Composing for handbells by David York

Bells of the Cascades, an auditioned ensemble in Portland, OR, recently hosted a composition contest. Their director, David York, prepared an excellent summary for composers, and he kindly granted permission for me to share this document with you.

These guidelines have been prepared to assist composers who might be unfamiliar with handbells. Get a copy of “Handbell Notation, Difficulty Level System, Solo and Ensemble Notation” published by the American Guild of English Handbell Ringers  and follow its guidelines on notation standards and techniques. Continue reading Composing for handbells by David York

Rehearsal “best practices”

Note: The term “best practices” means a methodology that consistently produces superior results.

Preparation – director: Do score study, breaking down each piece to determine how you’re going to approach teaching all the elements, such as rhythm, techniques, musical expression, etc. In the 1990s (and perhaps other years), Overtones ran an excellent series called Conductor’s Roundtable, where accomplished conductors explained how they would analyze and teach a piece. If you’re a member of the U.S. handbell guild, you may find some of the articles online, or you could order back copies. Always go into rehearsals with a plan for what you want to accomplish, and consider how that fits into the bigger picture of preparing to ring in church or present a concert. Continue reading Rehearsal “best practices”

No ringer left behind – Music reading challenges

There are many resources for learning music notation, both in print and online. This article won’t attempt to duplicate those, but instead focus on challenges and confusion handbell musicians may experience. Ringers with little or no prior music reading background may want to work through a workbook. I especially like Alfred’s Essentials of Music Theory – Complete. Note the catalog number (16486 – book with 2 listening CDs), as Alfred has several similar products. It’s an inexpensive resource. Though the book is available without CDs, ear training will help ringers improve. Ringers can start wherever the book presents new information, on page 1 for some, perhaps a few chapters into the book for others, and work through the book as far as the director suggests. Continue reading No ringer left behind – Music reading challenges

No ringer left behind – Communication

Often ringers struggle to keep up with others in a bell choir. Joining an established handbell group is like jumping onto a moving train. Integrating new ringers, especially if they don’t read music yet, can take time but yield big dividends. Or maybe they aren’t new, but they struggle because they didn’t get a good orientation to ringing. As the director or fellow ringer, you may struggle yourself to help them, because you just don’t understand what causes their mistakes. Many struggling ringers are adult beginners, and they haven’t learned the language of music. If you learned music yourself as a child, it’s second nature, and you may not know how to teach basic music principles, or remember how you learned them. It would be like a native speaker teaching the language to an immigrant. Continue reading No ringer left behind – Communication