Technique Tip - Handling Handbell “Surprises” by Becky Yoza

As a handbell ringer, one must be ready for anything in performance.

This is especially true as a solo ringer! I had the blessing of performing a solo at a church that does not have a handbell choir. As a tradition here in Hawaii, I was presented with a fresh flower lei from the congregation at the beginning of the service. Fortunately, before playing I had time to contemplate what to do with the lei. Removing it could be construed as disrespectful, as one should not remove a lei after it has been bestowed. A lei is properly worn half in front of the shoulders and half in back and it could impinge upon damping and movement. My inner dialogue was not only whether to remove the lei or not, but also whether to address the congregation regarding the practical decision to remove it before playing. I decided to wear the lei and handle any disruption in playing on the fly. Thankfully, everything went well. As a soloist playing at different churches on their bell set, with their foam, with their table covers, and with their pianists has been a challenge because many issues arose that I needed to figure out how to handle.

Solo and ensemble ringers need to be prepared for anything.

You may not be dealing with a lei but may be dealing with other unplanned events in performance. All of us have been there. You drop your mallet, or the mallet is not where you left it. Your music falls over. The wind blows your page (we play outside a lot in Hawaii). You turn two pages. Your bells roll into those pesky cracks. You grab the table cover instead of your bell. The Velcro® on your glove gets stuck on the table cover. Your four-in-hand stack falls over. You pick up the wrong bells. Your neighbor, that you were sharing a bell with, does not put down the bell you need or puts it in the wrong place. You forgot to grab your chimes from under the table. The table legs are uneven and the table wiggles. You get the idea.

What's the key to handling the unexpected?

Practice!! All these things happen during rehearsal so use that opportunity to practice how to recover. Tips for practicing to prevent "surprises":

  1. Write your bell setup and equipment needed on your music.
  2. Keep a notecard outlining your assignment and needed equipment for each piece.
  3. Crimp your pages or use clips etc.
  4. Smooth out your table cover and fill in cracks underneath by putting magazines (for example) under the foam crack.
  5. Level your table legs using shims. (Or, Malmark tables have adjustable levelers up to 1".)
  6. Threaten your neighbor with bodily harm if they don't put that bell down. Ok, maybe not that one!
  7. Practice in as close to the same conditions as possible in which you will be performing.
  8. Scope out your venue and do a walk-through of setting up and playing to anticipate issues that may arise.
  9. Practice transitions between songs.
  10. Keep an equipment list of everything that you need for a given performance. Bring extras of crucial items.
  11. Know your music well so that you can continue as seamlessly as possible after a mistake.

After saying all the above, anything and everything can still go wrong in performance and recovery is part of it. Hopefully, your audience will remember the music you made and not the tiny, imperceptible bobbles.

Becky started ringing handbells at age 5 in the children's handbell choir at her church in Benton Harbor, Michigan. Since that time, she has rung in many church groups in 5 states as well as several auditioned community handbell choirs. Becky was introduced to solo and ensemble ringing in 1991 while attending Kalamazoo College. A committed Malmark enthusiast, Becky finally purchased her own set of Malmark handbells so she could perform more as a soloist. Becky has performed solos in multiple churches on Oahu and the mainland. She has enjoyed teaching and sharing her handbell passion with her church choir where she directs. Becky is co-founder of the quintet Honolulu Bronze, a community-based handbell ensemble. In "real" life, Becky works as Nurse Practitioner and as adjunct nursing faculty for Hawaii Pacific University.

Honolulu Bronze Handbell Ensemble - Pictured from L to R: Skylar Yamamoto, Becky Yoza and Krystle Hara.

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