The 17th International Handbell Symposium just finished in Vancouver, Canada. Over 750 handbell musicians from around the world gathered there to unite across the boundaries of nationality and language through the music of handbells.

Activities began July 26 with Opening Ceremonies, which featured the traditional procession of the flags of the seven member countries of the International Handbell Committee: The United States, Japan, Great Britain, Korea, Canada, Australasia, and Hong Kong. The first massed ringing rehearsal followed as participants had their first opportunity to play through all the repertoire as a group.

Day 1 of the event concluded with a Meet & Greet Reception and Pin Exchange, where all enjoyed light refreshments and the opportunity to greet old friends and meet new ones.

Day 2 of the International Symposium offered the first rounds of workshop sessions. Symposium workshops included a variety of topics related both to handbells and the cultures of the participating countries. Following is a sample of the some of the workshops offered during the event.

  • Furoshiki – Japanese Wrapping Cloths
  • Writing Chinese Lucky Messages
  • Groove to Bells and Cajon
  • Ringing with a Smaller Number of Bells
  • Composer’s Corner
  • English Style Church Bell Ringing
  • Conducting Made Easy
  • Latin Dance
  • Expressive Conducting Skills
  • Six-in-Hand
  • The Body Bellistic
  • Interpersonal Communications Skills for Handbell Ringers

We also saw our first round of mini-concerts and showcase concerts. The mini-concerts included short performances of one or two pieces by individual choirs and teams attending the event. The showcase concerts were longer and featured performers representing each participating country. Both provided excellent opportunities to hear amazing performances and learn more about the music and ringing style of our friends around the world. The first round of concerts showcased full choirs, small ensembles, and bell trees. We heard original works, classical transcriptions, and arrangements of folk tunes and popular music.

Handbell Musicians of America was represented by a combined choir made up of Bells of the Sound, Tintabulations, and a “friends” choir which included several individual ringers attending the event. The group performed Jason Krug’s “Light of the World” and Kath Wissinger’s arrangement of “La Mer.” Throughout it all, it was wonderful to see new friendships develop between participants of different nationalities, overcome language barriers, share gifts, take groups selfies, and enjoy the spirit of peace and harmony that embodies the event.

International Handbell Symposium Day 3 began with an interfaith worship service led by Rev. Karen Medland of Carman United Church in Chilliwack, British Columbia. The service honored the spiritualism of the aboriginal people of the First Nations and provided event attendees an opportunity to share their own faith through song and prayer.

Following the service, the day continued much as Day 2 with massed rehearsals, two workshop sessions, and two mini-concerts. In addition to the main massed ringing ensemble, the Symposium also offered a youth track. This year’s track was led by Tim Waugh of Handbell Musicians of America and assistant conductor, Imran Amarshi, of Handbell Guilds of Canada (HGC). Nineteen young ringers participated and performed on a Showcase concert as well as during the final Symposium concert.

Another option for attendees was to participate in the Symposium Festival Choir under the direction of Dr. John Hooper of HGC. The Festival Choir provided participants the opportunity to ring more advanced music instead of attending workshops. The choir performed during the final Symposium concert.

Throughout the week, the Market Place showcased local and international businesses including event sponsors Malmark Bellcraftsmen and Schulmerich Bells, among others. Attendees were able to speak with representatives, try new products and do some shopping while at the event.

The day concluded with a special event featuring the West Coast Aboriginal Experience. Attendees enjoyed a wonderful evening that included the opportunity to explore the rich history and culture of Canada’s West Coast First Peoples through ceremonies, music and dance performances, art-making demonstrations and the building of community by sharing a feast that featured many traditional aboriginal foods.

Over its 32-year history, the International Handbell Symposium has developed some wonderful and rich traditions. These traditions are part of what makes this event so special. From the flag procession of the opening ceremonies, to the pin & gift exchange, to the cultural experiences offered by each host country; attendees are provided with multiple opportunities to learn about each other and create amazing memories and new friendships.

On Day 4 of this year’s Symposium, we engaged in a favorite memory-creating tradition of each Symposium—the Group Photo. All participants joined together for one giant group photo, memorializing the event for everyone. Each host handles the photo differently. We’ve lined up on stadium steps, stood in the hot sun in open plazas, and had beautiful landscapes as a back drop. This year, the planning committee used the space of the massed ringing floor for the setting. A newer tradition that has become part of the group photo process are all the selfies everyone takes with the group of people around them. If you had Facebook friends in attendance, you probably saw a lot of these photos showing up in your news feed.

The rest of the day involved more rehearsals, mini-concerts and the final showcase concert of the event. Then attendees enjoyed a free evening in and around Vancouver.

The final day of the International Handbell Symposium is the first time all the parts come together for a dress rehearsal of the final concert. The Youth Track, Festival Choir, full massed ringing group, and other extra musicians run through the program. This is also the first time the audience space was open, which changes the acoustics of the room. In addition, the Vancouver planning team added giant video screens hung from the ceiling of the ringing room so the audience would have a great view of the performers. So, this was also a technical rehearsal for the audio/visual crew.

After a final workshop session and provided lunch, we all gathered for the final concert to a sold-out audience. All musicians involved performed well, with many pieces achieving their best playing of the event for that audience. Nothing can match the sound of that many skilled handbell musicians ringing beautiful music as one. It embodies the International Handbell Committee mission of world peace through the spirit of music.

Following the concert and after all the bells, foam, and tables were packed up and loaded out, participants prepared for the Final Gala Banquet and Closing Ceremonies. The setting for this year’s banquet offered a beautiful view of the mountain landscape through floor-to-ceiling windows at one end of the ballroom. Attendees gathered here for more IHS traditions.

The ceremonies began with a procession of the flags and representatives of the IHC member guilds. After a brief welcome and prayer, a plated dinner was served. Closing addresses were presented by Patsy Andrews-Vert, president of the Handbell Guilds of Canada, and Sun-Joo Shin, executive director of the International Handbell Committee. This was followed by several awards, presentations, and acknowledgements.

An important part of the Closing Ceremony is the passing of the IHC Flag and Symposium Bell to the next host country followed by their invitation to the next Symposium. Carmel Daveson, representing the Handbell Ringers of Australasia, delivered a rousing introduction and invitation to Cairns, Australia, for the 18th International Handbell Symposium.

Finally, after closing remarks from the chairs of the planning committee, all IHC representatives rang the closing chord, ending the 17th International Handbell Symposium.

Jenny Cauhorn

Jenny Cauhorn

Jennifer Cauhorn

Executive Director