National Seminar, Portland, OR

by Grace Luttrell

As a child of someone who has been a part of the handbell community for many years, this was my first venture to a large event by myself. Having played handbells for 19 years, I have my own connections, but I am still mostly known as “Sueda’s daughter,” so I relished this opportunity to separate myself from this.

I have since changed from ringer to director and was looking forward to the classes offered to help improve as a director. The first class I attended was “Integrating New Ringers” led by Michael Joy. I really appreciated this class. In my own church, I am beginning to see a decline in new youth ringers, but a rise in adults that are interested in playing. Before this year, I did not have a place for brand new adult ringers. This class helped me see the best ways to integrate new ringers into our program. It also showed ways to help brand new ringers feel comfortable in the group and want to continue ringing.

The next class I attended was the “Intermediate Conducting” class led by Lee Afdahl. In college, I took a conducting course, but that was several years before I began conducting the bell choirs. I really enjoyed this class. We were given the opportunity to practice the different techniques that I have long forgotten, as well as given advice on how to best prepare for rehearsal. We also went over how to pick pieces that will work for the choir you have, and how to use rehearsal time more effectively.

Next, I attended “How to Be An Engaging Director” taught by Jason Krug. In this class, Jason went over the purpose of being a director and the different levels of being a director. The levels range from just simply guiding your ringers through the music to really knowing and interacting with your ringers so that you work as a single unit. Jason discussed with us how to move through these levels to become a better group that really works together to create music. He encouraged us, as directors, to take classes, watch other conductors, use resources, etc. to really build our abilities. He also encouraged us to meditate, breathe, and pray to help us reach the fifth level. One of the major things I took out of the class was to “let your enthusiasm and energy infect your musicians.”

The final class I attended was “No Ringer Left Behind” led by Nancy Kirkner. The first thing we discussed was how to identify the struggling ringers, whether they are adult beginners, those that have been successful in other forms of music, those who haven’t learned to read music well, or simply those that you really need in your choir. Nancy really discussed that positions that these new ringers should be placed in to help them be successful. She also talked about how to work with these ringers through different techniques and concepts that might be difficult for new ringers. These included key signatures, modulations, and different musical notations and ringing techniques. Nancy also discussed ways to mark music that will be helpful for these struggling ringers, as well as how to pick music that will allow these ringers to be successful.

The majority of my time was spent ringing in the All-Star choir with Fred Gramman and Debbie Rice. I thoroughly enjoyed my time ringing in the choir. Ringing has always been a passion of mine, and this gave me the opportunity to really challenge myself in a way that I had not been able to in recent history.

I really appreciate Area 9 for giving me the opportunity to attend the Directors’ Seminar. It was an event I truly enjoyed. I learned many new techniques that I can apply to my bell choirs, as well as being able to ring in a high caliber choir.

Thank you Area 9!