ONE AFTERNOON IN MAY, 18 young men and women piled into a small basement room in Kalyan Nagar in the north-east of Bangalore. Inside, 36 bells of various sizes sat on blanketed tables. The players picked up the bells, and began to chime out, in carefully-timed individual motions, the notes to the hymn ‘Psalm of Life’.
“Focus on the melody,” Yanpothung Humtsoe, the choir’s director, said to one section of the players after the hymn ended. “The rest of you—play softer.” Holding a bell, Humtsoe swept his arm in a long, slow semicircle to show the deep resonance that the action created; he then contrasted this with the short clang produced by a simple jerk of the wrist. The difference was unmissable; the group murmured their understanding.
The group, the Bangalore Conservatory’s Handbell Choir, is an ensemble comprised entirely of handbell players, known as “ringers”. On its website, the choir describes itself as “probably the first of its kind” in Bangalore, and the country. The choir’s ringers are typically recruited and trained from the teaching programmes of the conservatory, an institution founded in the city in 2006, which offers three-year Bachelor’s degree programmes in Western classical music.