Federation Handbells mini documentary


Graeme Leak: The thing about the Federation Handbells is that they're a unique acoustic design by Neil McLachlan who went to some extraordinary lengths to invent a bell that has a very musical overtone series. It's quite a different bell to any bell that you'll hear anywhere else. It's unique.

Leah Scholes: Playing actual bells – it's just a lovely feeling. It's a very physical feeling. The physicality really enhances how involved you feel in the music. It's a wonderful experience.

Graeme Leak:  They were actually made for the closing of the Melbourne 2000 Arts Festival and there was a massive concert called Bells and Brass where there were four brass bands on stage under the baton of one conductor and then there was another 500 bell ringers all down the side and around the back of the Myer Music Bowl and I conducted them from halfway up the lawn and it was a magnificent occasion. And those bell players were all from community groups and most of them – in fact all of them – were non-musicians.

Andy Rigby: They vary in size. This is the heaviest bell in the set and you can use them as a hand-held bell, you can parade with them in that way. But I s'pose most times I've used the bells, we've just used them in the boxes, using them as a stand, strike them like that. We label them to make it easy for the kids to find the notes if they're not totally familiar with the scales that we're using or the way they'd be laid out. We'll have the sections set up kind of like a bells orchestra. That way I can stand in front of each section and remind the kids which part we're up to.

Paul Moulatlet: The music program here at school is based on a composition. The children compose their own music and perform it. Having the bells has added another dimension because they're instruments that are quite unusual and with such a beautiful sound and such an unusual timbre, it's really opened the minds up of the kids in exploring and experimenting with new musical works.

Student: I like them 'cause they all have like a different sound, like each bell is different. But it also kinda depends on how loud you play them or how softly you play them. So if I play it loud it's like.... but then if I do it really quiet it's like...

Paul Moulatlet: It's such a great way to just get children interested in listening to sounds and experimenting with sounds.

Student: They may a very, sort of high noise... maybe like an icy... like everyone's really annoyed, sort of like that

Students: Funky, it's a bit like twilight music as well, they're like dark, kind of eerie, magical, different, scary...

Graeme Leak:  So there's bells being played by two percussionists on the ground. One full set of Federation Handbells which do work as kind of a mallet instrument which I'm not sure if everyone realises that, but there's brackets where you can set up a full two octaves of the Fed bells and play them, and a glockenspiel which is like a little xylophone but made of metal. So that's down the bottom and then up the top are the Strange Fruiters.

Strange Fruit performers: I wasn't in Federation Square but that was big. Thousands of people. Very beautiful.

Graeme Leak: The development took quite a few years and spanned from about 2000 and... I think we first had a conversation in 2006. Sue Broadway was walking through Birrarung Marr where the FB installation is and she looked up at the bells and went, "Ah, how good would it be to put the Strange Fruiters up amongst those bells and play them." The hardest part really was to decide which bells to leave out.

Timothy Phillips: It was amazing. It was amazing for all of us as well as for the audience it was quite spiritual, the time of day, the place, the nature of the bells themselves.

Phillip Gleeson: They're sort of very beckoning or reminiscent of spiritual practice or something that's caught between realms.

Timothy Phillips: Yes, it was beautiful.

Students: Awesome!

About this Video

A short film about the Federation Handbells - a musical resource managed by Museum Victoria that anyone can borrow.
Length: 05:57