Articles By Ringers, For Ringers
Two Ring as One
By Karen Allen
I have been playing handbells for 11 years at SAYSF Bible Church in the Hallelujah Bells and the advanced ensemble. Bass bells preferred!
During one of the final performances by our local community handbell group, I put out a questionnaire asking if anyone had an interest in learning to ring handbells, in the hopes of getting enough people together to keep the community group going. I ended up with one person willing to learn. As it turned out this was a woman who works in the same office as my husband. However, having only two people does tend to severely limit the amount of music available to play.
In the past, my husband, Tim, has always enthusiastically responded to handbell ringing in the church service and stands in awe of handbell musicians. So I invited him to join the ranks! Then I beseeched him (yes, really!) and finally he agreed to try to learn to ring.
Both Tim and the woman from his office persevered and made very good progress. But after about one year, the woman found that she could not keep up her schedule and began missing many practices. So I abandoned my hopes for a community group and asked my husband if he would be interested in continuing to learn with the goal of joining the beginner group at church in the fall of the year. Again, Tim agreed, and that set the stage for our husband/wife bell sessions.
There are several dynamics to consider when teaching your spouse. And I don’t mean pianissimo and forte – actually, maybe I do! We occasionally get a bit forte when he gets frustrated trying to “pat his head and rub his tummy” at the same time. I occasionally have to (pianissimo-ly?!) remind him that I am the one in charge because I know what I’m doing, and that does not always go over very well! Since I am involved with the advanced ensemble, Tim’s early learning is much more ensemble style. We have gone through weaving, pivots, marts, echoes, swings, malleting, etc. One of the most difficult challenges continues to be clean damping and remembering to keep that bell going in the football pattern. However, just as in football, Tim now knows where the goal is and we are making our way there one practice at a time. My goal is to purchase our own bells within the next year or so – maybe there is still the makings for a community choir out there!
Recently, we did a very simple first duet at the church music night, which went well enough that we hope to do another for Thanksgiving.
Karen Allen grew up in Miami, Florida. She eventually joined the Navy, where she met a submariner in San Diego, married him and raised three daughters, while moving all over the country and enjoying every minute of it! She saw her first handbells when they moved to southern Maryland, upon her husband’s retirement from the US Navy, and has been playing for the past 11 years at SAYSF Bible Church in the advanced choir and the advanced ensemble, where she likes bass bells best!
ATTENTION ALL HANDBELL MUSICIANS!
Become part of our exciting, new Virtual Handbell Ensemble project, in which you will have the opportunity to perform a new work of music via video uploads. Take a look at this video with composer James Meredith, then head on over to our Virtual Handbell Ensemble Project website at virtual.HandbellMusicians.org to learn more.
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: Susan Geschke
How did you first become involved in the handbell community?
I first experienced handbells when a friend of mine invited me to a May handbell concert in which her daughter, Cathy, was ringing. I had no idea what to expect, since I had never heard or even seen a handbell before in my life! The energy, exuberance (at one point a music stand tipped over onto the floor but the ringing continued), and the incredible joy that radiated from these kids touched my heart in a way that I had never felt before. Fascinated, engaged, and thoroughly in love with this form of music, I decided right on the spot that I wanted to begin a handbell program at the church where I was music director. By the end of July, I had attended a workshop with Janet Van Valey and figured out how I wanted to raise enough money so that we could begin ringing in September. During that sizzling hot August, I presented the congregation with the opportunity to purchase handbells with a handle inscription personalized to honor a person or commemorate an occasion. By the end of August, our small congregation had raised enough to purchase three octaves of handbells, three octaves of handchimes, tables, pads, music stands, lights, and music to start a handbell library. WOW! Each of the 37 handbells honored a different family and, when all was said and done, more than half of the families in that congregation had donated to the handbell program. I was stunned at their response and their trust in me to take our music program in this new direction. And so it began. Over the past twenty-five years, I have always been blessed with the good fortune to start or develop a strong handbell program where the good Lord has seen fit to place me, leaving behind a trail of ringers stretching across the country.
Do you have an anecdote or funny story from your experiences with the handbell community?
Funny things happen all the time! When I lived in Southern California, I would take a handbell quartet to Knott’s Berry Farm each December to perform Christmas carols. One Saturday we were on an outside stage in the thick of things ringing Silent Night. As we tenderly worked our way to “Sleep in heavenly peace…,” the Knott’s train roared past, merrily tooting its horn and blotting out everything else. We ran through our repertoire several times that day and every single time we began Silent Night, the train managed to join our Christmas celebration!
A couple of years ago, my young adult handbell choir was looking forward to finally ringing in our new church. They diligently set up their bells and music and were poised to ring. It was at that moment that the heat kicked on. I watched in amazement as the air currents flipped the music off the first stand, then in rapid succession off each stand until all the music was on the floor! My downbeat remained frozen in the air. At once, everyone fell silent and then burst out laughing as we dove under the tables looking for the music clip box!
Dr. Susan Geschke is a well-known composer and arranger of handbell music and has published over 80 handbells pieces ranging from original pieces to traditional to contemporary styles of music. She is currently the music director at Immanuel Lutheran Church and School in Crystal Lake, Illinois, where her choirs include ringers and singers of all ages and levels of experience. She currently directs two adult handbell choirs, one young adult handbell choir, and two middle school handchime choirs. She also directs the church adult vocal choir and actively promotes opportunities for combined musical efforts, such as handbells and flute, handbells and choir, and handbells and choir with Praise Team. Mentoring handbell ringers and high school/college age musicians is of particular interest to Susan, ranging from workshops and private lessons to being involved as a Sounds of Music mentor and judge for Science Olympiad competitions.