Amanda ThompsonThis article written by Nikki Evans, 2019 The Kristopher Jon Anthony Memorial Scholarship Recipient

With the help of Area 9, I was able to attend my first National Seminar this year. I am 22 and still in college, and I wasn’t sure if I could go otherwise (and knew I couldn’t without help).

When I first arrived in St. Louis, I was nervous. I had never been to a National Seminar before, so I had no clue what to expect. The first person I met was one of the other soloists (I ring with a choir, but I am also a solo ringer). She helped me find where I was supposed to go until I started to figure things out. From then on, everything worked out better than I ever could have dreamed. For the rest of the week, I had a great time, learned a lot of cool stuff, and met a lot of cool people.

I had been wondering how to ring six in hand for a long time. I finally learned several different ways to do it, including traveling six in hand. In several classes, I learned stretches and techniques to help prevent injury and soreness, so hopefully, that will help me ring and stay free from pain. I haven’t had any soreness since then, so that’s a good start!

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I had played bell trees before, but never spent a great deal of time on that. I enjoyed it, and I was curious, but I lacked passion for that. Even then, I really wanted to love it; I just wasn’t sure how to get there. Then I got to St. Louis and took four bell tree classes. I wanted to build on the knowledge I had, but I chose to go back to the basics first and be sure I had a solid foundation before building on it. I learned quite a bit from every single class, and the earlier classes helped me build confidence so that I was prepared to handle the more advanced class by the time I got there. Barbara Brocker noticed my passion and desire to learn even before I did. It just wasn’t there until I got to her class. Even though I had played with bell trees before, I was just then learning to love it. She didn’t just teach me how to play; she taught me to enjoy it.

I made lots of new friends. Being relatively new to the handbell world, I had a lot of people to meet. I particularly loved getting to know the other soloists. I am the only one at my church, so it was incredible to have the opportunity to meet others like me. I was afraid I wouldn’t fit in with them, especially as someone still so new to this, but that wasn’t an issue. Instead, when they found out how new I was, they loudly applauded and said, “Welcome to the family!” For the rest of the week, they continued to welcome me with open arms and help me grow. It was great to meet people who understand what this is like and have all the same challenges I do, who have been there before, and know how to deal with them. It was helpful to learn from their experience. I rang a solo at another church my first Sunday back home. It felt a bit different from the other times I’ve done this, knowing that there are others out there who do this, and knowing them. So now, even if I am still playing a solo, I can step up to the table and know that I am not alone. I know they are always there for me and supporting me, even if it has to be from a distance.

A few weeks after I got home, I did a mini-concert for a kids’ music camp. I demonstrated solo ringing, both on the table and with a bell tree. Since I had taken classes on creative teaching tactics and various strategies for giving concerts, I was prepared to handle what I was supposed to do. Thanks to what I learned at National Seminar, I was able to explain things in a way the kids could understand and spark their curiosity. I had never done anything like that before, but I was still able to handle it with confidence and no fear.

I have been trying to figure out exactly what I want to do with this in the future. I enjoyed getting to take a wide variety of classes and explore a few different options. I am still figuring out which direction I want to go with this, but I have more information on some different options, and some of this new knowledge will help me experiment with those options and see what “clicks” with me.

I learned a lot in a short time. With new information and new friends, I came home with a tired brain overwhelmed with new information, but also with a full heart. I couldn’t wait to play with the cool new things I learned. I was sad to be separated from the people I had just recently met and already grown to love so dearly, but then I thought of all the adventures that still lie ahead of me, and I realized that this was only the beginning.

Thank you, Area 9!!