Handbell Festival 2010

I was so excited about going to handbell festival this year. We hadn’t gone as a choir before, although I’ve attended some handbell workshops and several choir members had gone with other choirs, so we knew how much fun it is to ring with a huge group of people.

Handbell Festival - Setting UpSaturday morning I arrived just in time to help set up. You may recognize that tall, handsome – although a bit blurry – guy in the middle as my dad. He plays our two biggest bells. Princess plays in the choir too, but I can’t convince Angel Face to join.


Handbell Festival - Setting Up AgainOur church’s balcony is used by many groups so we have to set up and tear down each week for rehearsal. Over the years we’ve streamline our system and have gotten really fast.


Handbell Festival - All Ready to GoIn no time everything was ready and the bell choir went in search of coffee and doughnuts while I headed to band. I wanted to stay with the bell choir but they didn’t need me as much as my band of middle-schoolers did. A room full of middle-schoolers with instruments and no director is a recipe for disaster!

About two and a half hours later I rejoined my bell choir, ready to grab some bells and start ringing. I can ring and direct at the same time, but I can’t do them both well at the same time, so I never get to ring unless someone is absent and there’s no sub. Unfortunately I arrived just in time to wait – they were rehearsing one of the two pieces our choir wasn’t doing.


Handbell Festival - Waiting for Our Turn

Betty covers the top two positions by playing four bells in each hand. She’s been playing handbells longer than I have and is amazing to watch! She’s also a great teacher with tons of patience so I tend to put new ringers next to her. Clay is a wonderful musician and can play any position in the choir. He started the year out in the bass clef, then moved to treble clef to fill the position of another ringer who had to leave the choir after Christmas. His daughter is usually in the position next to him, but had marching band rehearsal so I covered her position. Is it time for us to play yet? I can’t wait!

Handbell Festival - Still WaitingDiane shares a position with Melissa, who wasn’t able to come to Festival. They divide up Sundays and holidays and take turns coming to rehearsals, which works out great for each of them, and for me. I’d much rather have a part be shared than have good ringers quit because of the time committment. The blonde with her nose in a book is Betty’s daughter. Like Teacher, myself and our kids she suffers from chronic NIB: “Nose in Book” disease. She brings a book each week to rehearsal for “down” times. She’s been playing with us for four years, but both she and Clay’s daughter will be going off to college in the fall so we’ll have to find someone to replace them.


Handbell Festival - Still WaitingClay’s wife, Johanna, is another wonderful musician who can play any position in the choir. Right now she’s in the middle, aka “the Battery,” which is a very busy spot. To do well in the Battery you have to be one of those people who can pat their head and rub their tummy at the same time. Princess is next to Johanna, apparently trying to hide behind her bangs. It’s not working, I can seeeeeee yoooouuuu. On the other side of Princess is Donna, who’s also been with the choir for several years. Her husband was instrumental no pun intended in getting the handbell choir started and setting me up as director. Thanks Ron, I’m so glad I was given this privilege! Next is Paula, who has also rung in the choir for many years and is a great partner to my dad, who is on the other side of her even though you can’t see him.


Handbell Festival - my NephewMy nephew plays clarinet in “my” band and bells in both of his church’s handbell choirs. He’s very talented musically and I’m so glad to see him use that talent.

Handbell Festival - Uncle Ike and Auntie ElleAuntie Elle (far right) used to play in our bell choir until their family transferred to another church. My brother, Ike, didn’t start ringing until after they’d transferred. I’m not sure if that was just coincidence or if he didn’t want his sister as a director.

In any case I thought it was really cool that my dad, brother, sister-in-law, nephew, daughter and myself were all at the festival together.

It’s a good thing I decided to take some photos now, because once things got busy there wasn’t a chance the rest of the day. We rehearsed, we ate lunch, Princess and I made a cappuccino run, we rehearsed some more, we had a snack, we rehearsed even more, then the day was over!

Handbell Festival - the ChoirOn Sunday I left my camera with Teacher in case he wanted to take photos during the concert, but since it was considered a “worship service” he didn’t. The concert ahem, service flew by so quickly! Saturday I played with my choir because Clay and Johanna’s daughter wasn’t there, but she was there on Sunday so I covered a position in my friend Cindy’s choir. Cindy only had two ringers who were able to come to festival with her, but she still brought all of her bells and tables in case there were any “orphan” ringers who needed a place to play. I was in a position I’d never played before so I was sight-reading, which was an exhilarating challenge. One of the best things about ringing at festival is that if you miss a note or two there are other ringers playing the same part so no-one knows you didn’t play!

You can see from our smiles after the concert service that we all had a great time. I think we’ll definitely be going to festival again sometime.

Thanks for being part of my life!
Amy Sue


  1. You forgot to blur out the church name and city.

  2. I love Handbell music! I dont get to hear it that often but love love love when our church does it.

    • Anna,

      Have you searched for bell music on YouTube? There’s Pirates of the Caribbean, Lord of the Ring, and other fun songs played on handbells. We don’t do any of those in church – obviously – but we did a fantastic version of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen at Christmas this year. The choir liked it so much they want to do it every year.

      You should join your church’s bell choir – I tell my new recruits that if you can count to four and know your right from your left we can teach you the rest. 😉

      ~Amy Sue

  3. Rich Schulthies

    I marched in the first Rose Parade, when my church music department stopped supporting bells, and within a year, half the ringers left for various reasons and we could not get back enough people to sustain a group. Cause and effect are debatable. For other reasons, my wife and I switched to a smaller church, which has a bell choir. I was wondering if there are any active marching handbell choirs in southern California. I played G3 and G#3.
    I wish I had known about the convention, but maybe next year.

    • Rich,

      How wonderful to have been in the Rose Parade!! It’s hard to get a bell choir started and keep it going – it’s not like a vocal choir where many voices sing the same part; if you have a bell choir member absent there’s no-one to cover those notes. I’ve been blessed that my ringers are very committed to the bell choir, although I have two going to college in the fall so we’ve started recruiting.

      There should be a convention somewhere in your area; check out the American Guild of English Handbell Ringers (AGEHR) website to see.

      Thanks for taking time to comment!
      ~Amy Sue

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