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Handbell Music

We have promoted bell music in Estonia for 13 years now. In 1999 we started a handbell school and bell music spreads all over Estonia thanks to children. When we give concerts, people take great interest in the music and the instrument as well.

A bell is a musical instrument for sure and, the drum aside, I can say then it's still one of the oldest instruments. Bells were found in China that date from the Bronze Age, and which were made in 2000 BC. These bells were tuned. They were made so, that the same bell could make and give different tones. I dare say that we play one of the oldest instruments.

There are lots of different ways of playing the bells. We can talk of about thirty different techniques all together. Musicians may use the table, their fingers or sticks, or even their mouth for example...

We have been playing for 13 years and I believe it is not yet enough to learn this instrument thoroughly. Another problem in handbell music is that you can’t learn it alone. Moreover, musiciens have to know each other very well, all of them have to think in the same way, feel in the same way because the main problem of a bell player is that melody moves from hand to hand or the melody line is created through all the people. It means that everyone has to feel the melody in the same way. So I would say that in this sense, playing as a handbell ensemble is considerably more complicated than a string band.

Today, if you look at a symphony orchestra, you may see campanola bells which can be played by one person. The reason why orchestra do not use handbells is definitely because there are not enough bell players for that in the world. The instrument is relatively capricious and today there is one university in the world where you can learn to be a professional bell player, and it is in California. And as far as I know this instrument was included in the programme only 4–5 years ago.

At the same time, there are lots of musical projects developing, such as the ones we had with Estonian National Symphony Orchestra, and the male choir. Composers show a great interest for handbell music as well. They are looking for something new and I think that bell music has its glorious days ahead like it was in the 18th century, when every person who had some respect for himself and who was at least somewhat connected to culture played bells.

Aivar Mäe, Artistic Director of Arsis