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Handbells – It’s a Family Affair

Patty HighlandThis article written by Patty Highland, Area 9 Chair-Elect

While ringing or directing handbells for over 35 years, I have discovered the joy of the “Handbell Family” – that group of ringers in the ensemble that you work with, laugh with, share with, and experience the joy of music-making and performing. I know music ensembles, in general, share a camaraderie that is special – that interdependence we share while making music together, trusting that we all are working together towards a common goal and for a higher purpose than just personal enjoyment. That sense of shared music-making and shared interdependence make handbell ensembles quite a beautiful family!

However, I want to share with you another kind of “handbell family” that has developed at our church through the years. I share this with the hope that this story might inspire you and your handbell program, as we strive to build our music programs/ministries for all ages.

At the church I serve, the handbell/hand chime ensembles are defined by age: children’s chime ensemble, youth handbells, and adult handbells. Seems like a good way to divide the ensembles, right? For each child and youth ensemble, we have one adult director and additional adult helpers working with the group. This started with the church’s Children and Youth Safety Policy, requiring two adults in each child or youth activity. As we recruited the additional adult helpers, we ended up with many groups having more than one parent as a helper. Never wanting to have someone in a music rehearsal who is not making music, we started asking our adult helpers to both help AND to ring. This resulted in adults learning to ring who would NEVER have had the courage to try ringing, or who would not have made time for the adult handbell ensemble. Then, as the children and their parents aged and moved into youth bells, the adult helpers understand the nature of handbells and ringing. They are a much stronger support to the youth bell program. Of course, they continue to ring, especially when we have youth absent (which happens a lot!) Then, as the youth and their parents continue to age, the youth graduate and move on to college, but the adults are now ready to ring with the adult handbells, as substitute ringers or as regular ringers.

This aspect of “growing new ringers” is quite a gift to the overall program. However, there’s another benefit to this model: the blessing of having children and youth playing music with their parents. Playing music together in an ensemble is an extraordinary gift for children, youth, and their parents! Last spring, the church had a family with 2 children ringing chimes. Both parents filled in to ring for the “performance.” The dad mentioned – with a big smile on his face – how cool it was to have his entire family playing music together for the first time! For our final “Handbell Sunday performance” this spring, with all our bell and chime groups ringing together on one song, I counted eight family groups participating! That is a “Handbell Family Affair”!

Handbells connect us in so many beautiful and memorable ways! My hope is that YOU can find ways to connect your children, youth, and their parents in a positive musical experience in the coming year. Best wishes creating your “Handbell Family Affair!”

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