by Kim Braswell

Have you ever gotten in your car after a long day at work, hit the cruise control, and basically let auto-pilot take over? It’s a path you drive every day, same way, same time, same roads. Some days you probably get home and are surprised! 

It’s happened to me; suddenly I get home and wonder just how I got there. Or maybe I’m travelling somewhere new. So caught up in the directions and mile markers that I completely miss the gorgeous landscape or the brilliant sunset. If I’m being honest, some handbell rehearsals happen that way, too. Suddenly, I’m at the end of rehearsal and I hardly remember a thing about it. My muscle memory has done its job and I leave without even scratching the surface of what music is and can be.

Naturalist John Muir is a favorite author of mine, not necessarily because I agree with all he has to say or even understand it, but because each time I read his words I am reminded that nature is much deeper and more beautiful than I expect, if I will only look for it. It’s easy to see the beauty in the lights of the Aurora Borealis, the crashing water of Niagara Falls, or the majesty of the Redwood forests. However, it’s not always as easy to find the beauty in the dry grass on my way home from work, or the monotonous landscape of hills and cows, cows and hills. To see that beauty, I have to dig a little deeper. I have to look a little closer.

I have played handbells for many years, as have many of you. I have worked my way through countless pieces of repertoire and rung under the baton of dozens of accomplished directors. The truly memorable experiences have all had one thing in common: I noticed the beauty. Sometimes it’s a particularly lovely counter-melody. Other times, I find beauty in simply watching others do something they love. Most often, I have found the beauty because someone else helped me notice it. Whether it was as simple as well-executed crescendo or as complex as the myriad of techniques handbells will allow, this instrument affords us the

chance to do truly beautiful things each time we pick them up. As both directors and ringers, we have a responsibility to ourselves and our fellow ringers to find the beauty in each moment.

As handbell musicians, we have a unique opportunity to create beauty every time we pick up our instrument. If we take hold of these opportunities and recognize them as such, we are less likely to end a rehearsal and wonder what we missed. If we strive to create beauty during every moment, we will not only bless ourselves with that beauty, but also each person we share our music with. Can you recreate the beauty of a sunset, the warm colors melting into one another as the sun sinks low on the horizon? We can. Listen to those singing bells in the bass, with the ostinato above. There is beauty there. Can you recreate the stately majesty of the forest, with tall trees towering over soft mossy ground? We can. Listen to the chords, with each clapper striking together as one. There is beauty there. Can you recreate the rainstorm as it gathers strength, tiny sprinkles morphing into fat soaking drops? We can. Listen to the rhythmic patterns as they trickle from the high trebles down into the choir. There is beauty there. There is beauty all around us, if we only choose to acknowledge it.

“The rivers flow not past, but through us, thrilling, tingling, vibrating every fiber and cell of the substance of our bodies, making them glide and sing.”
—John Muir

“There is not a fragment in all nature, for every relative fragment of one thing is a full harmonious unit in itself.”—John Muir

Kim Braswell
kbraswell@handbellmusicians.org

It’s happened to me; suddenly I get home and wonder just how I got there. Or maybe I’m travelling somewhere new. So caught up in the directions and mile markers that I completely miss the gorgeous landscape or the brilliant sunset. If I’m being honest, some handbell rehearsals happen that way, too. Suddenly, I’m at the end of rehearsal and I hardly remember a thing about it. My muscle memory has done its job and I leave without even scratching the surface of what music is and can be.

Naturalist John Muir is a favorite author of mine, not necessarily because I agree with all he has to say or even understand it, but because each time I read his words I am reminded that nature is much deeper and more beautiful than I expect, if I will only look for it. It’s easy to see the beauty in the lights of the Aurora Borealis, the crashing water of Niagara Falls, or the majesty of the Redwood forests. However, it’s not always as easy to find the beauty in the dry grass on my way home from work, or the monotonous landscape of hills and cows, cows and hills. To see that beauty, I have to dig a little deeper. I have to look a little closer.

I have played handbells for many years, as have many of you. I have worked my way through countless pieces of repertoire and rung under the baton of dozens of accomplished directors. The truly memorable experiences have all had one thing in common: I noticed the beauty. Sometimes it’s a particularly lovely counter-melody. Other times, I find beauty in simply watching others do something they love. Most often, I have found the beauty because someone else helped me notice it. Whether it was as simple as well-executed crescendo or as complex as the myriad of techniques handbells will allow, this instrument affords us the

chance to do truly beautiful things each time we pick them up. As both directors and ringers, we have a responsibility to ourselves and our fellow ringers to find the beauty in each moment.

As handbell musicians, we have a unique opportunity to create beauty every time we pick up our instrument. If we take hold of these opportunities and recognize them as such, we are less likely to end a rehearsal and wonder what we missed. If we strive to create beauty during every moment, we will not only bless ourselves with that beauty, but also each person we share our music with. Can you recreate the beauty of a sunset, the warm colors melting into one another as the sun sinks low on the horizon? We can. Listen to those singing bells in the bass, with the ostinato above. There is beauty there. Can you recreate the stately majesty of the forest, with tall trees towering over soft mossy ground? We can. Listen to the chords, with each clapper striking together as one. There is beauty there. Can you recreate the rainstorm as it gathers strength, tiny sprinkles morphing into fat soaking drops? We can. Listen to the rhythmic patterns as they trickle from the high trebles down into the choir. There is beauty there. There is beauty all around us, if we only choose to acknowledge it.

“The rivers flow not past, but through us, thrilling, tingling, vibrating every fiber and cell of the substance of our bodies, making them glide and sing.”
—John Muir

“There is not a fragment in all nature, for every relative fragment of one thing is a full harmonious unit in itself.”—John Muir

Kim Braswell
kbraswell@handbellmusicians.org


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