What does the handbell bring to mind? Perhaps it’s church or Christmas or white gloves or Hershey's Kisses. Part of the mission of handbell ensemble Palmetto Bronze is to shift perceptions of their favorite instrument.
“We’re not your average handbell choir,” said Marcia J. Brantley, director of Palmetto Bronze. “When most people think about groups, they think about church groups; we’re a community group, which is totally different — we play a very wide range of music.”
Palmetto Bronze, an auditioned ensemble of bell ringers, will perform at 3 p.m. Sunday at Franke at Seaside in Mount Pleasant. The free concert, part of Piccolo Spoleto Festival’s Remington Concert Series, is called “With This Ring” and features popular love songs as well as Beatles and Disney tunes played on 219 bells and 97 chimes.
The long-standing association between handbells and church was bolstered in the 1950s when a church bell choir from Brick Presbyterian Church performed on the variety series “The Garry Moore Show,” according to Westminster Concert Bell Choir conductor Kathleen Ebling Shaw.
“Because of that appearance on television and the power of it, that defined handbell ringing for decades,” Shaw said. “We’ve really had to say, ‘No folks, these can be used in schools, they can be used in communities, and they can be used as an instrument for worship.’ ”
Palmetto Bronze president and ensemble member Caroline McKinney said she enjoys the music the group has been preparing for the concert, especially the song “Love Will Keep Us Together.”
“I knew the song before. I mean, I always thought it was okay, but it’s really fun to play on handbells,” McKinney said, laughing.
She said introducing audiences to the handbells’ range of expression, and the musical variety possible, is especially rewarding.
“I love it when we get to play for people who’ve never heard us before, and even more than that, (who) have never heard bells before,” McKinney said. “We get quite a few people that are very surprised and very amazed. It’s always fun to get those reactions because it’s something very unique and different.”
Aaron Halls is a Goldring Arts Journalist at Syracuse University.