The talents of D-E’s Upper School Advanced Handbells were tested and then displayed in April, when the group was one of only six ensembles selected to perform in the 39th Annual English Handbell Festival at Riverside Church in Manhattan. Timothy Waugh, acclaimed music director, composer, and performing arts educator, conducted the more than 100 “ringers” together in Riverside’s gorgeous sanctuary. Pachelbel’s Canon in D and a memorable arrangement of Singin’ in the Rain were among the musical selections performed.
Kenneth Kacmar, D-E Music Department faculty member and director of the ensemble, later commented, “Participating in Riverside’s Sunday morning service, and then later performing for the Festival, was a once in a lifetime experience! We all learned so much in the months of practicing the difficult music and preparing for this concert, and the results were fantastic.”
Handbell ensembles have been in existence at the School for more than 65 years, starting originally within the Dwight School under the leadership of beloved music teacher Joseph Erwin. Archival records indicate that Dwight’s first set of handbells was purchased in 1952, through a memorial gift by Mrs. Harry Williams, then-head of the Music Department. The enduring popularity of handbells as a favorite musical outlet for students and faculty/staff alike is a testament not only to the exceptional sounds they produce, but the unique experiences created through making this music together.
The student members of D-E Advanced Handbells are Philip Benderly ’17, Julia Braverman ’17, Veronica Chen ’18, Allie Flanders ’20, Gregory Keller ’19, Rachel Kim ’17, Emma Lee ’19, David Nuzhny ’18, Caroline Shevak ’18, and Alexandra Tarsinov ’18.
More About D-E’s Bells
The first set of bells ordered by the School were cast by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in London, UK. Alumnus Bill Lockard ’77 coincidentally alerted D-E Alumni Relations recently of the closing in May 2017 of the original site of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry. He writes: “Especially for those of my high school classmates who played in, or remember enjoying, our bell choir — so goes the London home where I believe those bells were manufactured and, when needed, sent for re-tuning. [The] business is believed to have started in about 1570 or earlier, is England’s longest operating manufacturing company, [and] seems likely to go on, but there still is the melancholy of leaving the physical site. Whitechapel Bell Foundry is also where [Big Ben] and Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell were cast.”
History of D-E’s Handbell Ensembles from Joni Hartsough archivist in December 2011:
- In 1952 Dwight’s first set of hand bells was purchased through a memorial gift by Mrs. Harry Williams, who was then head of the music department. The bells were cast by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in London and due to a back log of orders didn’t arrive at Dwight until 1955.
- Joseph Erwin, the then head of the Music Department, was interested in organizing a bell choir. That summer he went off to Buffalo to learn more about this from Mr. Hans Vigland who had established a group. Mr. Erwin returned ready to start .
- Dwight’s first bell choir in the fall of 1955. Since there was little or no music arranged for bell choirs at that time Mr. Erwin also arranged a number of scores.
- The Bell choir became a popular activity among the Dwight girls and in 1956 made a recording along with the Vocal choir and was invited to perform on the Arthur Godfrey Show.
- The Bell choir continues to thrive at Dwight Englewood and plays an important role in our Winter and Spring Arts Festivals.
To read more about Whitechapel Bell Foundry closing, click here.
To watch Bell Choir performance from CW11 Morning News for Holiday 2006, click here.