Current HMC Board of Directors
The Handbell Musicians of Canada Board
Each month we’ll be featuring a few words from one of our board members so you can get to know your national representatives. Check back each month to meet us all!
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!
Dear fellow handbell musicians,
My name is Imran Amarshi and I am a handbell enthusiast based in Vancouver, British Columbia. I was first introduced to handbells by my talented elementary school music teacher, Jan Nordstrand, who you may recognize from a past Ringing Link or IHS2016. Since then, handbells have always been part of my life in various ways. My favourite handbell memories include rehearsing weekly with my friends throughout our university years in Synchronous Handbell Choir, conducting at IHS2016 alongside Jan, and performing for the first time with my current students in the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts. Recently, I have been introducing handbells to the teacher candidates from the local university that come into my program for their student teaching practicums. It has been so great to see their reactions when they see just how unique and varied our instrument really is!
With the holiday season approaching, I can’t think of a more festive thing to do than perform outside, preferably undercover when it’s snowing, with a peppermint white mocha from Starbucks hidden under the table. My colleagues at work have been asking me daily when the handbell choir is going to start carolling through the hallways. I am so excited for the upcoming winter season and hope that we are able to reconnect as a community soon.
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!
If you ask a ringer “why handbells?” you will hear a great variety of answers, but perhaps the most common answer will be related to how handbells give them a sense of community. Friendships from across generations are formed in the safe space created in rehearsals. While this is true for all musical groups, handbells are a special instrument that encourages deep inter-relational connection because, with the exception of solo ringers, it takes a team to ring one instrument. When one of the team is absent, their presence is missed musically each time their notes are missing and that reminder of their absence feeds into missing them personally as well. “F5 isn’t there - where’s Annie? I miss Annie!”
Bells also have lots of equipment! Set-up, take down, maintenance, and moving bells from place to place are a shared responsibility for most choirs. The choir works as a team to take responsibility and ownership for the gear and each other. And then there is what happens during the music. When playing, ringers must work together - sharing bells (in non-COVID times) and helping find creative solutions to logistical issues in the music. In Britain, handbell choirs are called “teams” and it’s no wonder. All of this working together creates a community of musicians who care for each other as they work to make beautiful music.
In worship, the bell choir demonstrates to the church an example of what it is like to act in community. The congregation is engaged visually as well as auditorily as the bell choir works together. As the handbell choir comes forward from the congregation to ring, the congregation feels represented in the music making. Although this all happens very organically, handbell choirs should be aware of this and make sure they are always showing the best ways to work and care for one another.
I wish you all the joy of ringing in community as you share, work, learn, grow and lead in your various contexts!
I was first introduced to handbells back in the 90s at a church conference workshop. After our two hour workshop and our little Level One performance afterward, a member of our congregation bought a three-octave set of bells for us and the music director informed me that I’d be directing the group, because I had “more experience” with handbells than him. Talk about jumping into the deep end!
I directed that group for 17 years and we performed for two church services every other Sunday, plus every service in Advent, two yearly concerts, and at least two festivals per year. We were busy, but we loved it.
When I moved to Calgary (I married a Canadian who refused to live in the Texas heat), I found a handbell group to join and eventually helped launch the Bow River Handbell Musicians Society, which currently has four performance groups. I play in three of them.
All of that came to a screeching halt when Covid-19 put a stop to rehearsals and performances, though. Like many, I felt there was a handbell-shaped hole in my life that needed filling. At the same time, the need to stay home caused me to seek out diversions that could be done in solitude - and Lego came to the rescue. I rekindled my love of the little bricks from my childhood, bolstered by Lego’s recent focus on appeasing their adult fans. It wasn’t long before the pile of bricks inspired me to combine that hobby with handbells.
The first thing I did was create a little diorama of one of our performing groups. Bow River Bells came to life in plastic, with Lego “minifigs” representing our members as closely as I could get and some out-of-the-box thinking regarding the instrument, as Lego don’t currently have a handbell piece. The smaller bells are “inverted cone with bar” in tan and the bass bells are “goblet” pieces in pearl gold with the bases snipped off.