St. John's Ringers

St. John's Ringers s/t LP (United Sound, 197?)

Welcome to the world of handbell ringing! Until I found this record, I had no idea such a thing existed...or at least if I did, that knowledge was buried under a bunch of useless bullshit. In researching this record, I found that the handbell scene is very large. My first hit was that there is not just one group called St. John's Ringers, but at least ten! That means that there are just as many St. John's Ringers in the handbell ringing world as there are The Fugitives who made garage 45s in the Sixties. Think about that for a second.

The reason why there are so many St. John's Ringers has everything to do with the history of the music. While there is no record when the first bell was invented, it is known that the Ancient Hebrews used them in worship. While Celts also used them in worship, the first official Christian use was in the 600s, when Paulinus, the Archbishop of York, hung them in his church and used them to mark the time of worship. In the Dark Ages, people kept bells at home to ring away bad spirits and, from time to time, they would get together and ring bells to scare away really big bad boogiemen. It was also during the Dark Ages, that bells started to be used inside the church during mass. Until the organ took over, bells, along with vocals, were the main instrument used in Christian ceremony.

Bell ringing was revived in the 1700s, but this time its practitioners were mostly outside the church. Bell ringers found that they could adapt chamber music, Christmas carols, and popular tunes to their handbells. In England, bell ringing groups popped up everywhere and by the mid 1800s bell ringing competitions were popular. The genre thrived until the 1920s, when it, once again waned in popularity. But bell ringing didn't die. Many Anglican and Presbyterian churches kept the tradition alive, mostly by shepherding adolescent bell ringing groups.

St. John's Ringers is one of those groups. Formed by Richard Coulter at St. John's Presbyterian Church of Berkeley, California, the St. John's Ringers did three European tours, a trip to Hawaii and one record. Their self-titled debut was made in the 1970s and contains Christmas carols and compositions made for or adapted to handbells. The Christmas carols are what you would expect: Christmas carols. However, some of the compositions are pretty damn great. Here are two.

Donal Allured's "Introduction and Allegro" was composed in the 1970s for handbells. "Danse Rituel de Fue" was composed by Manuel de Falla in the early 1900s and adapted to bells.

Hi, Scott,

St. John's Ringers made more than one LP - I think they made another, as well. I have them, as well as 80 or so other handbell LPs and 400 or so handbell CDs here:


Yeah, there's a lot of ringing going on. :)

d00d they are totally ringkging the crap out of tohs bellz!
Greetings Scott, my name is Jim Williams and I am one of the St. John's ringers performing on these two clips. It was a wonderful experience for us. FYI, we were all high scool age and had just returned home from a month touring and performing in Europe. Frankly I had forgotten all about the album until I got a link to your blog from our choir director Dick Coulter. Thank you for posting this and allowing me to relive these good memories.
-Jim Williams, Rockville MD
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