PHILIP RICE

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Shall We Gather at the River?

5 to 7 octave handbells and choirchimes / 6 minutes

Ringing with the Westminster Concert Handbell Choir was one of the most exciting and unique experiences of my time as graduate student. Working with the legendary Kathleen Ebling-Shaw meant that every handbell technique was learned, and the most cutting-edge instruments and equipment were available. In spring 2012, Kathy asked me to write an arrangement of the classic hymn “At the River” for the choir to ring. The theme for the concert series that year was how church bells are mechanisms for storytelling and worship as well as purely aesthetic devices, so I conceived the piece as a programmatic work that tells the story of a soul rising into heaven. The first section is a fairly traditional setting of the hymn-tune, with “flowing” accompanimental figurations. The second section is dark, brooding, and minor—a depiction of death and mourning. Rising figures in the bass represent a soul’s ascension. The final section is a scintillating, bright movement, which depicts an arrival at the “throne of God” in heaven.
The work was premiered expertly by the Westminster Concert Handbell Choir, and was also performed at the 2012 Commencement for Westminster Choir College, and was taken on the choir's 2012 Southwest tour.

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