Ringing Bells in Unusual Venues

by Kathleen Wissinger

Kathleen “Kath” Wissinger teaches ringing classes for grades 4 through 8 at Redeemer Classical School. In 13 years of teaching, Kath has developed an acclaimed series of pedagogical pieces to teach focused, sequential skills in the classroom (Accolade and Campana Sonos in early years; Bronze Fanfare, Fortitude and Shenanigans most recently). With over 100 pieces in print, her new enterprise, “ringTrue Handbell Music,” was established to publish recent pieces in the multiple formats and mixed levels required by her school ringers over the years – the “Class ring” and “Split-Level” series. Kath also directs “Gloria Dei,” an adult handbell choir at Muhlenberg Lutheran Church, “Spectrum” youth ensemble at Massanutten Presbyterian Church, and is the founding Artistic Director of MOSAIC Handbell Ensemble, a community group. Kath is known for her clear conducting style, her easy relationship with ringers, and her creative instructional approach on technical and emotional aspects of ringing. She enjoys teaching and directing at handbell events across the country (as well as in Japan and Canada).

For 30 years, my ringers (teens, adults, and school groups) have enjoyed ringing far beyond church and concert walls, living up to the universal motto “Bell ringers are flexible!” Some of our fondest memories are of the most extreme conditions and challenging venues we faced. And we are not alone: when I posted a brief questionnaire on the Facebook site “Handbell Conductors” about unusual venues, I was delighted with innovative ideas for ringing “out there.” Perhaps one of these ideas will work for your group. There was very little overlap in responses, showing the wide range of possibilities that exists. I’ll share some of my groups’ experiences and then list offerings from the Facebook group.

Kath Wissinger

  • In the local Christmas parade on a float (we picked straw out of our chime boxes for years after)
  • At the Fluvanna maximum security women’s prison (a joint concert with their in-house bell choir directed by Bob Wheeler)
  • Salvation Army kettles (we sign up for an hour or two either in front of a big box store—drivers-by clapping for us—or in a grocery store vestibule) with stands only
  • At a Salvation Army benefit dinner
  • In shopping mall lobbies (make sure they turn off the Muzak!)
  • During lunch at an inner-city soup kitchen (one of the patrons told my teen ringers “I played in a Symphony long ago”); and on the same tour, teaching a performance class at a youth festival
  • In church members’ living rooms
  • In Memory Care units, hospital lobbies, and hospital rooms (with floor nurse’s guidance)
  • In dining rooms at retirement communities (using stands only—8 short concerts—one in each dining “pod”)
  • At Grand Caverns, VA, for Caroling at the Caverns Christmas tours (3 hours of ringing, hundreds of people visiting 3 different cavern rooms. This is NOT an echo chamber, as you might think—the walls and ceilings are very rough, so it’s like playing in a sound booth with water dripping on you.)
  • For a city Christmas tree lighting in a gazebo (so cold!!) and in the nearby bank lobby (to warm up)
  • In a Greek Orthodox church courtyard for a wedding in Cyprus (on a belltree, just me)
  • At a country cemetery
  • On my school’s playground (windy!)
  • In a many-storied atrium in an office building (echo, echo, echo!)
  • For a live noon show in a TV station
  • At a Hospice Bereavement Service
  • In the local library surrounded by book stacks
  • At a Cincinnati Reds game playing the National Anthem (during a National Seminar)—many of you were there too!

Collin Walker

  • Crammed into a Victorian faux storefront in the corner of a lobby playing as folks arrive for a party
  • Christmas tree lighting (chimes stop working at 15 degrees F)

Larry Sue

  • Holiday display—outdoors—on a 10-degree slope
  • Inside a planetarium in the dark (music was memorized—played for an hour without stopping—each piece flowed into the next)

Kendra Scott

  • Alcatraz prison for a made-for-video opera episode

Stevie Berryman

  • Art museum
  • Movie theater
  • Airplane hangar
  • Renaissance Festival
  • Chik-fil-A
  • Hospitals
  • National Colonial Farm
  • Prison

Ruben Mendoza

  • Juvenile detention center
  • Knotts Berry Farm (in the rain)
  • Ralph’s Grocery Store
  • Live TV show in Japan
  • Marched in the Rose Parade
  • Ann Wood
  • Flash mob at the local Walmart

Venita MacGorman

  • In the Will Rogers International Airport (Oklahoma City) right outside of security for two hours (passengers with delayed flights were very grateful)
  • Under the giant Woolly Mammoth at the Natural History Museum
  • In a prison
  • Outside a shopping center in L’viv, Ukraine

Chuck Perry

  • Planetarium in St. Louis Science Center (under a tent with shielded stand lights) while patrons lay on mats on the floor looking up

John Behnke

  • The historic Washington House in Two Rivers (birthplace of the Ice Cream Sundae—guess what they ate after the concert?)

