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Milwaukee Handbell Ensemble Rings in 10 Years of Music

Jyll and Tom Skinner/Wikimedia

For ten years, the Milwaukee Handbell Ensemble has brought unique ringing to the area, and now it will celebrate its longtime musical commitment to the city with an anniversary concert next week.

The group features fourteen ringers, who play 73 handbells representing six octaves of notes, plus 73 handchimes (another six and a half octaves) in their performances. With their range, they can play the most advanced compositions for handbell.

The MHE ringers are led by Concordia University music teacher Dr. John Behnke. He’s also music editor for the Handbell Musicians of America’s publishing arm – and a bell composer.

He says composers have many techniques they can draw on when writing for the bell.

"All these techniques were invented by ringers, probably experimenting – this one might have been a ringer who got upset, you know, and just took the bell and hit it into the foam, and a composer said, ‘I can use that sound,'" Behnke says.

The Milwaukee Handbell Ensemble recently played in Lake Effect's studios, performing Andrew Duncan’s Tin-Tin-A-Rhumba, along with Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra Principal Timpanist Dean Borghesani - he will join the group at its 10th Anniversary Concert at Concordia University on May 10. Behnke’s student handbell group – the Alleluia Ringers – will perform this Sunday at Concordia.