On The Road - “C” is for Cymbells …AND Crusaders

by Karen Eastburn

Founded in 1940, The Boston Crusaders Drum and Bugle Corps is comprised of percussion, brass and color guard members under the age of 22. Each summer they travel over 10,000 miles, performing in over 40 competitions and exhibitions seen by over 300,000 people in any one season!

So, how did the Crusaders end up using Cymbells in their 2017 "Wicked Games" show? While that is an intriguing question we need to start earlier in the story. In January 2017, Brian Seemann contacted me in need of Choirchimes for the College Ring-In happening in Dallas. So, we planned to meet up to deliver the chimes and we spent a happy hour talking handbells. I also learned about Brian's work with the Boston Crusaders. Later in June, I was looking for information as to how Malmark Cymbells might be used with marching bands and remembered Brian had connections: "Funny that you should ask this summer!! I actually connected the Boston Crusaders and Tim Schuback, President of Malmark, this spring, and we have 2 sets in our front ensemble this year!"

Even more serendipitous was Brian letting me know that the Boston Crusaders would be rehearsing and competing practically in my neighborhood! This would give me an up-close opportunity to not only see Malmark Cymbells used within the front ensemble but to witness, for my first time, one of the best junior drum and bugle corps in the country performing! It truly is heart pumping and inspiring to see the young men and women, in the hot, Texas sun giving 100% to their rehearsing and marching. So, back to the original question: how did Cymbells end up in the front percussion ensemble of the Boston Crusaders?

"Composers like Iain Moyer know these instruments and what they can do and what they can add," says Chris Holland, Chief Operations Officer of Inspire Arts & Music, which includes the Boston Crusaders among their performing arts programs for youth. Explaining the musical situation further, Mr. Moyer says, "the (marching show) music had Debussy quotes written for the front ensemble and we were looking for a unique way to accomplish that." Then Chris recalls having a conversation in which Iain said, "It would be interesting to try real handbells." This reminded him they had a "resident bell expert" in the organization: Brian Seeman. Brian worked and traveled with the Boston Crusaders during their summer 2017 tour and was "very excited that we got to use the Cymbells in the marching show."

But how did they end up with Malmark Cymbells rather than handbells? The handbells the Crusaders would need were 2 different combinations of handbells for two different sections of the show, making the logistics tricky. So, at some point a suggestion was made to try Cymbells instead. It turns out that what Iain describes as the "delicacy" of malleted Cymbells was perfect for their application in the show. The Crusaders front ensemble incorporated 2 octaves of Cymbells on each side and used them during the show introduction and during the Ballade section which was perfect for these quiet moments of their program.

Some musicians might consider bells to be "exotic" says Iain, because they bring a different pallet of sound he describes as "delicate, a great contrast." However, the accessibility of a standard keyboard format and playing with mallets make Cymbells an easy transition for percussionists. For the Crusaders, transferring skills the players already possessed instead in learning to ring bells "in hand" made using Cymbells easy. Cymbells also solved the logistical and amplification problems of using multiple handbells with multiple players.

Iain relates that the Boston Crusaders have used other instruments to create a bell sound in the past, but he labels them as "a poor man's handbell." Chris felt they needed the "real deal" because "nothing will replace the authentic sound and visual of a handbell: the aesthetic quality of a handbell is something we can't duplicate electronically." And, although the Crusaders use a surprising amount of technology to create electronic sounds to reach out in a large venue of up to 30K people, the Cymbells allowed the ensemble to draw the ear and eye in. Iain adds that from an acoustic standpoint, "to be able to bring something unique is hard to do" but the Cymbells offered something "drastically different."

Learn more about Malmark Cymbells here:

Watch a short video of the Crusaders using Cymbells here:

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