The Monday before Thanksgiving, Gideon was born. He was just over 7 pounds and 21 inches long with dark hair and long fingers. His parents are active members of the church where I serve, both ringing in our handbell choir. His father is bass ringer at the church and also for the Columbia Handbell Ensemble. He is one of the more musical bass ringers you’ll ever experience.
Gideon came to church the first Sunday after his birth, and as is the norm, he was quite the center of attention. People came in droves to meet him, and they said some things like, “He’s beautiful” or “Who does he look like in the family?” or “Is he sleeping through the night?” The church organist, of course, said that his fingers were perfect for the keyboard. Everyone loves to crowd around a newborn and think about what the future might hold. As we all did that, his dad said something you don’t usually hear while gathered around the new baby; he said, “He’s got the hands to be a great bass bell ringer!”
How interesting and how profound. I would think that it is relatively rare to project handbell ringing on the future of a newborn, but why not? If we are to move forward into the future as an organization and an art form, it is the Gideons of our world that will take us there. Every year I am invited to share handbells in local elementary schools and preschools. I vividly remember taking a G2 to a school where all of the kids had gathered in the gym to hear about the bells. Usually I hide the G2 so that I can unveil it later in the program. When I pull it out of hiding, the kids ooh and ah, and then I ask them to listen as I ring it for them. At one assembly, I had sufficiently generated a buzz among the kids so I went to ring the bell. Once it rang, one bright child asked the most interesting question: “Is that all it does?” For that much money, he thought it should have additional whistles and bells.
At first I didn’t know how to respond. It was funny, but when it comes right down to it, the G2 doesn’t do much more than that until we put it with other bells that are being rung by a host of ringers. That hasn’t changed even though our society has. It may be harder to get our kids and students to find time to make bells a part of their lives, but when they do, they can experience the magic of handbells unifying to create almost any type of music you can imagine.
There are some wonderful opportunities ahead for children like Gideon: there are Areas with camps for kids every year; there are churches touring with their young students; there are church camps, like Montreat, where hundreds of kids are ringing together every year; there are incredible opportunities like Distinctly Teen (and next summer, DT will be playing at Disneyland in California); there are school programs that are stretching the capabilities and horizons of handbell ringing; there are after school programs that have been featured nationally on television and radio; there are home-school programs providing another avenue for music education; and as our children age up, there are college programs and the college ring.
This past summer, Distinctly Teen and the International Handbell Symposium were proof that our younger ringers are making a huge impact on the ringing world. Sure there will be challenges. Ringing and the Handbell Musicians of America don’t look like they used to – things change, so we adapt to the change. We work together to find new, meaningful opportunities to involve kids of all ages. Here’s the good news: we are seeing an influx of younger participants at our events, and they are experiencing the joy of creating beautiful music.
In this often difficult world, isn’t it wonderful to know that the Handbell Musicians of America and ringers all across the world, are working together to provide unity through music?
So Gideon, welcome to the bass section! We’re looking forward to making music with you! I’d love to hear what you are doing to make music with our young ringers.
Ed Rollins firstname.lastname@example.org