Counted among the nation’s top handbell ensembles, the Raleigh Ringers have traveled far and wide to perform and their holiday concerts at Meymandi Hall have become a local tradition.
The Ringers are going multimedia this holiday season with a special UNC-TV telecast slated for 6 p.m. Saturday and a newly released concert DVD, “A December Tradition.” Both feature selected songs from last year’s Meymandi performances, plus additional backstage material.
The group has released five CDs over the years, but this is only the second time that the Ringers have embarked on a joint DVD/broadcast concert video project. The last one worked out pretty well. When UNC-TV broadcast the Ringers’ “One Winter Evening at Meymandi” in 2002, it was quickly picked up for syndication and has since been shown on more than 250 PBS stations nationwide.
Those who have seen the Raleigh Ringers in action already know that the performances are as much fun for the eyes as they are for the ears. A handbell ensemble requires a dozen or more musicians to work together with remarkable precision. In fact, a handbell ensemble is technically considered one instrument played by a group of musicians – in the case of the Ringers, 12 to 15 on any given song, according to longtime musical director David Harris.
“That’s exactly what sets us apart,” Harris said. “When we open up these cases of bells, these are like the keys on the piano. Even though there are solo ringers that move up and down the table and pick up different bells, for the most part each note is handled by one ringer. You have to have a team of people to play a melody. A lot of choreography and logistics are involved.”
The new DVD – shot in high definition and also available on Blu-ray – focuses mostly on Christmas music, though some other fan favorites also are sprinkled in.
“One of the songs that’s been very popular in our repertoire is ‘Flight of the Bumblebee,’” Harris said. “That’s captured on this video really well, and it’s on the PBS broadcast, too.”
The PBS broadcast will be a 60-minute version of the DVD concert video, which features two hours of music and 24 songs.
Harris said that this time around, UNC-TV and the Raleigh Ringers partnered closely on production. UNC-TV sent its own crew to film the performances over several days, using six HD digital cameras.
“The first time, we did all the work and hired the tech crew and so forth,” Harris said. “This time it was a team effort. They handled most of everything and of course, they have expertise with that.”
Shannon Vickery, director of production with UNC-TV, said the concert will initially be broadcast as part of the Winterfest on-air fundraising drive. She expects that it will gradually roll out to other PBS stations across the country.
“We enjoy working with them so much and we really value the great talent in that organization,” she said. “The previous programs are still so popular and we have high hopes for the new program, too, since it’s produced in high definition. And, of course, the music is so beautiful. That’s what really attracts viewers from across the nation.”