Amy Maakestad has more than 35 years of experience ringing handbells in various groups and over 20 as a conductor. She utilizes both ringing and directing talents as the Artistic and Music Director of Twin Cities Bronze, a position she has held since 2012.
Amy has traveled the country with the ensemble and as a clinician at handbell festivals and workshops. She has worked with all ages and skill levels of handbell musicians and has a passion for sharing knowledge of the instrument.
Working as a church musician has been a calling for Amy for the past 25 years. She enjoys pulling out all the stops while playing organ, piano, accompanying, directing and worship planning. Her biggest thrill is learning from all of the wonderful volunteer musicians of all ages she feels privileged to know.
Amy received her Bachelor’s Degree in Piano Performance from the University of Wisconsin, Superior. She later received her Master’s in Sacred Music – Organ and Choral Conducting from Luther Seminary, St. Paul in cooperation with St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota.
Discovering new (and rediscovering old) handbell music and turning the printed notes on a page into a musical experience is one of Amy’s favorite joys. In her spare time, she bakes, gardens, reads, enjoys her family and drinks coffee.
A Director’s Perspective by Amy Maakestad
Never before has the handbell community experienced a pandemic. The COVID-19 virus has thrown rehearsals, concerts, worship services, workshops, festivals, and fellowship into disarray. Although it will be possible for us at some point to return to a new kind of normal, it most certainly will not be soon.
What do we do in the meantime? How do we keep the art of handbells alive? How do we care for our ringers and ourselves? What is safe?
We have been given the gift of time. Be gentle with yourself and allow room to grieve what has been lost. Changing and canceling plans is frustrating and disappointing, the uncertainty of what the future holds can cause anxiety, and this gift of time may be unwanted. Accepting all of this change happens at a different pace for everyone and that is okay. We will get through this.
When you are ready to move forward, it might be helpful to reimagine what your handbell program will look like in the near future and for the next year or so. Music that inspires you is a good place to start.
- Do you have piles of sample copies that deserve a second (or first) look?
- What about pieces for smaller ensembles that were impossible to organize during the regular season?
- Should your music files be revisited with fresh eyes?
- Are there pieces that were too easy or wouldn’t keep ringers busy that were passed over which may now be exactly what you need?
Engage with community groups both in your area and far beyond, and learn something new. They will not be playing live concerts anytime soon, but there may be virtual concerts at some point and likely educational opportunities and imaginative ideas in the interim.
Safely ringing with a full choir will not be easy in the next year. In addition to following the CDC and local guidelines, talk with your ringers about their comfort level. Those with underlying health conditions and/or advanced age may need to be on hiatus or ring as a soloist only. You can connect with your members through regular video meetings and offer encouragement and praise if you have small ensembles that are able to record music. Emails, texts, and handwritten notes are great ways to keep on touch. Share your favorite YouTube clips of pieces you hope to play someday.
Now is your chance to simplify music, personnel, rehearsal time and number of bells used. Make the most of what you have and let creativity and necessity be your guide. In a church setting, it really helps if worship planning is happening well in advance.
- Can you utilize ringers from the same family? That makes physical distancing a non issue.
- Can you play with one, two, or three ringers physically distanced and not sharing equipment?
- To shorten rehearsal time, can a solo piece be played with two or three ringers?
- Have you looked at 8-bell or 12-bell music?
- Don’t forget about bell trees for lots of sound with only one ringer.
- Can a ringer or two play the melody of a hymn as an introduction or interlude?
- Could the same ringer or two also play a descant?
- Random ring on a pentatonic hymn stanza.
- Add a track to the praise team recording by following simple chords on a lead sheet.
- Play a solo you have been meaning to work up with a distanced accompanist or recorded accompaniment.
- Vocal choirs won’t be meeting in the near future. Can you work with the choir director to identify singers who would like to learn to ring?
- Basic ringing skills can be taught in a couple of minutes. Children, youth, singers and instrumentalists are all potential new ringers.
- Teach a simple processional by rote and then ring it without actually processing. Use it as a hymn introduction or even postlude.
When we are able to gather more than a couple of ringers, what will this look like?
- Do you have enough room in your current rehearsal/performance space to allow for distancing?
- Can you ring a piece without bell changes and use music stands instead of tables?
- Are 2-3 octave pieces going to be more successful?
- Could adding keyboard help to cover missing notes and enhance the sound?
Thankfully, technology allows us to stay connected even when we can’t be together in person. Research new music offerings and pieces you may have missed on your favorite publisher’s websites. Get on social media and join a handbell forum. Follow your favorite composers because many are creating new, usable, practical content right now.
These words I’ve seen on social media help me to put things in perspective: We isolate now so that when we gather again, no one is missing.
Linnette Rodríguez-Figueroa, PhD
Dr. Linnette Rodríguez-Figueroa has a Bachelor’s degree in Biology and a Master’s degree in Epidemiology, both from the University of Puerto Rico. She also has a Doctor of Philosophy in Epidemiological Science degree from the University of Michigan. She is currently a Professor at the Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology of the University of Puerto Rico, Graduate School of Public Health, where she is also the Coordinator of the Epidemiology Academic Programs (MPH and MS).
