Fun hobby that rings the changes

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 March, 2011, 12:00am

While the ringing of bells is mostly associated with church towers and Christmas, the use of handbells and chimes as a musical art form has long enchanted audiences in shopping malls and public places around Hong Kong.

Handbell music is usually performed by an ensemble, using a set of tuned bells or chimes. Each person is usually responsible for playing one or two bells.

'Handbells are interesting instruments aurally and visually. They are shiny and golden, and there are certain styles of movement performed by the players,' says Kevin Ko, artistic director of the Asian International Handbell Association (AIHA,

'Audiences find an ensemble performance intriguing as they are used to seeing music played by one person with one instrument, like a piano or guitar.

'As well as learning the basic mechanics of the instrument, handbell players need to develop a sense of musicianship and build good co-operation with their fellow ringers and conductor. There can be 10 people playing in unison, but they are ringing with one heart and one soul.'

Many primary and secondary schools provide classes for students to learn handbell playing. For children whose schools do not conduct classes, and for adults who would like to take up the activity, there are two main organisations offering courses - the AIHA and the Hong Kong Handbell Academy (

The AIHA provides beginner courses for children and adults. The courses run for three months, with weekly one-hour lessons.

Courses cost HK$850 for children and HK$1,150 for adults. Participants learn how to read musical notes, how the instruments work and the correct movements or gestures.

The AIHA also runs courses for more experienced children. Admission is audition-based and courses are designed to offer students the opportunity to develop more in-depth skills in an ensemble setting.

The fee for these courses is HK$950 and they also involve weekly one-hour lessons over three months. The Handbell Academy runs elementary courses for children, teenagers and adults. They comprise 12, one-hour classes and cost HK$2,000.

A course for pre-school children involves eight, 45-minute classes and costs HK$1,500.

The courses cover all handbell and handchime techniques, basic music theory and rhythmic training.