The Raleigh Ringers use the most extensive collection of handbells and bell-like instruments owned by a single performing group in the world. The current grand total is 36½ octaves composed of 494 individual pieces of equipment.
Similar to the way pipe organs utilize different ranks of pipes, each individual handbell set has its own unique sound. By mixing the sounds together, handbell ringers are able to create contrasting moods and highlight melodic lines. A piece of music can take on a new personality simply by playing sections of it on a different brand or design of handbells.
Below you will find a detailed description of each of The Raleigh Ringers' bell sets.
The majority of The Raleigh Ringers’ music is performed on 7½ octaves of Malmark handbells, the group’s primary instrument. Spanning from G1, 2½ octaves below Middle C, to C9, five octaves above Middle C, this 90-bell set was manufactured by Malmark, Inc., of Plumsteadville, Pennsylvania.
Most of the handbells in this set are cast in bronze, an alloy made of approximately 80 percent copper and 20 percent tin, with individual weights ranging from several ounces to more than 15 pounds. Polished inside and out, these bells have adjustable clappers, black and white polymer handles that match the color of modern piano keys, and polymer spring dampers. The smallest bells have metal clappers, the mid-range bells use polymer and sometimes felt on their clappers, and the largest bronze bells feature clappers covered with a combination of felt and yarn.
Because they’re cast in aluminum, The Raleigh Ringers’ lowest bass bells (G1 through E2) are lighter, yet larger in diameter, than their bronze counterparts of the same pitch. Weighing in at about 10 pounds, the “aluminums” don’t require polishing thanks to a light lacquer coating (used to treat aircraft wings!) on the surface. Another advantage of the aluminum bells is that they have a stronger fundamental relative to their overtones than do comparably pitched bronze bells, allowing their sound to be perceived at greater distances.
The Raleigh Ringers’ second-most played bell set, a 73-pitch instrument comprising 6 octaves (C2 to C8), technically contains no bells at all. Malmark’s Choirchimes resemble aluminum tuning forks with exterior clappers, although the bottom seven chimes are so large that they have no clapper mechanism and must be played with a mallet. The chime’s prongs vibrate like those of a tuning fork, while the long tube serves as both a resonating chamber and a handle. They produce very quiet overtones relative to their fundamental pitches, which is why their sound approximates a mathematically perfect sine wave.
These extruded square aluminum tubes are extremely durable. The chimes’ clappers are stopped by rubber bumpers that contact the resonating chambers.
Established in 1570, the Whitechapel Bell Foundry of London, England, is one of the oldest companies in the world still in continuous operation. Famous bells made by Whitechapel include Big Ben, the Liberty Bell, and the 10-bell peal at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.
While Whitechapel handbells can be rung as a primary instrument, The Raleigh Ringers’ five octaves (61 bells, from C3 to C8) are most often used to add a rich, yet subtle interest to flowing melodic lines. The profile (shape) and bronze alloy from which Whitechapel handbells are cast result in a different appearance and sound from that of the Malmark handbells.
Leather clappers strike the castings with leather over most of the range; a polymer peg is used for the highest pitched bells and felt-covered leather clappers are employed in the lower bass bells. Whitechapel handbells have hand-tooled English leather handles, as well as a clapper-damping mechanism made of felt and metal.
Whitechapel Cup Bells
Whitechapel’s tuned musical Cup Bells have no clappers and are a bit clearer sounding than the original White Chapel handbells though they are made of the same bronze alloy. Our set was the first 4-octave set (49 bells, from C4 to C8) to be manufactured, and was one of the first sets to feature leather handles. Cup bells are typically suspended from a rack, always played with mallets, and are very effective when used to introduce or close musical compositions.
Cup bells are made of the same bronze alloy as Whitechapel handbells and are now available either with or without leather handles. On the inside, they maintain the rough texture formed during the casting process. They’re cut and polished on the outside to finish the cup-shape that gives them their name.
Schulmerich Silver Melody Bells
The Raleigh Ringers’ most fortunate find has been its set of Silver Melody Bells. An experimental product manufactured by Schulmerich Carillons, Inc., in the 1970s, these bells with cylindrically-shaped castings were never mass produced. As a result, only a handful of the original two-octave, 25-bell (C5 to C7) sets existed - up until recently. Demand was so high that Schulmerich decided to manufacture these bells again. Their complex overtone structure makes them unsuitable for most chordal music; however, The Raleigh Ringers makes powerful use of them to accent musical lines.
