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Merry Christmas Lights!

Merry Christmas Lights

by Mark Anderson

I’ve been playing handbells for 24 years now. I started as a young’n, and played for 20 years. After a car accident, I took a 10 year break. I’ve now been back playing for four years now.

When I returned to ringing, I started playing with a group close to my house, and that’s where I met Bonnie Tranby. She urged me to try out for Twin Cities Bronze, and a year and a half later, here I am!

Besides music, one of my other main interests is technology, and one of my other hobbies combines both music and technology. For the last five years, at Christmas, I’ve had “one of those houses.”  I’ve used a computer to animate my Christmas lights to music.

Last fall, when Amy handed out Trans Siberian Orchestra’s Wizards in Winter, (this was the song / video that first got my the animated Christmas lighy bug) I asked if I could try to figure out if I could animate lights while the group played Wizards. Amy was happy to let me experiment with what I could come up with, both for lights, and how to animate them.

The design of the light display was fairly straight forward. I would have two identical frames to hold trees and an arch. I had to have something that would lay flat until it was time to play Wizards, so all the parts had to go together quickly. I made eight mini-trees out of PVC pipe, and wrapped them with net lights. The arches were made up of 2-foot sections of lights wrapped around a larger PVC pipe. I then slid seven sections over a smaller piece of pipe that would fit into the ends of the frame. (I had a problem with the pipe cracking when we would bend it into the arch, so it turned into mountain peaks when we performed it live.)

I already had the parts to control the lights, and I now had a portable display, but I still needed to come up with a way to live animate everything. The easy solution to this would have been to pre-program the lights, and have the group play along with a track. Easy for me, hard for the group, and if anything got off, not sure how we would get back on-track. I found software on the Internet that was designed for live light control with multiple options for triggering the lights.

My first attempt at live light control was using a keyboard, with the keys labeled with the different lights. This worked, but I hadn’t played piano in years, and didn’t go smoothly. My second attempt was using an iPad to trigger pre-programmed events (lights moving from one side to the other), and this is what I used when we preformed Wizards live.

I was thrilled with how it turned out! From the response, I think everyone enjoyed it as much as I did doing it!

Hopefully we can do something with the lights again in the future!  In the meantime, enjoy this video.