which are played by being struck with mallets). By selecting and combining their instruments the Ringers can produce a fairly wide palette of tone colors and a range of over seven octaves, all from the family of tuned metallic percussion.
The group’s membership has fluctuated, but tends to comprise around 15 to 20 ringers. They’ve been led by the same musical director, David M. Harris, since 1990.
Handbell choirs have their roots in Christian church settings, and many North American churches have formed amateur handbell choirs in recent decades. The Raleigh Ringers incorporate a few ‘sacred’ pieces into their repertoire, but for the most part perform secular music.
The tunes on these discs fall into several categories: There are pieces from the canon of Western classical music by the likes of Mozart, Brahms, Bach and Beethoven. There are transcriptions of well-known pop tunes. There are a smattering of Christian hymns, as noted above. There are some new classical pieces by modern-day composers which have been commissioned specifically by and for the group.
And then there are some adaptations of hits from 1970s and 80s ‘classic rock’. These are grouped at the end of each CD and are credited to The Rockin’ Raleigh Ringers. To call most of these selections corny or kitschy would be an understatement! Nonetheless, some of them work better in the handbell context than others. The ‘progressive’ rock entries which have a more complex compositional framework fare much better than the 3-chord blues-rock songs. In other words handbell versions of Aerosmith’s “Dream On” and Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” are much more satisfying than those of Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock and Roll” and Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock and Roll”. Air with care, Wizards.
That said, and acknowledging the group’s general bent toward presenting melodious, crowd-pleasing material as opposed to dissonant and avant-garde works, The Raleigh Ringers make fabulous, celestial-sounding music with excellent technique. It’s a type of music little-heard outside of certain churches and a few concert halls, and barely if at all represented in the WZRD collection – let alone on most other radio stations. If you’re not familiar with handbell music, and even if you are, check some of this stuff out. You might just be delighted.
Erkin Koray is widely acclaimed to be the first person to ever play rock and roll in Turkey in 1957. Since then he pioneered psychedelic in the Instanbul music scence with his first single Anma Arkadas in 1967. Being a controversial figure, he was once being assaulted in the streets for having long hair. Koray, with his power trio released a fantastic discography of melodic, Turkish influenced, psychedelic music ranging from beautifully haunting ballands to heavy fuzz psych-outs. Think: Jimi Hendrix of Turkey. Listen to him on the Wizard, and dive into psychedelic history of Turkey!
Key Track: Istemem
Key Album: Elektronik Turkuler