All of the Silver Melody Bells have black polymer handles, adjustable clappers, and the rubber washer clapper-restraining system found in Schulmerich handbells. Founded in 1935, Schulmerich Carillons, Inc., began making the first English handbells designed and manufactured in North America in 1962.
Petit & Fritsen Handbells
The sound of Petit & Fritsen handbells is very complex, but not quite as bright as that of the Schulmerich Silver Melody Bells. Upon first hearing these Dutch bells, people are often reminded of tower bells. The unique sound of the Petit & Fritsens comes from their differences in both the bronze alloy and the casting profile, resulting in yet another combination of fundamentals and overtones. The Raleigh Ringers’ three-octave, 37-bell set is occasionally used to simulate the sound of tower bells in change-ringing patterns, or to accent melodic lines.
Petit & Fritsen handbells have leather handles, and their castings aren’t polished. Our set was retrofitted with Malmark clappers across the entire range (C4 to C7). Although Petit & Fritsen still manufactures carillons and peal bells, their handbells are no longer in production and are available as used sets only.
J. C. Deagan Handbells
The Raleigh Ringers also own a two-octave set of J. C. Deagan handbells, named after the founder of the company that produced them. These rare bells are pear-shaped, and are comprised mainly of brass, instead of the customary bronze found in American-made handbells. Because of their unusual shape and composition, these bells have a different overtone structure that is similar to our English-made Whitechapel bells. Fortunately, the overtone is not so different as to make them incompatible with our main set of Malmark handbells. When ringing identical bells from the Deagan and Malmark sets, some ringers believe they can hear a major chord from the mix of fundamentals and overtones. Deagan handbells were first manufactured at the turn of the 20th century, but due to brass being needed for shell casings and munitions for World War I, the company ceased production in 1917 and never restarted. The designs for the bells were eventually purchased by Jenco, Inc., a percussion instrument company; we believe our set to have been manufactured by Jenco in the early 1950's using the original Deagan designs.
The patented MelodyWave Instrument represents the latest in technology created by Schulmerich Carillons, Inc. and consists of a wireless base station, a MIDI tone generator, amplifier, speakers and up to 49 touch sensitive wireless batons with a range of up to four octaves. The batons are similar in shape, size and appearance to Melody Chime (R)> instrument, but have no moving mechanisms. The "batons" are programmed from the base unit for voicing. There are 256 possible "voice" settings, ranging from horns to steel drums to dogs barking to the sound of helicopters, just to name a few. For more information about this revolutionary instrument, see the MelodyWave page on the Schulmerich website.
Malmark brings the ease of ringing melody lines, percussive patterns and ostinati with their latest product design. Enjoy the sound of quality with these authentic Malmark handbell castings mounted to a convenient rack.
One of the more recent acquisitions is an antique set of Shaker Chimes. Shaker chimes (also known as Organ Chimes) are a rare instrument originally manufactured by the Deagan Company in the early 1900’s. The instrument consists of a stand and 25 individual chimes, which are played by shaking them rapidly.
The Raleigh Ringers also play a B3 and a D3 manufactured by Schulmerich Carillons of Sellersville, Pennsylvania.
The Raleigh Ringers play on Mity-Lite tables, (some of which are six feet by 30 inches and some are four feet by 30 inches), and a Jeffers rectangular handbell tables, 36 inches by 30 inches in the regular setup configuration.
The Raleigh Ringers uses standard 36-inch by 30-inch foam handbell pads, each four inches high. However, the foam under all bells below C4 is heavier and denser. The group obtained these pads from a foam supplier for a mattress company. In addition, The Raleigh Ringers have two large bags filled with small rectangular and wedge-shaped pieces of foam, covered in the table cover material. These are used to angle the corners of the table layout to an angle other than 90 degrees, and to accommodate varying setup needs. Members of the group affectionately call them "Kibbles -n- Bits."
The Raleigh Ringers use folding Wenger gig stands in the bass. Because they are not hidden by large bass bells, these stands allow for easier music reading while freeing up crucial table space.
A cradle is a device of The Raleigh Ringers’ own invention, consisting of a two-inch-wide by two-inch-high strip of foam slightly longer than the diameter of a bass bell's "waist" and cut on one long side to fit the shape of that bell's casting. These "cradles" are placed on the table and used both to keep the bells from rolling around and to help damp the overtone when a bass bell must be table damped. They’re available for purchase at our online store.
If you have any questions about our bells or other equipment, please email David M. Harris.