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In the meantime, you can download this month’s Fun Stuff installment, Notation Dice, HERE.
Articles By Ringers, For Ringers
Growth of a Handbell Musician
By Karen Cmejla
I was a first-timer at the Handbell Musicians of America National Seminar this year. It was absolutely phenomenal! I had to keep pinching myself to see if I was really there or if this was all a dream as I found myself ringing elbow to elbow with and being coached by some of the best of the best ringers in the country. Every class that I went to was extraordinary! I took a solo coaching lesson with Michele Sharik, and she encouraged me to take the one-on-one lessons that Nancy Hascall offers, whom I also met at National Seminar. I learned so much that I couldn’t wait to bring some of the knowledge and information back to my group of ringers at church. I’m not a director; in fact I am a ringer with no musical background, but I have a love, or should I say “passion” for ringing and I’m already looking forward to next year’s National Seminar.
My ringing experience started about 12 years ago shortly after my mother passed away.
My mother was not a big church goer. However, when she knew there was a Sunday that the bells were going to ring, she never missed. During that time, I was married and raising a family of my own, living in a different city and attending a different church with no bells. As the circle of life went on, we ended up moving back to my home town and started attending my home church again. But even then, I did not become a member of the bell choir, even though I loved listening to the bells just as my mother did.
Then my mother passed away, and one of her wishes was to have the bell choir play at her funeral. When I approached the bell director, she stated she had never had that request before, but felt honored to do so. My daughter, who was 11 years old at that time, wanted to play with the bell choir for grandma’s funeral, so the director was able to incorporate her into the choir for one of the songs. When my daughter played for her funeral, she recited the phrase from the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life”; “Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings” and I think she knew grandma was getting her “wings” then. (Out of the mouths of babes!) It was also one of mom’s wishes to use some of the memorial money to purchase the 4th octave of handchimes to go with the bells; so we did.
That was the start of it all!
My daughter wanted to continue playing in the bell choir, so I figured this was a good time for me to join as well in order to keep the mother/daughter bond. I think it was our way to “stay connected” with mom/grandma because of her love of “listening” to the bells. Anyway, we’ve been with the bell choir ever since her passing away; although, my daughter missed a few years after she grew up and went off to college, but now she’s back home again and has rejoined the group.
For 10 of these past 12 years, I’ve never really stretched myself beyond my comfort zone with the group playing mostly “Level 1-3” music with our 4 octave bells and chimes, until just the last couple of years. I think I was getting bored and needed a challenge to push myself. I was substituting for another church bell group a couple of years ago who then introduced me to the “bell tree” concept. Well….that was all I needed. I went back to my director and convinced her we needed to incorporate the “bell tree” into our group. So we did and that has become my new “passion!” I’ve got all of Barb Brocker’s music and have now decided to also learn some solo work handbell pieces on the table. Because it’s difficult to get the whole bell group to commit to certain outside events, it’s become my passion to spread God’s music on my own. So… my bell director, who is also my piano accompanist, and I have been “ringing out” at different area churches, nursing homes, assisted living apartments, banquets, etc. with a variety of bell tree and table solo’s to spread God’s music, while mom is smiling overhead.
This was the reason I felt I “needed” to attend the National Seminar. With no musical background, (other than playing the accordion when I was in 5th-7th grade), I needed to learn more and become inspired to meet some of the “greats” that I’ve been watching on YouTube so much lately. (Gotta love modern technology). When I informed my director of my desire to attend, she brought it to the attention of the church bell group and they decided to fund half of the cost of attending. Now there was no backing out…I was committed and will practice to my heart’s content from what I learned and will not let them down.
Needless to say, I HAVE stepped out of my comfort zone and stretching my limits and have an enormous desire to “ring out!”
Christina Herold, an E-Business Systems Consultant at Wells Fargo, starts her Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership this Fall and is married with two young daughters. She is in her 10th year with the Twin Cities community group, the Ding Dong Dollies, and directs the youth handbell choirs at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Edina, Minnesota.
Do YOU have a story to share about your handbell and handchime ringing experiences?
Do you know a RINGER with a great anecdote?
If you answered yes to either or both of these questions then we want to hear from you!
Please contact Rima Greer.
Two-Question Interviews with Handbell Notables
This Month’s Personality: Kevin McChesney
How did you first become involved in the handbell community?
I became involved with handbells by accident, much like most of us in the business. I graduated from University of Colorado with a degree in Music Composition and Theory, then got a church directing job right out of school. They had a struggling but dedicated handbell choir. Those ringers taught me a lot more than I ever taught them, but the teacher in me was immediately jazzed that here was an instrument that could involve musicians of any experience level. So many musical endeavors are exclusive – if you’re good enough, we’ll take you. Here was a musical walk of life that was INclusive. Regardless of your experience level we have a bell choir for you; if you are ready for Carnegie Hall, there’s a bell choir for that; if you have no musical experience, we have a bell choir for that, too.
So I went to a number of workshops and festivals and learned all I could about this amazing instrument. Of course, I was looking for an outlet for my writing, and was extremely fortunate to find handbells at a time when the market needed writers. I was very blessed to find an instrument I enjoyed, music and people I loved, and to find a niche for my writing all right out of school.
Do you have an anecdote or funny story from your experiences with the handbell community?
Too many to count!
There was the quartet rehearsal where one ringer passed a bell to another ringer – or so she thought, as the second ringer tried to ring her glove. We didn’t get anything done after that.
One bell choir demonstrated a unique technique for swings by waving the bells over their heads. To be fair, there really was a misprint in the music – the first arrow pointed up, the second down. I can’t fault their dedication to playing what was written.
In Puerto Rico, my wife and I were the first mainlanders to hear “La Vida Loca” on bells. I don’t know that that’s funny as they played it very well. But it was unexpected.
And there was the time someone yelled out a proposal of marriage during a massed ringing rehearsal of some 600 ringers. Ringers are the best!
Kevin McChesney graduated with highest honors from the University of Colorado at Boulder with a BMus in Composition and Theory. A composer and arranger of handbell music, Kevin currently has over 800 titles in print and is one of the very few musicians who makes handbells a full-time vocation. He has won numerous awards for his work, including winning AGEHR composition contests and Jeffers Composer of the Year. Kevin is the handbell editor for Jeffers Handbell Supply and the RingingWord catalog. He is also co-founder of the Solo To Ensemble Project, STEP. He is Music Director of both the Atlanta Concert Ringers and The Pikes Peak Ringers, and his work with PPR has helped bring them to national prominence. He is in demand throughout the handbell world as a workshop clinician and festival conductor. Kevin lives in Colorado Springs, CO, with his wife Tracy and their cats, Belle and Grace Note.