When a percussionist says, “I’m playing bells in this piece,” he means he’s playing the glockenspiel. Glocke is the German word for bell, and Glockenspiel literally means “bell-play.” The modern orchestral glockenspiel, in use since the mid-1800's, consists of thirty tuned steel bars mounted in a portable case. The bars are rectangular and they’re laid out in two rows, with the arrangement corresponding to the arrangement of the black and white keys of a piano keyboard. The size of each bar determines its pitch—the longer the bar, the lower the note. The heads of the mallets that the player uses to strike the bars are small and round, and those heads may be made of plastic, rubber, wood, or metal. In general, the sound of the glockenspiel is bright and penetrating, and it can add delightful color to the sound of the orchestra. I can tell you from personal experience, though, that the sound can be extremely penetrating for orchestra members who happen to be seated right in front of the instrument… especially if the glockenspiel player is striking those steel bars with metal mallets.
A Minute with Miles - a production of ETV Radio made possible by the JM Smith Corporation.