Josh Fitzgerald

  • Denver Botanical Gardens (moving from station to station in 10-15 degrees)
  • Live on a radio show
  • On a hillside in Germany (during a bus break-down)
  • In Nicaragua outside an oncology unit (playing with and for the patients) and on the same trip—on the side of a river in the boonies
  • Mirabell Gardens in Salzberg, Austria

Julie Turner

  • In a mansion on the second-floor balcony for a rich lady’s Christmas party

Karen Eastburn

  • A cemetery (outside) while families came to visit and decorate graves at Christmas

Dan Moore

  • A big convention hall on the waterfront in Boston—we were set-up in a long line of tables where guests deposited their half-eaten snacks and martini glasses on our bell tables

Nikki Atwell

  • An all-Bach program on a barge floating down the Avon River in Stratford, Ontario—for the opening of the Stratford Summer Music Festival with a radio personality dressed up as Bach “conducting”—this was dubbed “All Bells, All Bach, in Black on the Barge for the Bard.”

Cindy Gronbach

  • Bells of the Cascades cruises—the most unusual concerts on board? The two we played for the crew in the crew’s mess
  • On a hill at Lake Merwin for a chapel dedication

Beth Mays

  • A solo concert favorite—during Open Mike Night at a Habitat for Humanity fundraiser in a little bar in Oregon called the Axe and the Fiddle (crammed on a tiny 6’ stage, cheered for after every piece—and treated to drinks following)

Strikepont (Bill Alexander)

  • Outside of Cathy Moklebust’s garage at the farm in Eagle Grove, Iowa

Tim McGibbon

  • Inside a prison for very appreciative inmates

Martha Stewart Matthews

  • For the dedication of the Liberty Tree at the National Constitution Center
  • New Year’s Eve at Longwood Gardens (outside)

Stephanie Wiltse

  • On a suspended walkway (20’ up) at a convention center for a private Christmas party (the walkway bounced as we played—terrifying!)
  • A tiny country church in France (dating to the 15th c.)—the French singers were not impressed at having to perform with an American HB group—but in the end we were improvising together and had a blast

Linda Duffendack:

  • Played a trio at the Peace Memorial in Hiroshima in 100 degrees plus humidity. Couldn’t touch the bronze of the bells. Amazing and emotional.

Karen Laflin Carlisle

  • In a Christmas parade
  • On the beach at the Kollina Marriot, HI at sunset

Deb LaBrun

  • US District Court Western VA District in Roanoke for a Naturalization Ceremony

Jim Rosetti

  • At a dinner benefitting the Pittsburgh Chapter of the Colon Club (a support group for those suffering from colon cancer, one of the ensemble members lost a daughter to the disease)

Thank you all for sharing your experiences!

These and many more venues await your ringing group!! Audiences beyond your usual followers will discover the beauty of ringing. Contact local venues for future engagements, plan for the elements, think outside the box, work up entertaining music—and get out there!

For 30 years, my ringers (teens, adults, and school groups) have enjoyed ringing far beyond church and concert walls, living up to the universal motto “Bell ringers are flexible!” Some of our fondest memories are of the most extreme conditions and challenging venues we faced. And we are not alone: when I posted a brief questionnaire on the Facebook site “Handbell Conductors” about unusual venues, I was delighted with innovative ideas for ringing “out there.” Perhaps one of these ideas will work for your group. There was very little overlap in responses, showing the wide range of possibilities that exists. I’ll share some of my groups’ experiences and then list offerings from the Facebook group.

Kath Wissinger

  • In the local Christmas parade on a float (we picked straw out of our chime boxes for years after)
  • At the Fluvanna maximum security women’s prison (a joint concert with their in-house bell choir directed by Bob Wheeler)
  • Salvation Army kettles (we sign up for an hour or two either in front of a big box store—drivers-by clapping for us—or in a grocery store vestibule) with stands only
  • At a Salvation Army benefit dinner
  • In shopping mall lobbies (make sure they turn off the Muzak!)
  • During lunch at an inner-city soup kitchen (one of the patrons told my teen ringers “I played in a Symphony long ago”); and on the same tour, teaching a performance class at a youth festival
  • In church members’ living rooms
  • In Memory Care units, hospital lobbies, and hospital rooms (with floor nurse’s guidance)
  • In dining rooms at retirement communities (using stands only—8 short concerts—one in each dining “pod”)
  • At Grand Caverns, VA, for Caroling at the Caverns Christmas tours (3 hours of ringing, hundreds of people visiting 3 different cavern rooms. This is NOT an echo chamber, as you might think—the walls and ceilings are very rough, so it’s like playing in a sound booth with water dripping on you.)
  • For a city Christmas tree lighting in a gazebo (so cold!!) and in the nearby bank lobby (to warm up)
  • In a Greek Orthodox church courtyard for a wedding in Cyprus (on a belltree, just me)
  • At a country cemetery
  • On my school’s playground (windy!)
  • In a many-storied atrium in an office building (echo, echo, echo!)
  • For a live noon show in a TV station
  • At a Hospice Bereavement Service
  • In the local library surrounded by book stacks
  • At a Cincinnati Reds game playing the National Anthem (during a National Seminar)—many of you were there too!

