Ringing the weekend
What: The closing concert of the Handbell Musicians of America Spring Festival Conference.
When: 4 p.m. Saturday
Where: Grand Wayne Convention Center, 120 W. Jefferson Blvd.
Cost: Free, but a freewill offering will be collected.
Information: Grand Wayne Convention Center, 426-4100
The Grand Wayne Center will be ringing with music Friday and Saturday as more than 325 bell ringers and choirs gather for the Spring Festival Conference hosted by the Handbell Musicians of America.
The event will feature musical enrichment opportunities for a variety of bell-ringing musicians, as well as a concert open to the public.
Fort Wayne is in the center of the Handbell Musicians of America's Area 5, which includes the states of Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky and West Virginia. Attendees will include residents from out of state and some local bell choirs, including those from Trinity English Lutheran Church, St. Charles Catholic Church, and St. Joseph United Methodist Church.
Amanda Herndon Walker, the chair of the Area 5 group, has been making sure that all the details for the conference are in place before the bell-ringers arrive.
“The majority of our attendants are choirs,” she said. “For our festival, most people bring their own bells. We bring the padding, cloths, etc.”
Individual bell-ringers are also welcome to attend the Festival. “It's a great way to meet with new people, and it's fun,” said Walker, who has been ringing handbells since 1992.
At the conference, musicians will participate in enrichment classes and rehearsals.
Classes at this conference will include traditional music repertoire instruction and a class in Chi Kung, which focuses on body awareness and movement.
“A lot of ringing the bells is counting and movement,” said Walker, “so you want to be very aware of your body.
“There are songs that are very simple,” said Walker, noting that, at some conferences, kindergarten-aged musicians have participated in the music making.
“We have teenagers, … (and) last year we had a 90-year-old that was ringing,” Walker said.
The pastime of bell ringing also has grown in appeal to a variety of other groups, including the elderly and special-needs students.
Bellringing classes in retirement centers are on the increase, Walker said. “You should learn something new,… (and center residents ) love it!”
While reading music is a handy skill to have, all bell ringers are not required to have this ability. Walker said some bell groups use music printed with different colors to tell people when to ring. Other choirs have a director who simply points to the ringer who should sound his or her bell.
Walker admitted that bell ringing can be an expensive hobby. Ringers must purchase their own music, bring a notebook, have a music stand and provide mallets, among other pieces of equipment.
For the festival, “You will see this weekend some vans, buses and trailers,” she said. Choirs use trailers to haul sets of bells to the conference or to performing venues.
But bell ringing also is a musical skill that brings people back to the conference year after year. For example, Walker said, musician Michael Glasgow first participated in the conference when he was a child. He will now be serving as the conductor for the 2013 Fort Wayne spring conference.
A closing concert, free and open to the public, will be given by ringers attending the conference on at 4 p.m. Saturday. At this final concert, audience members will hear church music, a vocal choir, brass instrumentalists, and an arrangement of “You Raise Me Up,” performed to the accompaniment of bell choirs.