Concert Review: Ministry of Bells plays at the Esplanade Concourse 23 Apr 2011

Ministry of Bells (
Esplanade Concourse
23 April 2011, Saturday, 7.30pm.

by Derek Lim

Passing through the Esplanade this very hot Sunday evening to enjoy the cool, I walked through the concourse where the community centre based group Ministry of Bells was performing. Out of curiousity, not having heard a hand-bell ensemble before, I stayed and found myself entertained, amazed and engaged in a way that I haven’t been with other live music performances for while. The best thing? It was free.

Through the half-hour, the ensemble conductor led the group of twenty handbells performers, mostly girls (there was one guy) in their teens to ladies in their mid-twenties, through tasteful arrangements of tunes from Elton John’s ‘The Lion King’ (the musical version of which is currently being performed at the Marina Bay Sands), more tunes from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘Phantom of the Opera’, a solo by Melody Chen (according to the conductor the only capable of doing so in Singapore), accompanied by the conductor on piano named ‘Black Orpheus’ and other popular songs like ‘Quando, Quando, Quando’.

In the ensemble, arranged from the higher-tuned bells on the left to the lower pitched ones on right, the musicians sounded their bells by either ringing them in the usual way, clapping them on the table or striking them with a wool-headed drumstick. The instruments joyous clinging and clanging was at once enchanting and uplifting.

There was a delicate dance best appreciated when looking at a few of the musicians at once when for a run of notes was played, requiring coordination and technique in allowing the bells reach their reasonance, stopping their tone and letting them ring. Some of the members in charge of the higher-pitched bells managed four different ones at a time, with the leader Melody Chen performing on an astounding 30 bells in all in her solo, which was thrown off with ease, but not so easily that one couldn’t appreciate the difficulties with handling so many disparate instruments.

If the opportunity to watch this talented group comes by again, I’d very much recommend spending some time with them. It isn’t your typical classical music act, but when everyone’s having such fun, who cares?

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