This article written by Amanda Thompson, 2017 The Kristopher Jon Anthony Memorial Scholarship Recipient
Handbell Musicians of America National Seminar 2017 created an intense learning experience smashed into five busy days. Stepping into the beautiful resort hotel’s atrium, I was both excited and nervous. I arrived only knowing one person. I am normally a very outgoing person; but with only having two years of handbell experience, I began the seminar feeling quite intimidated and overwhelmed. Thankfully, I quickly learned that handbell musicians are extremely helpful and very welcoming.
During our first evening, the Welcome Reception gave all of us a taste of what the week would hold. I was blown away by the three ladies from Japan ringing Uchida handbells. Each lady had 27 bells in front of her and no music! They not only rang several songs by memory but also danced and sang along. It was quite a sight! During the reception, I was able to meet several handbell musicians, including some from Area 9. It was nice connecting with those that made the trip from Oklahoma and Texas.
When I had registered for seminar classes, I was highly encouraged by my church’s handbell director to enroll in the intermediate track. We both felt that it would help enhance my music reading and also my playing ability. Little did I know that Michael Kastner would be leading my first class of the morning. Talk about intimidating! Mr. Kastner did an incredible job over the next three days teaching us how to bring the music off of the page. He gave us tips on how to ring with emotion, precision, and tackling tough rhythms. It was fun attending all five sessions of the intermediate track. I was also able to attend a class titled “Teaching Teaching” by Mr. Kastner. He helped me learn different techniques on how to teach handbells to a variety of ringing ability musicians, something I have put to use now that I am the director at our new church.
Other classes that I attended were “Sight-reading: A Tool Kit for Ringers and Directors,” “Creatively Using Handbells in Worship,” Traveling Four-in-Hand,” “The Nuts and Bolts of Starting a Young Ringers Ensemble,” “Games for Connecting and Growing,” “Modification of the Weave,” “You Want Me To Do What With How Many, Parts I and II,” “Let it Go,” and “Grow Your Program.” Each of these classes was hands on, informative, pertinent to any handbell musician, and also helped to increase the love of handbells that I have had since first picking up a bell. Instructors like Sandy Mullaney, Brenda Austin, Barb Walsh, Nancy Jessup, Linda Krantz, and Lynne Marks crammed as much information and hands-on experiences as they could. I have often referred back to the handouts and notes that I took in each class.
Probably my favorite moments during the seminar were the concerts! Performances from Bells of the Sound, LA Bronze, Elizabeth Mays, Concert Bells of Concordia University, Crown City Ringers, Velocity, and Bells on Temple Square were exciting to watch. Each concert was different in presentation, emotion, genre, and ability. I was in awe of each group and how they were all able to ring such challenging and intricate scores. I was also able to notice some ringing techniques that I had learned during the week such as traveling four-in-hand, six-in-hand, and weaving. It was so nice to see those techniques used in performances. Another aspect of the concerts that I loved was seeing the performers giving thanks to the composers that were in the audience. I know I would have been intimidated playing a composer’s song in front of him or her!
I do have to share one personal “fan girl” moment. With this being my very first national event, I had not met a lot of other handbell musicians, let alone composers. During one of the evenings, we had an informal dinner located by one of the resort’s pools. As I was getting my food and drink, a nice gentleman was next to me. We exchanged a laugh or two, especially about my use of the word “sweet-ish” and the circle of food. A few moments later, I wound up at this gentleman’s table. It was none other than Michael Glasgow! I had heard so much about him and his amazing work and had never dreamed that was him. He was so down to earth and funny. I have been a part of groups before where some members thought highly of themselves and turned their noses down to others, but handbell musicians and composers are the exact opposite! I had never felt more welcomed and a part of a group as I did during Seminar. I may have arrived only knowing one other person, but I left knowing so many more and with invitations to attend other workshops and events.
I am so appreciative to have been selected as the 2017 recipient of the Kristopher Jon Anthony Memorial Scholarship from Area 9. In receiving the scholarship, I learned so much more than could have possibly ever had learned on my own. I highly encourage everyone to attend the 2018 seminar in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Apply for both the Area 9 and the national scholarships if you believe the price is out of your financial ability – that’s why these scholarships are available. You won’t be disappointed in the opportunities to learn and connect with other handbell musicians!