On Aug. 17 at Summerville Baptist Church handbells could be heard jingling – ring-ting-tingling, too.
The Palmetto Bronze handbell ensemble has started rehearsing for its Christmas season, and rang in the first day of rehearsals with the tune “Sleigh Bells.”
This group, under the direction of Marcia Brantley, had an eventful summer; on July 16 the group performed before a crowd of more than 400 at the Diamond Anniversary Celebration of the Handbell Musicians of America (HMA) National Seminar in Atlanta. Palmetto Bronze was selected as one of three handbell groups from across the nation to play in a showcase concert.
“There was no placing – the placing was the invitation,” Brantley said.
Palmetto Bronze was established 10 years ago by Brantley, who was teaching at Rollings Middle School of the Arts. She formed the group to play for the National Golden Anniversary for the American Guild of the English Handbell Ringers (now HMA).
It is a Summerville-based group, though the 16 members come from all over the Charleston area. Palmetto Bronze has played for Piccolo Spoleto for the last three years and has participated in the North Charleston Arts Festival. On the last Saturday of January each year it offers a Lowcountry Handbell Workshop – the next one will feature composer and clinician John Behnke from Concordia University in Wisconsin.
The group has two seasons a year – a Christmas concert and a spring concert. Members have already started rehearsals for the former.
“I love having people, as a group, make music,” Brantley said. “It’s one thing to be a pianist and be able to make music, but to have 15 or 16 people join together to make music is really exciting.”
At the seminar, handbell ensemble members also participated in workshops and were given the opportunity to audition for HMA’s All-Star group, in which Palmetto Bronze members Michael Lopez and Allison Clayton made the cut; not only did they perform with their Palmetto Bronze group but got to play another concert in the All-Star group.
“That was awesome,” Lopez said, adding this is his fourth season with Palmetto Bronze.
Lopez said one of the conductors flew in from Hong Kong to conduct them.
“I just like making music and it’s like a team effort,” he said. “It’s the only instrument that is a team instrument.”
Allison Clayton has been playing handbells since 1996. She said having the opportunity to play with the All-Stars was overwhelming but exciting at the same time.
“I’m a big music person. The handbells grew on me,” she said. “This is what I do to entertain myself and treat myself.”
Palmetto Bronze member Mary-Kate Ward used to play for Brantley as a student at Rollings.
Ward said she felt the ensemble did really well in Atlanta.
“We got great feedback,” she said. “It was an honor, and I think we knocked it out of the park.”
Palmetto Bronze will play a free concert Sept. 21 at the Baptist Church of Beaufort. The time has yet to be determined.
Palmetto Bronze member Jimmy Grill said the group’s music is “not just hymns and Christmas music.” They have covered artists such as Adele and The Beatles as well.
“I think anyone who enjoys music would enjoy a handbell concert,” Grill said.
The first holiday concert will be at Christ St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Hollywood on Dec. 5 at 7 p.m. The concert is free.