The EdUHK Handbell Ensemble brings joy of the season to campus

Ringers ring the bells in the air or hit them with a mallet on the table to create different sound effects.

Many people associate the chiming sounds of the handbell with Christmas, reminding the EdUHK community that it is right around the corner.

Every year, the EdUHK Handbell Ensemble brings the festive atmosphere to the campus through a selection of Christmas carols.

Ms Zerlina Wong, centre, founder and artistic director of EdUHK Handbell Ensemble, says handbells are like a single musical instrument. It requires precise coordination among all ringers to play handbell music.

One can hardly imagine a Christmas without Christmas carols. At EdUHK, when the three handbell teams of the EdUHK Handbell Ensemble – Echoes, Tinkerbell & Dolce — played a series of Christmas carols at the central plaza of the Taipo campus during lunchtime on 13 December, the tinkling and melodious sound of handbells brought the festive spirit to the campus.

Ms Zerlina Wong Wai-ching from the Department of Cultural and Creative Arts (CCA), founder and artistic director of EdUHK Handbell Ensemble, said, “Many people associate handbell’s sounds with the festive season. Somehow, the sounds of handbells are a perfect match for Christmas. The lunchtime concert was full of fun. It brought a peaceful and joyful spirit to the EdUHK community.”

It is a tradition for the ensemble to perform for the EdUHK community during the festive season. The ensemble, which is predominately made up of students from CCA, is composed of three teams: Dolce for beginners, Tinkerbell for intermediate players, and Echoes for the experienced. On 13 December, each team of the ensemble took up one session of the annual Christmas performance before the ringers of all three teams joined together to play a final round of carols together.

“The full EdUHK handbell ensemble plays with a complete handbell sets that cover all the notes over five octaves, including all the sharps and flats. In handbell performances, the audience can enjoy splendid melodies and appreciate the coordination between the performers. When ringers pick up and put down bells of different notes and sizes following the instructions of the conductor, it creates a very vivid visual experience for the audience,” Ms Zerlina Wong, who teaches practical skills and early childhood music education at CCA, explained.


Hand chimes to announce the beginning of the concert

Student musicians play hand chimes in the library corridor overlooking the central plaza to announce the beginning of the open-air concert.

A saxophone joins other handbells to create uplifting tunes. When these two instruments play together, it creates an exceptional festive atmosphere.

Students played hand chimes in the library corridor overlooking the central plaza to announce the beginning of the open-air concert. After the lively and engaging start, the central plaza immediately turned into a concert hall where the joyful melody of handbells and hand chimes created a peaceful ambiance. Immersing themselves in the merry and lively atmosphere of the holiday season, the audience joined the ensemble in their celebration of the Christmas season.

A selection of Christmas songs was performed by the three handbell teams on that day. The repertoire included traditional carols such as Ave Maria and First Noel, as well as the more contemporary pieces such as Frosty the Snowman and Christmas Joy. The concert ended with the entire ensemble playing We Wish You a Merry Christmas in unison.

Around 40 ensemble members played handbells and hand chimes at the performance. Other than swinging the bells, ringers sometimes hold the bells in the air or place them on a table so that they can use a mallet to hit the bell to produce special sound effects. A saxophone also joined the performance on that day to uplift the atmosphere even more.


Work like a single musical instrument

To perform the pieces well, it requires flawless coordination among all players. It is a demonstration of team spirit as well as musicianship.


“I always imagine that it is a single musical instrument when handbells of all sizes are played in perfect coordination in sequence to produce music. When different ringers are responsible for playing different notes, they need to ring the bell at the right tempo with the right timbre of the musical pieces. To perform the pieces well, it requires flawless coordination among all players. It is a demonstration of team spirit as well as musicianship,” Ms Zerlina Wong said.

Established in 2001, EdUHK Handbell Ensemble provides students from different academic programmes opportunities to experience the joy of playing handbells and hand chimes. Shortly after its establishment, the ensemble was invited to perform at the International Conference of Teacher Education and Hong Kong Choral Conference, with its performances broadcast in educational music programme of RTHK 4. Since 2002, the ensemble has endeavoured to promote handbell music in Hong Kong by organising handbell workshops in more than 30 schools and community centres. Before the pandemic, the ensemble also hosted many joint-school handbell concerts where primary and secondary schoolers were invited to perform together.

Since 2008, the ensemble has held numerous concerts in various places in Hong Kong. Besides local performances, the ensemble also participated in many international music conferences and events like the International Handbell Symposium that took place in Korea in 2014 and in Cairns in 2018. They also performed at the Handbell Educational Workshop of ISM World Conference on Music Education held in Italy in 2008, Greece in 2012, and Glasgow in 2016.