Harmony with Handbells

Two harmonious melodies, “Percussive Praise” by Kevin McChesney and “Plink, Plank, Plunk” by Leroy Anderson arr. Martha Lynn Thompson, flowed out of Kiersten Whitehead’s Middle School performing arts classroom Thursday afternoon as 5th graders each practiced their parts on handbells. For these pieces they struck the bells with mallets, sending the resonate tones all the way to the ceiling with each stroke. “I love teaching handbells. They provide a unique way for students to successfully play an instrument, even with no prior knowledge and experience.” Kiersten explains.

Over and over again they practiced the trickiest parts of the pieces, the moments where a page must be turned without interruption to the music. With each repeat, the transition became less obvious. At one point Kiersten invited students to share strategies they were devising to make the page turn seamless. One student suggested bending the corner of the page a bit so it would be easier to grab. Another memorized the first few notes on the next page so they could play without turning until there was a break in their part. 

The experience was also rich with vocabulary as students noticed the words crescendo and diminuendo and how the strength of their notes should increase or decrease at these points in the piece. 

Like an orchestra, each student had an important part to play in the creation of the full piece and their support of one another in this process was evident. They could be seen swapping mallets to see if one sounded better than the other on particular bells. They helped to turn each others’ pages if there was a pause in their own notes during that transition. And they offered encouragement when a note was missed or successfully found. 

Kiersten notes that this support for one another is an important part of the learning. “I always say my main word for 5th grade is ‘ensemble’ and handbells is the quintessential example of this - every student’s part is important. Taken on it’s own, it seems like a smattering of notes. But when everyone plays together, they have created something beautiful and wonderful. I always look forward to this unit and love that we have gotten back to it this year.”

Students are preparing these pieces for the Holiday Show which will be held Friday, December 17 at 11:00. Because our COVID precautions don’t allow parents to come into the building, performances are being recorded to stream. The handbells are just a glimpse into all our music teachers have in store. 

Located in College Park, MD, Friends Community School is a progressive Quaker K-8 day school, founded on the belief that every child is a valued member of our community. We offer a challenging curriculum imbued with strong values of equality, integrity, community, environmental stewardship, simplicity and peaceful conflict resolution, rooted in our Quaker heritage.
Friends Community School
5901 Westchester Park Drive
College Park, Maryland 20740