‘Fellowship of the Ring’
Ringing in a handbell choir requires teamwork and commitment over a long period of time to prepare for performances. In essence, it’s a fellowship of ringing. How appropriate, then, that this activity which requires the determination and dedication of a fellowship of ringers would finally play music from the movie which epitomizes this noble concept: “The Fellowship of the Ring.” In fall 2007, sixth-grade ringers at Redeemer Classical School asked their music teacher, composer Kathleen Wissinger, if they could play music from “The Lord of the Rings” movie.
Used to writing music for her students, Mrs. Wissinger immediately accepted the challenge and applied for permission to arrange the piece from Warner Brothers. While waiting for permission, she worked out a short, easy-but-faithful medley of two of the main themes. The students excitedly started practicing it for an upcoming concert. Then came the answer from the movie company – “Permission denied” – which meant that the piece had to be pulled from the students’ music books and practice had to cease.
Undaunted, Mrs. Wissinger asked one of her music editors (from Alfred Publishing, the company which administers Warner Brothers music) to obtain permission for her to arrange the music. The editor countered with a feasibility challenge asking Mrs. Wissinger to justify publication of such an arrangement. So, Wissinger contacted seven colleagues who taught handbells in middle/high school environments and asked them 1) If they would use such a piece in their programs and 2) If so, what the desired octave range and difficulty level should be. Six of the seven teachers were enthusiastic about using the piece in their program, and their consensus was that a 3-5 octave Level 2 or 3 piece would be welcomed. The Alfred editor took this report to the company administrators, who approved the project, subject to composer Howard Shore’s approval. So Mrs, Wissinger expanded her initial attempt incorporating five themes from the movie into a larger work of about four minutes in performance length.
The ringers (now in seventh grade) along with their eighth-grade schoolmates worked diligently to learn the piece, which incorporated some new techniques and rhythms. Triplets, suspended mallets, and eighth notes rhythms were practiced from exercises on the chalk board to prepare for ringing the piece. Finally at the 2009 Spring Concert at Court Square Theater, the Redeemer Ringers premiered “The Lord of the Rings.” They were the first handbell choir in the world to play an authorized arrangement of music from the movie. And they played superbly. What a thrill! They played the piece the next morning as well at a concert for Sunnyside retirement community and watched a video of that performance the next week in their final music class of the year.
The score has been submitted to Alfred Publishers for publication and is awaiting final approval from Mr. Shore for engraving and eventual release, anticipated in 2010. This small gem of an idea originating with a few sixth grade students in a small handbell class will eventually be embraced and performed in many schools, concerts and festival settings. “Fellowships” of ringers around the world will soon be able to play the stunning music from “Lord of the Rings” in this handbell arrangement, thanks to the persistence of a few students and their music teacher.