Traveling With Bells & Whistles (Choirchimes and Cymbells)

 By Christine D. Anderson

I've had to get pretty creative when traveling with all the handbells, Choirchimes, and Cymbells I need for my concerts both in the States, and in countries around the world. The first issue I've dealt with is equipment I can't take onto the plane. I'm still amazed when anyone asks me if I take my tables, and do the handbells fit in the overhead bin?


Ha! I always request one eight foot table, but often get surprised with a six foot table - or two put together - or several handbell tables that aren't very stable, and usually don't meet evenly across the top. And, then there are the old eight footers that are bowed in the middle. I've even used hymnals open to the same page under table legs to get the tables even.


The next challenge is foam pads. I ring in many places where there are no handbells, hence no foam pads. The best thing I've come up with, to avoid fees for oversized luggage (36" X 30" times 3 pads is oversized) is "egg crate" foam. I bought a large roll of it on the internet, then measured out and cut a piece 8 feet by 30". Then I cut the foam into pieces that would fit in my largest suitcase, numbered them for easy placement on the table, and cut off the tips off the rounded knobs for stability when I turned the foam over. The last step is to cover the entire foam on the table with light-weight fleece. In that one large suitcase I am able to fit the egg crate foam plus all the other bell equipment needed, even the bell tree stand that comes apart.

An issue with foam pads that people provide for me, is that many times the pads are pre-covered with fabric, which is a difficult situation for a solo ringer. The covers cause valleys between the foam pads for bells to roll into. Placing my corduroy cover on top of these pads ruins resonance when I use mallets or any other table-top damping technique. I've found that if covers can't/won't be removed, laying my thin fleece on top helps to prevent bells from rolling as much.


Since I never use the whole 2 octaves of Choirchimes in a concert, I place the ones needed in socks and layer carefully either in my carry-on or snuggled between clothes in my suitcase. It's surprising that no TSA agent has ever blinked when the chimes go through the X-ray machine at an airport: if they only knew...


I have fallen in love with my new octave set of Cymbells! It's a toss-up now: bell tree or Cymbells? I have to check the Cymbells as another piece of luggage, along with handbell case and suitcase. So far, the airline has been careful with them. If I take a bell tree stand, mine comes apart to pack in a suitcase, and only weighs 6.5 pounds. I do have to pack several duplicate bells, which I put in bell socks I've knitted, and layer in my carry-on.


When my handbell quartet, Medallion Ringers, traveled around the world, we laid out Bb4-E7, and each of us picked up every 4th bell to pack in our carry-on bags. That way I didn't get stuck with all the heavy bells I ring in position #1! We had various versions of bell bags and socks to protect the bells. Twice we had problems with an airline weighing the carry-ons (en route to Poland and in the Philippines), but otherwise, it was a great way to make sure our bells arrived when we did. In the Philippines we had to take bells out and rang an impromptu concert before we could board the plane. Traveling with a quartet is much easier than going solo! Because we require no tables and all the music is memorized, we need no other equipment but our handbells.


If traveling outside the United States, it's a good idea to research baggage requirements and limitations of all the modes of travel before leaving the country. It is also good to have a copy of proof you purchased the handbells in the U.S.A. It's smart to lay on top of the bells a copy of your itinerary with name, address, and contact number - in case the bar code tag gets torn off, as happened to me once. I was very thankful I had that information included inside the handbell case.

After TSA broke an A6 by opening my bell case upside down, I painted big signs on the outside of the case, indicating which side was to be "up" when opened. I have found suspicious fingerprints on my bells, and wonder if they were inspected with bare hands and what else happened to them when I wasn't looking?


Have the handbells ever gotten "lost" or delayed en route? Yes, I've lost count how many times! It's a challenge to find another set of handbells at the last minute, especially Malmark ones, or bells in good condition. Then, there are the times I've been the one to forget a bell. Do you know how many times a B4 rings in Christmas pieces? In a quartet? Can you sing that note every time?

There is no argument, traveling by plane with handbells is not easy, both because of weight and number of bags to check. Even traveling by car presents challenges - I can at least pack my two four-foot tables and foam pads, and perhaps add some extra bells.

If I have learned anything in all my 32 years of traveling with handbells, ringing literally all over the world and in all 50 states, it's how important it is to be flexible, and have optional plans just in case things don't work out the way I'd like. A cheerful attitude goes a long way, as well as accepting challenges as just another adventure and future story to tell.

About Christine:

Christine is not only a Malmark Sales Representative in California but the solo handbell artistry of Christine D. Anderson is world-renowned. With finesse, grace and dexterity, Christine's solo handbell artistry has thrilled audiences in 25 countries and 50 states, and her fans around the world will tell you that you'll never be the same after hearing and seeing Christine play.

Christine began her handbell ringing career at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, in late 1972. After completing a B.A. in music at Florida Atlantic University, she directed 6 handbell choirs at Coral Ridge and began conducting workshops and festivals around the country. Learn more about Christine:

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