Attending events that enrich and inspire

This month we asked just one question of our panel: “Do you plan to attend an event, a conference, or a learning activity in the next few months? Please describe the event; who, what, where, and when? It doesn’t need to be a handbell-related activity: it could be a time to enrich musicianship, health, spirituality, or even a hobby. What do you expect will be the value in attending this event?”

CATHERINE McMICHAEL: Handbell-related activity: I’ll be taking most of my fabulous bell choir, Bells on High, First United Methodist, Saginaw, Michigan, to the Area 5 Festival in Lansing in April 2017. When I became director of the group in 1999, I committed to the goal that every year we would do something for continuing education. We’ve attended many Area and local Festivals and the National Festival in Norfolk, Virginia. We’ve brought in Dalcroze specialists and change ring experts. We’ve had private workshops with members of Classical Bells and have attended Embellish and Raleigh Ringer concerts as a group. We’ve wood-shedded Level 5, 6, and 7 pieces that I’ve brought back from Distinctly Bronze. (Way too hard…ya think? Amazing what you can accomplish on a Saturday morning!) The most important aspect of all these activities is not the educational aspect, though. It’s the opportunity for us to bond as friends in music. We ALWAYS have a BYO party Friday night at Area Festivals and have dinner together on Saturday. We have lunch together at workshops. There isn’t much time for social interaction during rehearsals, so these are our chances to deepen our personal relationships with each other. The bonds of friendship strengthen our bonds as a handbell ensemble.

I’ll attend Bay View Week of Handbells in August 2017, for the 11th straight year. My bell choir improved dramatically once I began attending the higher-level festivals. I learned so much from being with other great ringers and directors, and I could bring ideas, repertoire, and solutions back home. Bay View and Distinctly Bronze festivals have had a dramatic effect (for the better!!) on the quality of Bells on High. I encourage those ringers in BOH who can handle the difficulty and pace to also participate.

For festivals, everyone pays their own registration, transportation, and hotel/food expenses out of pocket. The church pays the table rental for us at festivals and buys our music. If we hire a clinician to work with us, we divide clinician’s fee among all who participate. I pay my own way and purchase my own music for Bay View and Distinctly Bronze festivals.

Other areas of development: staying fit, eating smart, writing music, practicing piano daily, reading constantly, and working the New York Times Sunday crossword (fighting the good fight for brain health!). I attend plays and concerts almost weekly, when I’m not performing in them myself. You can learn something from every performance, big or small, amateur or professional, even if it’s only what NOT to do. The big event ahead is a trip in March to Israel and Jordan with my daughter Meredith for her college graduation gift. Besides the excitement of exploring a dramatic part of the world with my beautiful and accomplished favorite gal, I’ve written a lot of music with Biblical text as theme, and it will be fantastic to see these ancient places and walk the paths of the prophets with her. There’s no question that the experiences that lie ahead will impact my insight, assumptions, and musical direction.

ROB MEYER-KUKAN: In the coming months I plan to attend several conferences, festivals, and workshops, particularly in the summer months. I will be attending as a participant and as an instructor. My goal for continuing education is to grow, to stay fresh, and to be challenged. Most of my continuing education plans revolve around my work as a bodyworker/massage therapist; but I also plan to attend music events as well (especially handbell events). I always make use of this new information as I work with my music students and the musicians that I direct as we work on healthy music-making habits. Funds for continuing education are built into my budget (both personal and professional).

ROBIN PENTLAND: I’ve got all of my application materials in for this summer’s Virtuoso weekend put on by the Raleigh Ringers. I was fortunate to get to participate in both the 2013 and 2015 Virtuosos. I’m looking forward to the event for four reasons: 1) the unbelievable exposure to the musicality and leadership of Dr. Bill Payn; 2) the introduction to new amazing friends in the handbell community; 3) the chance to play challenging music with a small group of committed, focused ringers; and 4) the opportunity to spend a weekend seeing how smoothly and meticulously another community choir runs their organization. Although many events through the Guild meet my reasons to grow through handbell events, Virtuoso meets all of these criteria, exceeds my expectations each time, and is worth putting money aside a year ahead of the event.

SCOTT PFITZINGER: I just attended an event a few weeks ago as part of the Society for Creative Anachronism ( It was called Fall Bransle (a bransle is a type of dance) and was located in the Shire of Rivenvale (aka Columbiana, Ohio). Everyone was dressed in medieval garb. We had artisans working their craft and teaching others about it. There was also axe throwing, a wonderful feast, and dancing afterwards. The dances were all taught so anyone could participate. It was a great time to place yourself in another mindset and set aside all the busyness and stress of modern life. SCA events are always a great opportunity to cleanse your psychological and emotional palette.

SCOTT PONZANI: I plan to attend two events in the next months. The first is the ACDA national convention in March, and the second is a conducting workshop in Alexandria, Virginia, in July, put on by George Fox University and led by Rodney Eichenberger. At both I expect to gain valuable knowledge, repertoire ideas, and networking possibilities. At the conducting workshop, I anticipate getting feedback on my skills and working toward improving. I do have professional development funds available for these events, though I will cover some of the expenses myself. I also am reading Learning Strategies for Musical Success by Michael Griffin and highly recommend it to all conductors and music teachers.

This Month’s Participants


Catherine McMichael is a free-lance professional musician, composer, arranger and performer. She directs Bells on High, First United Methodist Church, Saginaw, Michigan.


Rob Meyer-Kukan, Ann Arbor, Michigan is founder, educator, bodyworker of Healthy Musician Institute. He is also music director at Dearborn First United Methodist Church


Robin Pentland, Seattle, Washington, rings in Bells of the Sound of Seattle


Scott Pfitzinger has rung in Embellish and Circle City Ringers. He is soon moving soon to La Crosse, Wisconsin, where he already has local SCA people offering to help unload.


Scott Ponzani lives in Tokyo and directs the Christian Academy in Japan Handbell Ensembles and the CAJ Concert Choir and Chamber Singers. He’s also Choirmaster/Music Director at St. Alban’s Anglican-Episcopal Church, Tokyo