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stewboy

Amazing Grace, for handbell ensemble

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Maybe something slightly unusual for this site, who knows. I joined my university's handbell society a couple years ago, and eventually wanted to write something for us, so this is what resulted. Recording is live, taken from a rehearsal. I have also written an original piece, which they will be getting to in the coming months so there is no live recording yet.

My composition process was pretty similar to the way I write most of my pieces - I started off with the idea for the introduction, and then just sat down at the computer and let the rest of the piece flow out from there. Writing for handbells does present some slight challenges not present with other instruments - for example, you can't write too chromatically, or too clustery in the bass, we only had a 4 octave range of G to G, and the amount of people in the ensemble (either 7 or 8, I can't remember) limited the variety of notes I could use in quick succession which was why I mainly wrote in pentatonic-like figures - but I love the sound of handbells, and you can write chords and passages that would be impossible for one person on piano.

The score is slightly clunkily/lazily written at times in terms of specific instructions (handbell music can get VERY specific in its articulation), but I wasn't too worried because I was there at every rehearsal (I was playing the A and B below middle C, for the record) so I could let them know what I wanted. One problem which I hadn't anticipated was a few members of the group actually had trouble with the 9/8 time signature, although it's relatively slow. It seems that although 3/4, 6/8 and even 12/8 are common, 9/8 is relatively rare in handbell music, and those who didn't necessarily play orchestral instruments weren't used to it.

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I think it's nice. The sustain of the handbells got me sometimes though. IV chord with the 6 and iii chord with the 9 (or I6 chord with M7) are some examples from throughout, but overall, it wasn't too problematic. The use of retardations or accented passing tones confused me a little bit sometimes as well, simply because they create an implied chord (like m. 8) for example, but either not actually rooting it or obscuring it. 
It was quite nice to listen to otherwise, and you could have noticed those things and been fine with it, but reharmonization is tricky business sometimes; you're right, we don't get much of that here. :)
Cheers!

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