Composer to honour Happisburgh bell ringers

The Happisburgh bell ringers, with tower captain Gilbert Larter second from the right.

The Happisburgh bell ringers, with tower captain Gilbert Larter second from the right. - Credit: Archant

For centuries, bells have given us pleasure as they ring out with tunefully rhythmic sound-waves. They have been used to warn us of invasion, help us celebrate national events and to summon the faithful to worship.

St Mary's Church at Happisburgh.

St Mary's Church at Happisburgh. - Credit: Archant

Bell-ringing is an ancient and noble art, requiring a nimble brain to work out the complex method patterns of the peals involved. It calls for a great dedication to team-work and some physical endeavour. Campanology can become a compulsive hobby.

Thanks to generations of bell-ringing practitioners, the bells in the tower of St Mary's Church, Happisburgh, have been ringing out in this fashion since about 1450, when records suggest there were three bells in active service.

In 1637 they were recast as five new bells by the Norwich firm of John Brend and these continued to peal their song until 1822 when they fell silent for more than a hundred years following a lightning strike to the tower.

The bells were refurbished and re-installed at the beautiful and peaceful church in 1924 at a cost of around £415 and were dedicated at a service led by the then Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Rev Bertram Pollock.

Composer David Berwick with Happisburgh parish church tower captain Gilbert Larter.

Composer David Berwick with Happisburgh parish church tower captain Gilbert Larter. - Credit: Archant

During the service a new poem called Chorale, praising the virtues of church bells, by Percy Pinkerton was set to music by London organist H A Donald and the church choir performed it and before this two grand organ recitals were held in 1923 to raise funds for the new bell-peal.

Now, some 90 years later, on August 12, 2014, history will almost be repeating itself, with a new organ composition and the bells of St Mary's – and chiefly her ringers – being the central focus in a special celebrity organ recital – this time to raise money for St Mary's Church Fabric Fund.

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Norwich composer David Berwick has been an associate organist at St Mary's for 12 years and has been inspired to write a new work based on bell-like rhythms.

The composition has grown from his long appreciation of the dedicated service and skills of the bell-ringers at St Mary's, led by Tower Captain Gilbert Larter, who has notched up more than 50 years' membership of the Norwich Diocesan Association of Ringers. Gilbert has also achieved the creditable milestone of giving rung 200 peals for the association.

David says it took him nine months to compose the 13-minute work – Carillon-Sortie - in rough manuscript; nine weeks to draw up the final version for acclaimed Norfolk organist Timothy Patient to use. It is dedicated to the ringers at St Mary's.

Tim, who is the assistant organist at St Mary's in Hellesdon, and at All Hallows, Ditchingham, has premiered earlier organ works at St Andrew's Hall in Norwich and at Cromer Parish Church. A teacher at Horsford Junior School he is in demand as a recitalist across Norfolk and Suffolk and this will be the fourth time he and David have worked together.

Apart from his great musical interest in composing, singing and playing piano and organ, David is also an historian and publisher - a man of many talents.

The celebrity performance of Carillon-Sortie by Tim Patient will be part of his recital on Tuesday August 12 at Happisburgh starting at 7.30pm and there will be light refreshments after the recital at 8.45pm.

If you can't make it but would like to hear the music it will actually be premiered at West Runton Church on Wednesday August 6 and another performance is planned at St Nicholas' Church, North Walsham, on Thursday August 21. Both recitals start at 12.30pm.

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