Chabad of Richmond’s new Chabad Hand Chime Choir is looking for additional members. (photo from Chabad of Richmond)
“We wanted to have more creative activities for seniors, something music-oriented,” said Rabbi Yechiel Baitelman about Chabad of Richmond’s new Chabad Hand Chime Choir. “Music helps with focus, builds concentration. Many of our seniors always wanted to have music in their lives, acquire musical skills, but they never learned to play, for various reasons. Now, with this choir, they can play wonderful music, be part of a team.”
The choir was formed after the federal government approved Chabad of Richmond’s application for a New Horizons for Seniors grant. The choir officially started in May and the first intake for members took place soon after; the second intake starts this month, and the third will begin in January.
The rabbi said that the first concert of the group was a big success. “They played at our annual summer barbeque,” he said. “The music included some Jewish tunes, popular songs. They are recording a CD now.”
Hand chimes were chosen, said Baitelman, “because most of our participants can’t read music notations. With hand chimes, each musician only plays one note on his chime, a part of a chord.”
Many music educators consider hand chimes the best instrument for beginners. Essentially, a hand chime is a percussion instrument, an aluminum tuning fork with a small mallet permanently attached to the handle. The length of the tines of the fork is responsible for the sound, which is one clear note. When a musician moves his hand holding the chime in a certain way, the mallet strikes the fork, and the chime resonates. The sounds produced are melodic and breathtakingly beautiful, and they last until the musician “damps” the chime by holding it to his hand or shoulder, thus stopping the vibrations.
Hand chimes are fun to play and easy to learn, which contributes to the self-esteem of the player, which is why they are often used in music therapy.
Hand chimes are cousins to hand bells and an ensemble of hand bells or hand chimes is called a choir, even though the musicians don’t sing. Like hand bells, hand chimes have a long history, dating back to China thousands of years ago. Those ancient chimes were made of bamboo, and the sound was created not by a mallet but by hitting the chime against a stationary object. Later, a musician would play his chime by striking it with a stick.
Since then, numerous inventors and manufacturers have strived to discover the best material for the chimes’ split fork and the mechanisms attaching the mallets. Amid these endeavors, between the two world wars, several radio stations used hand chime tunes – a few notes – as their audio signatures. By the early 1980s, hand chimes finally arrived at the design the Chabad Hand Chime Choir – and many other groups – are using today.
The Chabad choir includes seniors in their mid-60s to seniors 90-plus, and each rehearsal session usually counts 10 to 14 people. “Not everyone can come every week, for health reasons,” the rabbi said, “but all the members of the group are very enthusiastic about their music.”
Ron Philips, chosen to lead the new group, has years of experience in a variety of musical fields. “We wanted someone who knew not only music but also musical therapy and working with seniors, and Ron Philips answered all our needs,” Baitelman said.
“I wear many hats,” Philips told the Independent. “I’m a composer and a musician, an arranger and a voice teacher. I play several instruments – piano, guitar, bass, drums, flute – and I write music for films and various music projects.”
Having loved music in all its forms since childhood, Philips graduated from Douglas College with a music degree. He was the composer behind a number of locally produced films, including the award-winning Complexity (2011). He was involved with the Richmond Community Orchestra and Chorus and has worked on many other projects where music and community interests intersected. At the moment, he runs the Steveston Music Centre.
“When I was asked to conduct the Hand Chime Choir for Chabad of Richmond, I was glad to take on this new experience,” he said. “I believe this Hand Chime Choir gives the seniors participating in it a new connection to music.”
No prior music experience is required to be part of the choir. “We accept anyone who comes, as long as they have the love of music, the desire to learn and the willingness to participate in a team,” said Philips.
Anyone interested in trying out for the Chabad Hand Chime Choir should call Chabad of Richmond at 604-277-6427.
Olga Livshin is a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].