Midnight Clear, A collection of traditional sacred and secular pieces arranged for Raleigh Ringers, a handbell choir; © 2022, The Raleigh Ringers, Inc., TT 78:29, CD $15.00, available for preorder; ships December 1.

Hark! The heavens opened and the angels rang bells. Just in time for your holiday listening, the Raleigh Ringers have produced another winning album.

Under the direction of David Harris, the Raleigh Ringers have engaged, moved, and delighted us for more than thirty years. Their performances have become a beloved tradition in the Triangle, an inspiration for young musicians through an annual festival sponsored by the group; and they have performed throughout North America, England, and France. With more than 150 commissions, they have become a premiere American bell choir.

From “Veni, Veni Emmanuel” (arr. Fred Gramann) to John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s “Happy Xmas” (arr. Keith Burt), Raleigh Ringers’ new holiday CD is filled with music you will love and remember, but with arrangements that place them in our time. There are seventeen in all, many of which are commissioned for the group, each suitable for review. Here are a sampling:

The first selection “Intro/God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” (Morris, Raney, Sherman) is an elegant arrangement that sets the tone for the album. Church bells beckon us to tread softly and to pay close attention. There is magic in the air, “Hush now, and listen.”

Sandra Eithun‘s arrangements for “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear,” “Savior of the Nations, Come,” and “O Holy Night” are shining examples of her best work. Her skillful use of the range of the bells, changing rhythms, and subtle use of dynamics add up to works that have orchestral quality. I found “‘Twas in the Moon of Wintertime” exceptional. The ensemble responds to each of these with great precision and sensitivity. Coupled with terrific percussion and excellent sound recording, the results are stunning.

There are other notable pieces like “I Believe in Father Christmas,” (arr. Keith Burt). Was the melodic material from Prokofiev’s Lieutenant Kiji a little tongue-in-cheek? I would have left this out. But there are delightful short pieces like “Boar’s Head Carol,” (arr. Jason W. Krug) and “Gaudete” (arr. Carl Wiltse) that deserve a nod. Oh, and I must not forget Linda Boatright’s splendid arrangement of Ian Anderson’s “Ring Out, Solstice Bells.” If you are old enough to remember the British band, Jethro Tull, you can sample a 1976 recording on YouTube.

The final piece is a beautiful arrangement of “The First Noel” (arr. Cathy Moklebust). She sets a new melody with the original in melodic counterpoint; a reminder that each of us walks a unique path in this life. Raleigh Ringers sends us off with a message of hope and a song in our hearts.

The graphic design for the album, inspired by Cindy Massey, was the work of Angie Dickinson Design, and the introductory words were offered by Sandra Eithun. Besides the twenty-six bell ringers, there are additional musicians: Ruth Brown (flute and recorder), Allison Keisler (recorder), Michael Auchter (percussion), Cameron Carter and Matthew Eden (handclappers). Andy Punch is recording engineer. Midnight Clear was recorded at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, Durham, NC. It will make a splendid addition to your collection of holiday music.

A live performance is even better. You can hear the Raleigh Ringers perform at Meymandi Hall in Raleigh on Saturday, December 17 at 4 pm and on Sunday, December 18 at 4 pm. See our calendar for details.