Bells add swirl of energy to show

Pianist, a cappella group also to join with Masterworks for holiday concert

Contributing writerDecember 6, 2013 

The Bells of the Cascades will be part of the Masterworks Chorale Ensemble concert Saturday.


Masterworks Chorale Ensemble has some surprise gifts wrapped up for its holiday concert, “Sing Glad Tidings: Holiday Choir and Bells,” a collaboration with Tualatin, Ore., handbell ensemble Bells of the Cascades.

“For the December concert, we try to have a mix of familiar carols that everyone wants to hear this time of year with new carols that they might not have heard,” said Gary Witley, the group’s artistic director.

There’ll also be lots to see at the Saturday concert, including videos, a performance by a mysterious group called The Silent Monks, and the bell ringing, which has been a highlight of three prior Masterworks holiday shows.

“The bells are probably the most amazing visual,” Witley said. “Watching them play is a treat. We love singing with them, but we also love watching them. It’s quite an art to play music as complicated as they play.”

The bell ensemble will join the choir for the second half of the concert, playing mostly new twists on familiar carols arranged by David York, the ensemble’s music director.

“When you’re able to do new and adventurous arrangements of familiar carols, it’s a worthy concert experience,” York said. “It’s more than listening to a recording while you’re decorating a tree.

“It’s an art form that can be presented only in that circumstance. The whole thing kicks up a swirl of energy that’s a great addition to the holiday season.”

Among the carols York arranged are a mash-up of “O Come, O Come, Emanuel” and “Of the Father’s Love Begotten,” a little-known carol; a variation on “Ding-Dong Merrily on High” that features a fast bell part as a counterpoint to the choir singing the traditional melody; and a salsa-inflected variation on “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.”

“That’s the one that’s the most original,” York said. “It has kind of this calypso feel to it.”

To allow a complicated rhythm, the bass bells, which can weigh up to 20 pounds each, are played with mallets.

Witley expects a new song, “The World for Christmas,” to be one of the highlights of the first half. The song, created by the Swedish a cappella group The Real Group, tells of a newborn baby’s wish for the future of the world.

“They have the most amazing sound,” Witley said. “They’re my current favorite a cappella group. This song is just gorgeous.”

The first half will end with “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah. It will sound thoroughly traditional, but The Silent Monks will add a visual surprise that Witley won’t spoil.

“People will be surprised and have a good laugh,” he said. “It’s a hilarious routine that we’ve seen done elsewhere.” ‘Sing Glad Tidings: Holiday Choir and Bells’

What: Masterworks Choral Ensemble celebrates Christmas with tunes new and traditional. Guest performers are Bells of the Cascades and pianist Hyunjin Kim. The ensemble will hold its silent auction at intermission, with bidding opening before the concert.

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday with a 7 p.m. pre-concert lecture by David York, music director of Bells of the Cascades. The theater opens at 6:30 to allow patrons to begin bidding in the auction.

Where: The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, 512 Washington St. SE, Olympia

Tickets: $19 general admission, $16 for students and seniors, $9 for youths

More information: 360-753-8586 or or

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