The Hakuoh University Handbell Choir

16 02 2012

Handbell choir members talk to audience on stage after the performance. Here are some of the bigger bells. The largest, a low C, weighs almost 15 pounds.

I skipped out early from my Windward Community College Tai Chi Class last night to hear the Handbell Choir from Hakuoh University (Oyama City, Tochigi Prefecture, Japan) in a free public concert at Paliku Theatre on the same campus at 7. It was the choir’s 21st Goodwill Tour of Hawaii, but the first time I’d heard their music.

The beautiful full sound of another bell choir at a music festival in 1987 captivated Professor Hirotaka Arai so much that he was moved to start the all-female choir. Today’s choir can ring seven octaves of handbells with 100 to 120 separate pieces.  Of the 11 numbers last evening, Music Director Arai arranged six of them.

Listening to handbells is a rare treat. Watching 19 young women ring them is very interesting. There is more than one way to play the bells. Grasping them by the handle and shaking them in the air, hitting them on the table, or laying them on their side and playing them with drum mallets. One at a time, or up to four at a time.

I closed my eyes occasionally, just to listen to the music without watching the performers or the director, and I found I could get lost in the sounds and songs of the bells. Especially during “Jupiter” by Gustav Holst and Leonard Bernstein. I got way out there!

The Hakuoh Handbell Choir sings and dances hula to “Pearly Shells” while waiting for official photography. Their sponsor in the back row with the light-colored lei is Dr. Joyce Tsunoda, past head of the University of Hawaii Community Colleges system (and my former boss. It was great to see her!).

Copyright 2012 Rebekah Luke

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