Ring Those Chimes

In 2001 Deep Run Mennonite Church East received the generous gift of a four octave set of Malmark Choirchimes, purchased by one of our church families. Since that time many adults and youth have had an opportunity to learn to chime. Currently an adult chime choir rehearses Tuesday evenings from September through April, and participates in Sunday worship about once a month. Periodically Sunday School students meet following Sunday School to practice a chime selection which is then presented to the congregation during a Sunday worship service. The four octave set of Choirchimes has grown to five octaves, 61 chimes.

Where did Choirchimes come from? Malmark developed Choirchimes in 1982 as an economical, kid-friendly alternative to more expensive handbells. Where did handbells come from?

“Change ringing” began in England in the 17th century and is still performed today on large tuned tower bells. Ringing a “change” means ringing a mathematical pattern of pitches. “Change ringing” normally uses six to eight large tower bells, but sets as large as 16 bells, with the largest bell weighing up to 4 tons, can be used.

Imagine bells high in a church tower. Each bell is attached to a rope that extends to the floor well below the bells. You are standing in a circle of “change” ringers holding one of those ropes. It is your responsibility to pull that rope with exactly the right force, at exactly the right time to perform the change pattern accurately. Much practicing is required of the “change” ringers, and bell towers can become very cold in the winter. Neighbors living near the bell towers quickly tire of hearing the many hours of practicing required to master a “change.”

Sometime between 1696 and 1724 the first handbells were developed in England as a solution to cold bell towers and irate neighbors. By using the small handbells, ringers could gather indoors and practice the “changes” in comfort, without annoying the neighbors.

William Wakeland, quoted in an American Guild of English Handbell Ringers publication, describes what happened next.

We can picture the earliest groups experimenting with their newly acquired little handbells in some cozy, quiet room… Vivid in our minds is the scene where some ‘show-offs’ wanted the others to listen for a moment to some popular tune they had worked out on the new, little bells. We can hear the raucous laughter at such antics (bell groups always seem to contain a couple of characters that God has sent us in His sense of humor) because it was impossible to play tunes on tower bells. It is not trouble to imagine a distraught conductor insisting that the group get down to ‘serious business’ because ‘ringing little tunes is a frivolous waste of time.’ But we know that it was from the experiments of those ‘tuneful extroverts’ that our tradition grew.

“Ringing little tunes” developed into the handbell tradition of today. Handbells were brought to the United States from England in 1902. Today there are three bell manufacturers that supply most of the handbells rung throughout the world. The oldest company is the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in England. Schulmerich Bells began in 1935 and is located in Sellersville, Pa. Malmark began in 1973 and is located in Plumsteadville, Pa. Each company also makes sets of chimes. Malmark and Schulmerich are both located a short distance from Deep Run East.

God has demonstrated his sense of humor when motivating individuals to chime, but He has also equipped those individuals with talent and dedication. The chime program and all participants are a blessing to Deep Run East.