Handbells are a beautiful addition to any Sunday worship service. “Built on the Rock” by Hart Morris gives your handbell and handchime group a challenging yet stunning piece for your congregation to listen to, with a triumphant conclusion of praise to the Savior.
With a slight introductory nod to EIN FESTE BURG, the first stanza proceeds in the expected 3/4 meter. Stanza 2 moves smoothly into 6/8 and introduces the mallets and handchimes. The final stanza reverts to the original meter, with mallets driving the bass rhythm to the hymn’s triumphant conclusion. Level III.
Morris uses various handbell techniques and adds handchimes for a portion of the piece to highlight the hymn tune in different ways, while keeping each statement of the tune fresh and interesting. In the tune’s first statement, the melody rings in upper octaves while mallets harmonize with eighth notes by means of contrast and to keep the tempo moving forward.
Mallets continue to provide rhythmic and harmonic support in the tune’s second statement, while handchimes ring the tune a second time. This creates a distinctly unique tone and feel from that of an ensemble comprised entirely of handbells, and it adds interest to the tune.
The differing and distinctive sounds throughout the setting are especially appropriate when considering that the hymn associated with the tune is five stanzas. Should someone be following the text while listening to the musical setting, the amount of musical variety is fitting, given the length of the text.
The third time the melody is stated, the full handbell chorus returns and combines the previous techniques of mallets and eighth-note rhythms and adds a number of shaken chords in order to emphasize the setting’s conclusion.
Morris’s colorful and lively setting of “Built on the Rock” should be useful for handbell choirs as the end of the summer and beginning of fall nears, and throughout the Church Year in future years. The piece begins with the opening line of “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” in C minor, and then proceeds with the hymn tune KIRKEN DEN ER ET GAMMELT HUS.
The connection between the two hymns is an artful one, since both are appropriate during the time of the Church Year when the propers focus on Christ as the foundation of the Church, culminating in Reformation Day on October 31.
The Hymn of the Day for Proper 16A (August 23, 2020) is “Built on the Rock.” The Gospel that day recounts when Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” and, “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:13, 15) and Peter responds, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16).
It is on this confession, this rock that Jesus said He would build His Church, and this confession is the rock upon which the Church stands to this day, described in stanza 1 of “Built on the Rock”:
Built on the Rock the Church shall stand
Even when steeples are falling.
Crumbled have spires in ev’ry land;
Bells still are chiming and calling,
Calling the young and old to rest,
But above all the souls distressed,
Longing for rest everlasting.
That the word bells appears twice in this hymn (in stanzas 1 and 5) makes an additional connection between Morris’s handbell setting of the hymn tune and the hymn’s text. Perhaps when your handbell choir is playing this piece for a service, the text of at least stanzas 1 and 5, or a note directing the congregation to hymn 645 (“Built on the Rock”) in Lutheran Service Book, could be printed in the bulletin to allow people an opportunity to reflect on the hymn text while listening to the handbell setting.
To ring out “Built on the Rock” for your congregation, order the sheet music below.