by Melissa Birney
Pinnacle 2015 was two weeks of non-stop handbells somehow magically condensed into four days. It offered classes, certifications, advanced tracks, shopping, and multiple concerts each day. Since this was my first handbell conference, I elected to focus on the classes that were offered. While each class had its own focus, I noticed that they all complemented each other, and they gave me a good foundation for better understanding the music and performance of handbell ringing.
Body awareness and movement was a theme that resonated with me throughout Pinnacle. One of my favorite classes was Michael Joy’s “Speed Skating, Tai Chi, and Handbells.” Michael taught us some tai chi movements that help improve the flow of energy throughout the body, and then related that to how we stand and move while we play. At the first fall rehearsal for OCHE, each member who attended Pinnacle gave a small presentation on what we learned, and a couple of us spoke about Michael’s class and showed the group some of the tai chi moves. The group loved it so much that we plan to stretch and do some pre-rehearsal tai chi each week. Other classes that dealt with body awareness were Sandy Mullaney’s “Stress Management for Musicians” and Meredith Gains’ “Oh the Drama!” Both instructors gave suggestions for reducing stress and tension that can be used in rehearsal or concerts.
While concerts weren’t specifically focused on teaching certain ideas, I still picked up the body awareness and movement theme that I noticed in my classes. At the first feature concert, Houston Chamber Ringers defied the idea of standing in place for a concert. Not only did they move positions, but their body movements while playing showed enthusiasm and enjoyment. They even got the crowd involved by teaching us the dance to “Cotton Eyed Joe” while they played. Being mostly behind the table when it comes to handbell concerts, I had never seen anything like this before. That theme continued throughout the conference with other performances like TreBelles, Houston Bronze, and Austin Handbell Ensemble.
Score study was another theme than ran through my classes. “Oh the Drama,” while demonstrating relaxation techniques, mainly focused on finding the story in each handbell piece. Looking at composer notes, melody/counter-melody, and “acts” of the music all help to tell a story. Again, the body movement theme came into play – Meredith taught us that we can’t relate to music without moving. Ben Harris’ “Score Study for Ringers – Not Just Directors!” of course fit into this theme. I have taken my music home to study it before, but usually it’s checking where my notes are and how to reach them in time. After Ben’s class I realized there is so much more to it! Taking the time to really look at the music – noting key changes, dynamic changes, melody lines vs accompaniment lines – can really change one’s understanding of a piece, and goes hand-in-hand with determining the story that the music tells.
There is so much more that I learned at Pinnacle, but to cover it all might take two weeks, and I certainly can’t fit that into one review! It was an intense, fun, amazing experience and I am so grateful to Area 9 for granting me the opportunity to attend.