Dr. Rodríguez has been an avid handbell ringer for over 30 years. She has played handbells in over 20 countries, and has participated in local handbell festivals in Puerto Rico, in regional and national festivals in the US, in European festivals, and in every International Symposium since 2004. Some of her most cherished handbell memories include helping establish in 2014 the first handbell group in the city of Tijvin, Russia, being selected to play with the US All Stars Choir at the 2012 International Symposium, and ringing bells on the Carnegie Hall stage (December 2019).
Handbells During the Covid-19 Pandemic by Linnette Rodríguez-Figueroa, PhD
Handbell ringers all over the world are looking forward to start rehearsals as soon as possible. However, until a vaccine is developed, no gathering of people will be 100% safe. A vaccine usually takes many months, sometimes even years, to be created. So we need to learn to adapt to our new reality and implement measures that will decrease our chances of getting infected. Below you will find some suggestions you might apply in your handbell rehearsals to keep ringers safe.
These suggestions are based on what is currently known about the ways people get infected with the COVID-19 virus. The virus is spread mainly from person-to-person through respiratory droplets which are tiny saliva or mucus drops produced naturally when a person sneezes, coughs, talks, or sings. These droplets can travel small distances in the air (about up to 6 feet) and then land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.
In addition, since the virus can live on different surfaces between several hours and several days (depending on the type of surface), people can become infected after touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own nose, mouth, or possibly their eyes. Scientists have measured the survival of the COVID-19 virus on plastics, stainless steel, cardboard, and copper. For other surfaces, estimates are based on what’s known about the survival of other coronavirus, the family of viruses that includes COVID-19.
Safety measures should be even more strongly enforced in the fall and winter, when respiratory diseases usually peak. Below you will first find some general recommendations of actions to take before, during, and after rehearsals. Then there are more specific suggestions regarding our handbell equipment.
- Before rehearsals
- Evaluate if your rehearsals can be done with fewer ringers present. Some options for this might be:
- Instead of full choir music, maybe practice several ensembles.
- Do sectionals, i.e., practice treble bells separately from bass bells.
- Change the practice venue to one with more space.
- Depending on the weather, maybe practice outdoors.
- Many choirs include persons at higher risk of severe illness and death, if infected. To protect these and other ringers, there are several actions you can take:
- Actively monitor where COVID-19 is circulating, particularly in your community.
- Encourage ringers not to come to rehearsal if they have any symptoms or feel unwell.
- Monitor for fever before a person enters the rehearsal space (have a thermometer available for this). Make sure no person with the disease is allowed in the rehearsal.
- Encourage ringers to take their own temperature at home and not to come to rehearsal if they have a fever.
- Do not allow anyone without a mask into the rehearsal space.
- Advise all ringers that most of the persons transmitting the disease do not show symptoms, so they should behave as if they are infected and if their fellow ringers are infected too.
- Encourage all ringers to get tested before starting rehearsals.
- Evaluate if your rehearsals can be done with fewer ringers present. Some options for this might be:
- During rehearsals
- Maintain a distance of 6 feet or more between ringers to minimize the contact with respiratory droplets. If possible, assign only one ringer per table.
- Everybody present at a rehearsal should wear masks at all times. Ensure that face masks are available for those who do not have one.
- Ringers should wear gloves at all times. This will decrease the chance that ringers contaminate their hands if they touch an infected surface. They will also notice if they try to touch their faces.
- Decrease as much possible the use of techniques that require touching the bronze area of the bell, such as thumb damps and plucks, unless the metal can be disinfected before and after each rehearsal.
- Discourage changing positions between songs.
- If possible, select music that does not have bell sharing within the song, unless you have an extra set of bells you can use. Between songs, make sure to disinfect the handle of bells to be used by other ringers.
- Have ringers wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after rehearsals. If soap is not available, use a alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Have soap or sanitizers available.
- Encourage ringers to cover their faces with their elbow or with a tissue if they sneeze or cough. Supply tissues and closed bins for disposal of used tissues.
- After rehearsals
- Disinfect all equipment and other surfaces.
- Put the gloves in a plastic bag, take them home, and wash them.
- If someone at the rehearsal is later identified as a suspected COVID-19 case, the Director/Conductor should inform all ringers. They should all quarantine themselves for 14 days before rejoining the rehearsals.
- Once home, discard or disinfect the masks.
It is estimated that the virus can survive on paper for up to 30 minutes, but it might be longer. Although some types of coronavirus survive for only a few minutes on paper, others can live for up to 5 days.
- If possible, each ringer should have his or her own music binder and not share music. If the binder stays in the practice room, disinfect the covers before and after each rehearsal.
- If music needs to be shared, an option is to put the pages inside plastic sheets that can be disinfected after rehearsal. Whether or not you use plastic sheets, ringers should wear gloves any time they touch the pages.
