Current HMC Board of Directors
The Handbell Musicians of Canada Board
I have been involved with music as long as I can remember. Making music gives me great joy! From sitting on the front step with my dad playing guitar and singing “You Are My Sunshine”, to singing the whole “Mary Poppins” book with my aunt playing piano. From singing “How Great Thou Art” with my grandpa and my aunt playing the piano to singing in Junior Church Choir when I was 4 and memorizing all the words because I couldn’t read. And on and on it goes.
On the first day of Grade 12 I decided I was going to pursue music. I graduated from Brandon University with a Bachelor of Music Education and have been teaching music of some form or another really since Grade 11.
Handbells came into my life by marrying my husband Ron, a Lutheran Pastor. The church had been gifted a 2-octave set of Schulmerich Handbells. What do you do with these? I knew I could do it, I just needed direction. That led us both to attend a session at the International Music Camp under the direction of Blanche Kangas and Fred Merrett. We have been ringing ever since. That was 34 years ago. I have used bells in schools, churches, workshops, and seniors’ homes and conducted and/or led workshops in BC, AB, MB, ND, and Australia. I direct the Trinity Lutheran Handbell Choir in Starbuck MB. I play in Ring Out! a quartet based in Winnipeg, and I play in the Rochester Ringers, a Winnipeg community group.
I am so honoured to have had the opportunity to Chair the former Handbell Guilds of Canada and the Interim Board of the Handbell Musicians of Canada. Many people have put in many, many hours to make this organization possible. I do hope that we can soon meet, in Canada, for a National Ringing event. It has been a long time coming, but I’m sure we are all ready to greet each other “face to face”.
This summer, I am looking forward to attending the International Handbell Committee meeting in Nashville TN, as well as the International Handbell Symposium. This will be my 5th Symposium and it will be great to be able to connect with fellow ringers from around the world.
“Music is the great uniter. An incredible force. Something that people who differ on everything and anything else can have in common.” -Sarah Dessen
Where the Magic Happens
I grew up with music around me. Often, my mom would be invited to sing at churches and when I was 3, she had been asked to sing for a church celebrating its reopening after a major renovation. There were over 500 people in attendance so it was a big deal! All the way there, I asked if I could sing with her, but of course, she said no. Once we arrived, however, I approached the Pastor and asked him instead, and he said yes! I remember that feeling of excitement and pride and have since realised how important that day was for me, my mom and those in attendance.
When I was 9, a bell choir came to perform at our church and although I had started with courage at a young age, I was now quite shy. However, I stepped out of my comfort zone and asked how old I’d have to be to join their choir. The director had taken notice of my family sitting together and told me to come to their next rehearsal with my mom, who had also asked. We performed for many church services and did guest performances for others. I'd invite my friends to church to hear the bells, but I remember thinking how cool it would be to play at my school and share the gift of bells outside the church. A couple of years later, a new director joined us and she did just that. She reached out into the community and we performed in nursing homes, retirement homes, children’s hospitals, and various malls during the Christmas season. We were invited to perform on TV as a special feature on several newscasts and as we became more popular we were invited to perform for weddings, company Christmas events, parties, the Toronto Christmas market, Santa Day in a neighbouring town, and we were even invited to make a Swiss Chalet commercial. Feeling pretty confident with our performance opportunities year round, we recorded a Christmas CD and sold it at our different events to help support our handbell program.
Over the years, other opportunities have continued to knock… When I was 18, a small group of us performed bells in an episode of “Wind at My Back”, a spin off from “Road to Avonlea” and even more recently, in a Hallmark Movie, “Christmas Bells are Ringing”.
So, as we move toward planning, booking and performing for live audiences again, I encourage you to go out of your comfort zone and reach out to other venues and bring the joy of music to the community.
That is where the magic happens.
It would be hard to imagine my life without bells, they’ve been an integral part of it for over the last 40 years!
