Mark ArnoldThis article written by Mark Arnold, Area 9 North Texas Representative

Like many handbell musicians, I have a day job that pays the bills and has other rewards. In my case, it’s software development. It sometimes feels like a totally different world from my musical life, but I’ve found that there are some similar aspects.

A common trend in software development is the adoption of Agile Development philosophies. The use of the term “agile” was adopted in 2001 when practitioners of several software methodologies met to discuss the principles behind effective software development. The product of that meeting was the “Manifesto for Agile Software Development,” which states:

“We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan
That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.”

As handbell musicians, we can apply these principles, with a bit of adjustment to fit our own needs.

As much as we value our tools, from the bass bells to the tiny trebles, the ringers in our choirs are the engine that creates the music. Each individual contributes their notes, and the way they work together builds the overall sound. Directors approach rehearsals with different processes, but the overall impact is from the ringers – individually and in interaction.

Our product is sound, of course, not software. We often need to focus on what works for our group’s sound over what may be provided on the page. The instructions in the music may be detailed, confusing, or even lacking; but it’s more essential for us to make music than to exactly follow what may (or may not be) in the score. We do value the composers’ intent (the comprehensive documentation), but we also need to present the music to our audiences with the resources we have, which may require modifying the instructions. Sharing music is more important than perfect playing.  

Collaboration with other ringers is at the heart of handbell ringing; we also need to keep in mind that we are playing for others, not just ourselves. This principle of customer collaboration invites us to consider the listener as a partner in the music and suggests that we may need to tailor our music or the overall performance to the needs of our audiences. That’s not to say that we should not provide a variety of music, or that everyone has to like everything we play, but it reminds us that our goal is to reach our audience; to move and inspire and uplift, not just to play the notes.

As musicians, and especially as directors, we need to be organized and plan well, both in long term planning and regular rehearsals. However, circumstances will change, ringers will move away or break wrists, folks will miss rehearsals, the ice storm will cause you to cancel your Christmas program. Change will happen, so how we prepare for and respond to change will be critical. Take a deep breath, count to whatever number you need to, and make a new plan – following an obsolete plan will not work, even if it’s comfortable. Follow the plan, but only until it’s time to deviate from the plan!

As stated in the Manifesto, there is value to all of the elements mentioned. As agile handbell musicians, we need to be thoughtful about our approach and be sure that our musical actions truly reflect the value that we place on our activities. Happy ringing!