A Fun Evening in DownTown Raleigh: The Ringers and Morgan Street

Interesting subcultures exists all around us, of which we can remain blissfully unaware. Such was my inclination when it came to the musicianship, dedication, and teamwork involved in playing handbells. That’s right, handbells.

Hav you heard of a group called the Raleigh Ringers? Am I the only one who hadn’t? According to their website, linked above, they started in Raleigh in 1990 and in addition to playing all over the world, they educate people in the area on the art of handbell ringing. They have also created several albums and had some of their traditional Raleigh concerts aired on public television.

My wife, ink searching for something holiday-themed to do in the area, came across this group and remember viewing them on PBS at some point, so she decided she would go. On top of that, we would make it a family outing by inviting her mother, whom is a big Raleigh Ringers fan; her sister, and father to join us on Saturday the 16th at the Meymandi Concert Hall downtown. I was just curious to see what this would sound like.

The show began at approximately 3 PM, with the venue at about 75% of capacity on a moderately cool and foggy day. The sounds were amazing, but probably because I am listening through hearing aids that alter them anyway it was something of a challenge for me to tell which songs they were playing. Well that and of course some of the songs I just plain didn’t know anyway. I still enjoyed the rhythm of the bells, even learning that there were big, bass bells as well.

From what I’m told, the visual aspect was pretty amazing too. They have to quickly pick out the correct bells for a sound, sometimes striking them with a mallet and other times making it ring through some other means. There were approximately 12 Ringers, split roughly between men and women. I think one of the most complex tunes they played was their take on the Twelve Days of Christmas, during which they had to keep count of each additional piece and use indicators so that the audience would be aware of the numbers that were about to play. It all sounded rather impressive.

My wife and her sister joked that I slept for much of the show, but oh ok I did fade out a little in spots. I’m pretty sure that I heard the entire thing though. I imagine that some of my disconnect occurred precisely because I was unable to take in the visual content. I did enjoy the comedic elements though, such as the hand clappers (hand clappers?) who would clap on cue during some of the performances, and the part where Mr. Grinch comes on stage to steal Christmas. It was, on the whole, a fairly entertaining show.

Afterwards, we opted to do what any urban planner must surely hope we would: go out for dinner at Raleigh’s relatively new Morgan Street Food Hall. This food court, a la Boston’s Quincy Market and Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal, serves as a surprisingly popular gathering spot already after its four-month existence. Perhaps too popular, as parking and seating are extremely limited. On the latter, once we collected our meals, I a “fish and chips”, my wife a shrimp and fish and chips, and her mom and sister something similar, we spent almost 5 minutes searching for a table. Ultimately, we chose stools lining a ledge, until her sister somehow commandeered enough space at a table for us all. This table obviously made for better communication as we could sit across from each other rather than in a line.

The food was good I suppose. I liked the seasoning on the fries, a slightly sweeter rather than salty variety. I had been given many of them, since fish and shrimp stocks were running low. The fish was less desirable to me, because it had bones in it. I find it hard to really dig in when I must cautiously consume my food so I don’t end up sucking down foreign objects. I will try something different on my return to this location.

My wife says this place works best for couples and not as well for families because of the difficulties in finding group seating. And we all agreed that it is a good step in Raleigh’s urbanization, but that it will be better once the city has more parking decks downtown and/or a more robust public transportation option such as light rail.

We hope to take these kinds of outings more often, as there is much to see. I encourage you to make a go at being a tourist in your own town as well. Have you gone to any holiday shows this year?

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