Bells were introduced into my high school in the late seventies by our then band teacher Mr. deFrece, now a retired U of A professor who still directs the University’s handbell choir. As green as we were, that first Christmas concert where the bells played was magical, the audience loved them and I was hooked. Throughout university I rang with the Robertson-Wesley United Church handbell choir and subbed for other choirs. I played with Fred Merrett’s Bronze Harmony and was a founding member of Jubiloso, Bells of Concordia University. Along the way I’ve been on the ALGEHR board and the Robertson-Wesley Music Society board and am a founding board member of Classic Bronze. I also had the privilege to be the registrar/treasurer for the 1992 International Handbell Symposium (IHS) in Edmonton.
Handbells have given me the chance to travel locally – Handbell Discoveries and Ringing Links – to internationally: IHS in Japan (1986), Australia (2006), and Vancouver (2016); and a European Handbell tour in 2017.
I like the fact that audiences always love the bells, you can play wrong notes, have a piece go terribly wrong and they still love the music. They are so fulsome in their thanks for the playing, that it’s almost a humbling experience. You want to play well and when a piece is going well in performance there is that feeling of oneness with the choir, there’s this sense of accomplishment. What a feeling of camaraderie! That’s what happens in a bell choir, people from different walks in life come together to create great music and great friendships.
Hoping everyone can get back to ringing in 2022!
I rang my first handbell at 11 years old, in the basement of a church on a late December morning. This was the same morning I had seen a handbell for the first time - the choir played for the service and I was so visibly dazzled that the director herself spotted me in the pew and came over to recruit me. I grew up playing handbells in southern Ontario, with festivals aplenty and new faces from both sides of the border. I felt at home in between workshops, gloves hanging stylishly over my back pockets, loosely supervised around market stalls and bass chimes taller than me.
I moved to Calgary 3 and a half years later, already signed up to ring with a new choir. There were two ringers around my age - a range I’ve expanded each year as I’ve gotten older. When I mentioned handbells to school friends, a lot of them remarked “I remember handbells, I played those in elementary school!” This was news to me. Church and handbells had become so inextricably linked I was starting to think it was a Christian instrument. “I play in an advanced choir,” I would explain. “Like, pro league.”
I was 16 at my first Classic Bronze, and at this point was quite comfortable in my role as some sort of youth bell prodigy. I had a hard time casually socializing with the ringers around me, but if I could talk technique and hit my notes with flair, it felt like I belonged there. (I was no prodigy, mind you, I’d just been playing for 5 years).
I never did register for the youth tracks at festivals - I could ring more advanced repertoire, and I wanted to stay with my choir. But I wondered what it might be like to have the best of both worlds, to find other young ringers who have graduated from their elementary school choirs and found places to keep playing.
I think handbells are awesome, are the ultimate musical team sport, and I think more youth would jump at the opportunity if they only knew where to find them! Finding more ways for youth to discover the wonders of handbells is a big part of why I wanted to join this board. It would be a joy to pass the torch to another young musician, and see our bright, brassy future unfold.
As a child growing up in small town Alberta I desperately wanted to be in a band. Our schools were too small and didn’t offer that so I had to be happy with piano lessons until we moved waaaay up north and there wasn’t even a piano option. So…many years later at St. Albert United Church when Camille Ream asked if there was interest in a handbell group I leaped up for the opportunity to be on a team AND in a band! Yes! I’ve had the privilege to ring under Camille, Dr. John Hooper, and Debbie Rice; I am a founding member of Jubiloso! and I ring in our church choir, as well as directing there when the need has arisen.
Handbells are this old (ancient?) music instrument that tug at people’s heart strings when they hear them. They are easy to learn and take years to get proficient on. However, having said that, handbells provide an easy entry into a team music sport if you’re willing to invest the time into learning the techniques and figuring out how to blend with those around you!
I have collected symposia since I went to the International Symposium in Orlando and continue to be astounded at the friends I have gained through handbells. It’s kind of like what I would imagine a Star Trek convention to be like…….where did all these people with a similar interest come from?
It won’t be long till I’m looking for a “Vintage Bronze” group to ring with. I stand in admiration and thankfulness for all who have gone before me, who lead us, and who will carry us into the future!
