"Not Just Jingle Bells or Silver Bells": A Look Inside Campanology


Every weekday morning seven people gather in the basement of the Gobin Memorial United Methodist Church in the hopes of becoming a singular instrument.

DePauw professor Dr. Brian Howard meets with six students to conduct the Campanology winter term course, a class devoted entirely to bells.The class meets three hours every morning to discuss bell literature and history, as well as the mathematics and physics behind bell ringing. They are also learning how to play the English handbells and will be performing a concert near the end of winter term.

"Each day is basically an hour of discussing and presentations and then we move up to practicing," Howard said.

Howard says that he gauges success by "if they can put on a concert", and expects that the concert will fall on Thursday, Jan. 24 in the sanctuary of the Gobin church.

According to Howard, a hand bell choir typically consists of eleven people. This need was met in 2008 and 2009 when Howard previously taught the class. However, Howard's class consists of only six people this year.

Size has created some challenges for this tiny bell choir, as Howard must conduct the choir and play in it, but this has not dampened any of their spirits. Each member is equally as enthusiastic about the bond of this group.

"You have to kind of rely on everyone else to make it work," said freshman Anna Dehnke. Since each bell only controls one note, the entire group must act as one giant instrument, each person ringing only two or three bells during the entire piece.

"A lot of people, when they think about bells, they think Christmas music," said Howard. "They really can be used with other events. You really can say other things with bells."

As the director of the church's own bell choir, the Bells of Gobin, Howard knows there is more to the instrument. "It's not just jingle bells or silver bells."

Howard has actually been playing since 1978 when he began playing in the bell choir at a church in Cleveland. Over the years, he has attended several hand bell conferences and has amassed a wealth of knowledge about every aspect of the handbell.

"I hope to arrange a trip over to Indianapolis," Howard said as he talks about visiting nearby bell towers.

But Howard also has even bigger goals in mind with this winter term class.

"Maybe I could start directing some kind of college choir," Howard says.  This, he says, is his "ulterior motive."

For now it looks like Dr.Howard will just be directing the Bells of Gobin and the class of six right now. But the group of six is going strong, playing the bells together, as one instrument.

"It gives the musical ensemble more of a sense of unity when you're all playing a part of the greater melody," freshman Thomas Miller said. It seems this "sense of unity" is what fuels them all to their ending goals, the concert at the end of the term, and maybe someday, a bell choir of their own.