Handbells / Handchimes
The COVID-19 virus can survive on copper up to 4 hours and up to 3 days on plastics. Other coronavirus viruses can survive 2 to 8 hours in aluminum (some bass bells and handchimes are aluminum) and up to 5 days in other metals.
- Disinfect the bells/handchimes before and after each rehearsal.
- Ringers should wear gloves any time they touch the bells or handchimes.
- Make sure to disinfect the plastic bell handles before and after each rehearsal. Shared bells should be disinfected between songs. If your bells have leather handles, make sure you use the wipes specifically made for cleaning leather.
- If the clapper head is covered with felt, decrease as much possible the use of techniques that require touching it, such as plucks, as it is not easy to disinfect.
Some types of coronavirus survive in cloth for up to a day.
- Use covers that can be washed after each rehearsal, like fitted bed sheets or dining room table covers. You could also use disposable plastic covers (the ones used for birthday parties).
Additional music equipment and risers
As previously mentioned, the COVID-19 virus can survive up to 3 days on plastics, such as the mallets of handle, some risers, and the grip of singing bell sticks. In addition, coronavirus can survive in wood (singing bell stick) for 1-4 days.
- Mallets: Avoid touching the yarn in the mallets, as it is not easy to disinfect. Disinfect the plastic handles before and after each rehearsal.
- Singing bell stick: Disinfect the whole stick before and after each rehearsal.
- Risers: Disinfect before and after each rehearsal.
Sondra K. Tucker is Editor for Alfred Handbell, a division of Jubilate Music Group. She is active in the Handbell Musicians of America and the Handbell Industry Council. Sondra is a composer, conductor and clinician, and is an accomplished organist and flutist. Her published works include music for choir, organ, and instrumental ensembles in addition to handbells. She lives in Houston, Texas.
Resources for Ringing Compiled by Sondra K. Tucker
Note from the compiler: Since new music is being published all the time, it is impossible to keep a list of titles that would be both current and not too unwieldy. The Handbell Industry Council recommends you research the following publishers and retailers for music that fits your personal needs, and consult denominational and government agencies for guidance to safely gathering in your part of the country. Links to music associations, social media groups, denominational sites and governmental agencies are active at the time this document was assembled, but no guarantee is made that these links will stay the same indefinitely.
World Health Organization
Public advice, guidance, rolling updates, mythbusters and more.
Centers for Disease Control
How to protect yourself, what to do if you are sick, symptoms, travel, tools for operating during COVID-19, and more.
Every state has a COVID update on their landing page. You can access your state government’s web site by entering [StateName].gov. These pages will give you more localized information about the pandemic and any laws, orders, and declarations that affect residents.
PROFESSIONAL MUSICAL ORGANIZATIONS
Handbell Musicians of America
American Guild of Organists
American Choral Directors Association
Presbyterian Association of Musicians
>Church Music and COVID-19: A Response from PAM
Association of Anglican Musicians
Fellowship of United Methodist in Music and Worship Arts
>Pandemic Response Worship Resources
National Association of Pastoral Musicians
>Resources in Light of COVID-19
Association of Lutheran Church Musicians
Worship streaming webinar:
Fellowship of American Baptist Musicians
The Southern Baptist Church Music Conference
> MCMC & COVID-19
HANDBELLS ON SOCIAL MEDIA
Most, if not all, companies, organizations and groups have a presence on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Facebook is listed because of the greater interaction that platform offers:
Handbell Musicians of America:
Each official Area of HMA has a Facebook page also.
Handbell-L on Facebook:
Handbell Sheet Music:
Handbell Industry Council:
PUBLISHERS AND RETAILERS OF HANDBELL MUSIC
With links where applicable to solo, ensemble, and less-than-a-full-choir music
Search by bestsellers, A-Z, or octaves
> Less than a full choir, or solos/ensembles
>Ring >8 Bell, 12 Bell, 16 Bell, Small Ensemble
>store >handbell. Select Ring More with Less, Twelve Bell, or Solo
>Music & Worship > Music >Handbell Music
>Resources >Instrumental >Handbell
Searchable by octaves and difficulty level
Searchable by several categories
>Departments >Handbell >Solos & Ensembles
Link to newest releases and Levels. (Digital solos and ensembles available in the near future. Check the web site.)
Jeffers Handbell Supply:
> Music Search Assistant check any category that applies.
Also, >Sheet Music >What’s New for the latest releases including solo and ensemble
Jeffers distributes these lines, which are good resources for solo and ensemble music: Put the company code in the search bar at handbellworld and that catalog will come up:
CAN Enterprises (chimesoloist.com) CE
Casa Publications CS
Robert Groth (Ring-Along books) GR
High Meadow Music Publishing HM
James Kimball JK
Jeffers Publishing JH
National Music Company NM
Red River Music RR
Tree-O Publishing (Barb Brocker/belltrees) TO
>Instrumental >Handbell Choir
STEP (The Solo to Ensemble Project)