Ask someone to name a famous orchestra. How about a famous choir? Maybe even a concert band? Civic, religious, and education institutions boast about their musical ensembles and many have well-earned renown. Ask someone to name a famous handbell ensemble…. well…. hm…who?
Group music making - school bands, church choirs, professional orchestras - have traditionally been a strong part of our society. Many in fact have national or international reputations, even among non-musical people. How many handbell ensembles fit that category? Even other musicians may not know that handbells exist, much less non-musicians. It’s time to change that. It’s time to make handbells part of mainstream ensemble music.
I’m John Hooper and my musical passion is expressing more than notes. I was part of founding the handbell program at Concordia University of Edmonton, including Jubiloso! Bells of Concordia. Most recently, I have served as an international examiner and adjudicator across all musical mediums and have heard the widest range of performances imaginable. I have been dumbstruck by well-studied musicians who played so many impressive notes, but missed the overall point. I have also been awestruck by grade one kids making incredible music with whole notes and half notes!
As we progress further into the 21st century, I hope that handbells can be perceived with greater musical merit. How can we assert ourselves as musicians? Primarily, we must think of ourselves as musicians. In fact, our organisation’s name - Handbell Musicians of Canada - reflects that idea. Whether novices or professionals, we need to believe what we do is an expressive art form (even if we do it “just for fun”). This means pursuing more than most of the right notes at most of the right times. This means inspiring our listeners to hear beyond beautiful tone and sense artistic passion. This means performing for audiences so they look beyond ringers’ well-meaning-ness and see expressive musicians. This means going beyond quick-studies and rushed preparation to dedicate ourselves to discipline and detail. This means having visions of excellence, of expression, of expectations similar to the renowned orchestras, choirs and concert bands. We can then speak of handbells along with the best of other famous musical groups. Who, indeed!
You Look Like You Are Having Fun!
I love making music, but especially making music with other musicians! It’s part of my DNA! We all know that making music is HARD WORK! It takes time, dedication, practice, and know-how. My name is Lisa Kyriakides and I live in Newmarket, Ontario. I have been a musician all my life – as a teacher, conductor, performer, and clinician. I started getting involved with handbells about 12 years ago and haven’t stopped since. I direct 2 handbell choirs, a vocal choir, perform in several handbell ensembles and am heavily involved with our Provincial Handbell Guild (OGEHR).
Now I want you to think about something for a minute. When you and the ringers around you are performing, what does the audience see? Do you look like you are enjoying yourself, or do you look very serious, with your head buried in the music? What impression are you leaving with your audience members? Are you communicating with them that making music is a joyful experience?
I talk to my ringers and singers about this issue all the time. I have told them that one of the best compliments I can receive when I am conducting or performing is when someone tells me I look like I am having fun. In fact, I told one of my choirs to smile (or at least not frown) so often, that for one rehearsal, they all showed up with smiles pasted on popsicle sticks that they could hold up in front of their faces. Too funny!
Music is all about communication with your audience. Handbells are such a visual instrument with great potential to convey the musical message through movement. Next time you are ringing, try and think about what your audience is seeing. Will someone come up to you after your performance and tell you they enjoyed watching you perform? I hope so!
For those of you who may not know me, I am the current Chair of your HMC. I began ringing handbells as a teenager and have been hooked ever since. Though I’ve been fortunate enough to visit most corners of this diverse country – mainly due to the various handbell festivals, workshops, and symposia I’ve attended over the years – my home base in is Penticton, BC.
My favourite part of handbells is the sense of connection it fosters on so many different levels. There’s the connection between the body that produces the sound, the mind that reads the notes on the page, and the heart that interprets and expresses the music. There’s the connection between the audience and the musician, that special energy that vibrates through the concert hall during a performance. There’s the extra special connection that happens when a gathering of ringers all inhales at the same moment, and exhales the marvelous music that comes out of the cohesive, whole artist that they collectively become.
And even more special is the connection that forges instantly wherever I am in the world whenever I meet someone new and they say, “You ring bells?? Me too!”