Collin Walker

  • Crammed into a Victorian faux storefront in the corner of a lobby playing as folks arrive for a party
  • Christmas tree lighting (chimes stop working at 15 degrees F)

Larry Sue

  • Holiday display—outdoors—on a 10-degree slope
  • Inside a planetarium in the dark (music was memorized—played for an hour without stopping—each piece flowed into the next)

Kendra Scott

  • Alcatraz prison for a made-for-video opera episode

Stevie Berryman

  • Art museum
  • Movie theater
  • Airplane hangar
  • Renaissance Festival
  • Chik-fil-A
  • Hospitals
  • National Colonial Farm
  • Prison

Ruben Mendoza

  • Juvenile detention center
  • Knotts Berry Farm (in the rain)
  • Ralph’s Grocery Store
  • Live TV show in Japan
  • Marched in the Rose Parade
  • Ann Wood
  • Flash mob at the local Walmart

Venita MacGorman

  • In the Will Rogers International Airport (Oklahoma City) right outside of security for two hours (passengers with delayed flights were very grateful)
  • Under the giant Woolly Mammoth at the Natural History Museum
  • In a prison
  • Outside a shopping center in L’viv, Ukraine

Chuck Perry

  • Planetarium in St. Louis Science Center (under a tent with shielded stand lights) while patrons lay on mats on the floor looking up

John Behnke

  • The historic Washington House in Two Rivers (birthplace of the Ice Cream Sundae—guess what they ate after the concert?)

Josh Fitzgerald

  • Denver Botanical Gardens (moving from station to station in 10-15 degrees)
  • Live on a radio show
  • On a hillside in Germany (during a bus break-down)
  • In Nicaragua outside an oncology unit (playing with and for the patients) and on the same trip—on the side of a river in the boonies
  • Mirabell Gardens in Salzberg, Austria

Julie Turner

  • In a mansion on the second-floor balcony for a rich lady’s Christmas party

Karen Eastburn

  • A cemetery (outside) while families came to visit and decorate graves at Christmas

Dan Moore

  • A big convention hall on the waterfront in Boston—we were set-up in a long line of tables where guests deposited their half-eaten snacks and martini glasses on our bell tables

Nikki Atwell

  • An all-Bach program on a barge floating down the Avon River in Stratford, Ontario—for the opening of the Stratford Summer Music Festival with a radio personality dressed up as Bach “conducting”—this was dubbed “All Bells, All Bach, in Black on the Barge for the Bard.”

Cindy Gronbach

  • Bells of the Cascades cruises—the most unusual concerts on board? The two we played for the crew in the crew’s mess
  • On a hill at Lake Merwin for a chapel dedication

Beth Mays

  • A solo concert favorite—during Open Mike Night at a Habitat for Humanity fundraiser in a little bar in Oregon called the Axe and the Fiddle (crammed on a tiny 6’ stage, cheered for after every piece—and treated to drinks following)

Strikepont (Bill Alexander)

  • Outside of Cathy Moklebust’s garage at the farm in Eagle Grove, Iowa

Tim McGibbon

  • Inside a prison for very appreciative inmates

Martha Stewart Matthews

  • For the dedication of the Liberty Tree at the National Constitution Center
  • New Year’s Eve at Longwood Gardens (outside)

Stephanie Wiltse

  • On a suspended walkway (20’ up) at a convention center for a private Christmas party (the walkway bounced as we played—terrifying!)
  • A tiny country church in France (dating to the 15th c.)—the French singers were not impressed at having to perform with an American HB group—but in the end we were improvising together and had a blast

Linda Duffendack:

  • Played a trio at the Peace Memorial in Hiroshima in 100 degrees plus humidity. Couldn’t touch the bronze of the bells. Amazing and emotional.

Karen Laflin Carlisle

  • In a Christmas parade
  • On the beach at the Kollina Marriot, HI at sunset

Deb LaBrun

  • US District Court Western VA District in Roanoke for a Naturalization Ceremony

Jim Rosetti

  • At a dinner benefitting the Pittsburgh Chapter of the Colon Club (a support group for those suffering from colon cancer, one of the ensemble members lost a daughter to the disease)

Thank you all for sharing your experiences!

These and many more venues await your ringing group!! Audiences beyond your usual followers will discover the beauty of ringing. Contact local venues for future engagements, plan for the elements, think outside the box, work up entertaining music—and get out there!

Kathleen “Kath” Wissinger teaches ringing classes for grades 4 through 8 at Redeemer Classical School. In 13 years of teaching, Kath has developed an acclaimed series of pedagogical pieces to teach focused, sequential skills in the classroom (Accolade and Campana Sonos in early years; Bronze Fanfare, Fortitude and Shenanigans most recently). With over 100 pieces in print, her new enterprise, “ringTrue Handbell Music,” was established to publish recent pieces in the multiple formats and mixed levels required by her school ringers over the years – the “Class ring” and “Split-Level” series. Kath also directs “Gloria Dei,” an adult handbell choir at Muhlenberg Lutheran Church, “Spectrum” youth ensemble at Massanutten Presbyterian Church, and is the founding Artistic Director of MOSAIC Handbell Ensemble, a community group. Kath is known for her clear conducting style, her easy relationship with ringers, and her creative instructional approach on technical and emotional aspects of ringing. She enjoys teaching and directing at handbell events across the country (as well as in Japan and Canada).


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