Remember that famous Charles Dickens opening line? Okay, I know most of you sort of remember it (and some of you can probably quote it), but let me refresh your memory:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity; it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope; it was the winter of despair…”

It seems as if we’re living the Tale of Two Cities in the world today. For every totally relaxed afternoon doing absolutely nothing, there is news of a hurricane. For every rainbow, there is a flood. For every fleeting moment we might spend under the stars, there is a destructive wildfire. Sometimes it seems as if there is a spring of hope, only to bring us back to the winter of despair.

And I’ve been wondering lately: does anyone see any analogies from A Tale of Two Cities in our handbell world in the same way that I do?

I find that I have moments of incredible joy when my ringers play a passage that they’ve been struggling with for awhile and it FINALLY comes together. Or better still, after pounding away at the notes rehearsal after rehearsal, they play something extremely musically for the first time, as if they all of a sudden “get it.” Or like the time a few months back when an audience member was experiencing handbells for the first time and he came up to me after church with a gleam in his eye and couldn’t stop talking about how beautiful the sound was, describing the tone of the bells as “pure.”

And then the winter of despair sets in. A ringer tells me they won’t be able to ring this fall because of blah blah blah (does the reason really matter?). Others say they’ll be there but, hey, stuff happens (their illness, their spouse’s illness, their kids’ illness, they have to work, the car broke down…need I go on?). And I probably shouldn’t even get into the myriad political, personal conflicts, jealousies, etc., that go with being involved in a community handbell group. But church bell groups don’t have to worry about those things, now do they?

Yes, sometimes it really does seem as though our instrument is in the midst of the best and worst of times. So what do we do?

Scholars feel that one of the best contexts of Dickens’ contrast is in literary writings where one situation is compared with another in order to predict some revolution or sudden transformation. So perhaps, like in Dickens’ tale, we need a revolution. Well, we can do without all the blood and gore, but maybe we need to really shake things up a bit. Ask yourself: what would a handbell revolution look like? Would we march the streets ringing furiously? (And to what end?) Or perhaps a more practical approach: put bells in the hands of people who might never get the chance to experience bells otherwise? (Now that’s revolutionary, in my opinion.)

Whatever it might be, I think it’s time we start to consider what is needed for growth—what is needed for CHANGE—change in our individual choirs, at the local/Area level, and for our national organization. The point of Dickens’ revolution is transformation. (But remember that in Dickens’ story, there was sacrifice involved.) So as we begin 2018, let’s start thinking of what our revolution could be. What can transform our handbell world for the better? Let’s not stay focused on a “winter of despair,” but let’s unite to chart a path towards a “spring of hope.” Oh…and send your revolutionary ideas to me at

P.L Grove

P.L. Grove