from Brenda Austin
Everything I needed to know about handbells, I learned from Handbell Musicians of America!
If it were not for HMA, I would still be in the dark, creating less-than-inspiring handbell offerings. My story, of course, is the same as stories I’ve heard again and again from other handbell musicians. Although I earned two degrees in music, none of my formal education included handbells. But when I landed my first Church position and was asked if I could direct the handbell choir. My response was “sure!” knowing that I knew nothing about the instrument or what those strange symbols meant.
I attended my first handbell workshop with Don Allured. I sat with pencil in hand, furiously taking notes. I learned so much! Of course, the more experienced attendees said it was pretty basic. Basic, however, was exactly what I needed. To this day, I teach fundamentals in all of my workshops and festivals because I know there’s always someone in the group with little to no handbell experience.
My handbell education really took flight when I began attending Area events.
Shortly after taking a new church position in Michigan, I asked my ringers if they wanted to attend a festival in Charleston, West Virginia, with Kevin McChesney. A few brave souls joined me for the seven-hour drive. Apparently, I missed the part where ringers were to prepare the music BEFORE the festival. Yep, I was that director. But, we learned in spite of my oversight. The first thing Kevin taught us was how to pick up our bells, put them down, and watch the conductor. It was our very first festival, and we have attended an Area event every year there after.
Of course, I learn from every festival I attend, but my program grew by leaps and bounds when we began attending these festivals on a regular basis. By doing so, ringers become more confident and knowledgeable. And one must never underestimate the importance of the group bonding that happens when an ensemble travels together.
It was through my involvement with Area 5 that I learned about the national and even international events. When I attended my first National Seminar in Dallas, I found myself soaking up every once of knowledge that I could absorb. I didn’t know a soul, but I was awestruck to be taking classes from some of my handbell heroes. I felt like I was at the big kid’s table. Over time, and with many seminars, workshops, and festivals in my rearview mirror, I became quite proficient in handbell techniques and how to bring out musicality in every musician.
As my handbell ensembles became more established, I found myself with specific repertoire needs. For example, I needed a particular title, at a certain level, with an appropriate complexity for that one struggling ringer who’s trying desperately to improve. So, I began writing handbell arrangements for my ringers. I quickly found myself asking about the “rules” of handbell composition.
In January 2014, I attended the HMA Master Class in Composition with Sondra Tucker. That weekend changed my life. The first day, Sondra laid out for us the “rules” of handbell composition. Eureka! As I frantically wrote down every word she said, I had the knowledge that I had been seeking.
Over the next three days, we tackled topics such as Finale, modulations, techniques, and chord progressions with instant feedback. It was a golden opportunity that I would not be able to replicate.
I’ve continued to write ever since and have close to 50 arrangements and compositions in print. I seriously doubt I would’ve written music professionally if it had not been for Handbell Musicians of America, Sondra Tucker, and the Master Class in Composition.
Today, Handbell Musicians of America continues to be an educational extravaganza for me. More important, however, it has become my family. I particularly love our new slogan, I’m IN because I rINg. It captures my sentiments exactly. Every year, I look forward to the National Seminar because I can see all my friends and share the wonderful experience with them. By attending national events, I’ve established many friendships and professional relationships with people the world over.
I feel a strong sense of being IN when I convene with my fellow musicians of the Handbell Musicians of America. I can’t help but give back as much as I possibly can to this organization that has given me so much.
Composer, Conductor, Clinician
Join Brenda with your gift of $30 or more and help us continue to provide training and educational events for both new and seasoned new handbell directors and musicians and develop new resources for handbell musicians at all levels of skill and experience.
How to Help
Membership dues cover just our basic operational expenses. In order to continue offering robust resources, educational events, Overtones, and other member benefits; or to develop new services and tools for all handbell musicians, additional contributions are needed. While gifts of any amount are welcomed, consider how donations to the general fund can support our mission:
- $50 helps with the creation of a single MemberChat or MemberNote
- $120 provides membership and resources to a school to add handbells/handchimes to their music curriculum
- $150 supports the development of a new online education resource
- $200 funds one Back to Bells workshop for 10 people
- $500 will help us create new, portable events that members can offer in their own communities
- $1000 allows us to live-stream performances from National Seminar