I have been a handbell director in the Milwaukee area since 2012, working with both youth and adult ensembles. Handbells are a fascinating set of percussion instruments: essentially rhythm, coordination and teamwork. They are fun to play and to watch being played. It is a goal of mine to see them become more mainstream, and to encourage more of the general public to seek out handbell performances.
How did I get my start as a handbell ensemble director?
I grew up playing bells through the parochial school I attended as a youth, then again in college. I learned a lot more about them via the Master’s program at Concordia University. In 2012 I noticed that my home church and school in Milwaukee wasn’t using their bells as much, anymore. While there was an adult ensemble, there were no longer any options for students. I began two student bell ensembles there that year, which met before their school days began.
Ultimately this evolved into three middle school ensembles: one advanced group (placement tests required) and two beginner-level, that would meet during the school day and performed for school chapel services as well as church services and concerts. I did end up taking the reigns of the adult handbell ensemble, and finally also began a youth bells program, for high school aged students. It was quite a popular program – particular given the urban school dynamics. I’m now conducting at Wauwatosa Presbyterian Church, where I lead the Chancel Ringers and the newly formed (February of 2020) Tosa Community Bells group.
I have been to a number of workshops as well as national Handbell Musicians of America events. I’ve absolutely grown to love conducting and performing on these very niche instruments, and hope others will find handbells as enjoyable and interesting as I have.