For the 20th annual Delaware Area Handbell Festival, more than 100 musicians will play a specially commissioned work publicly for the first time anywhere.
Timothy Waugh will lead bell-ringers, chimers and an organist in the world premiere of Exultet Celem Laudibus (Let Heaven Rejoice in Praises) as part of an 80-minute concert that starts at 7 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 22, at Ohio Wesleyan University’s Gray Chapel in University Hall, 61 S. Sandusky St.
“Waugh is an outstanding handbell composer,” said Ruth Rabby, who will lead groups from First Presbyterian Church and SourcePoint on Sunday. “He directs a professional handbell ensemble in Charlotte (North Carolina) and does workshops and festivals all over the country.”
On the afternoon of the concert, Waugh will lead the combined ensembles in a two-hour rehearsal. In addition to his work, they will play The First Noel, All Things Bright and Beautiful, and Angel Tidings at the concert. The show will also include solo pieces by ensembles from all over the county and even Waldo, along with an organ offertory. In addition to seasonal favorites, there will be some secular pieces.
Rabby said the festival started 20 years ago with four churches playing in Grace Methodist at the Point.
“We just got together for the fun of it, and see how it would sound to have other groups playing with us,” she said. “Other churches were interested in joining us, so there wasn’t anymore room at Grace, so we started doing it at Gray Chapel.”
Not only does Gray have more space on stage, it was made for music to be heard.
“A lot of locales that do festivals like this will do them in high school gymnasiums, because that’s where you can get all the groups set up in that space,” Rabby said. “But their acoustics are nothing like Gray Chapel. It’s really great from that standpoint.”
Depending on the difficulty of the piece, it can takes weeks and months of practice to ring just right. For example, Rabby said First Presbyterian began working on their solo after acquiring the music in the spring, and practice began on the Waugh work once it was received in August.
“After you know all the notes, you want to make them sound good,” she said.
One ensemble had to drop out this year because it has a new director, but many groups have been together for years, playing at their churches.
“Some people have never even heard handbells,” Rabby said. “Because they’re metal, there’s a lot of reverberation. It’s a sound that they don’t hear often in combinations.”
Admission is free, but donations will be accepted.
Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0904 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.