David Weck’s part-time shipping room job leads to over 40 years as a key player in the handbell world

If you recognize the voice on 89 handbell music demo recordings saying “Greetings from Agape-Hope Publishing Company,” then you know David Weck, handbell editor, conductor, past board member, first chair of HIC, and Honorary Life member. The story of his career is both an interesting one and one with lessons to tell—and it’s a career from which he will soon retire.

In 1975, David Weck took a part-time teaching position in Carol Stream, Illinois, having just earned his master’s degree in music, a decision that would launch a long and fulfilling career—but not as a teacher.

Acting on a suggestion by one of his professors, he approached Hope Publishing Company, also in Carol Stream, about additional part-time work. The only available jobs were in the shipping department. David said, “Some time later, I came back and said, ‘you know, I’ll take that half-time job.’ So I taught in the morning and worked in the shipping room in the afternoon.”

He continued teaching part-time and working in the shipping department over the next few years, during which time his role at Hope expanded to include some editorial work. He said, “They knew I was in education, so I started helping them out in their school catalog.” At that time Hope had the Somerset Press school catalog in addition to the sacred catalog, he said. As his position grew, he also began to write copy and learned about proofing music.

Eventually, he went to work at Hope full-time. He said, “A funding referendum didn’t pass, and due to budget cuts, my position at the school was eliminated—so I went to George Shorney here at Hope Publishing Company and said, ‘Any chance that I could be doing more for you?’” David says that he responded, “Well, yeah, we were hoping you were going to ask that question; we were going to ask you the same thing.” So, around 1978, Hope took David on full-time.

Hope Publishing’s First Handbell Editor

The following year, the company approached him with the idea of adding handbell music. He told them, “Well, interestingly enough, I’ve worked a little bit with bells.” In southern Illinois, he had worked as a church choir director, working with the person in charge of the bells and doing some ringing and directing of the bells himself as well. He had also just taken a job at First Church of Lombard (Lombard, Illinois) and had been thinking about getting bells started there. He said, “So it was all fortuitous it all worked out.”

Having started a five-octave choir at First Church and now working full-time at Hope as an editorial assistant, David traveled extensively in the summer of 1979 to learn about handbells. Among the events he attended that year was AGEHR’s 25th anniversary event in St. Louis, Missouri, where he met many of the most well-known leaders in handbells. He said, “I met all the biggies in bells…Donald Allured, David Davidson, Bob Ivey, Martha Lynn Thompson.” Returning to Hope he said, “You know, I think you guys ought to do this; you ought to get into starting to publish some serious handbell music.” He said they responded, “O.K., it’s all yours,” something he hadn’t expected as he didn’t feel he really knew much about bells. He added, “But I took the challenge. I knew that I had learned a lot that summer, so I took the job.” And with David as their new handbell editor, they began publishing handbell music under their Agape division in 1980.

Shortly after beginning to publish handbell music, Hope became one of the first handbell publishers to make recordings to accompany their promotional materials, such as publishers of choral music, including themselves, had been doing. Earlier, he had met Kay Cook, director of the Desert Bells, an advanced handbell ensemble at the time. Knowing she had several groups who played very well he asked her if she would be interested in doing some recordings for them.

David during an recording session with The Agape Ringers.

She responded, according to David, enthusiastically, and he began traveling to Arizona two or three times a year to do the recordings. He said, “I would conduct and there would be this big truck outside, with the big umbilical cord…and the engineers inside with their reel-to-reel tapes going. Eventually, we got into a studio there in Arizona. A few years later, composer Douglas Wagner introduced David to an ensemble closer to home, the Indianapolis Handbell Ensemble. He continued doing recordings with both the Desert Bells and the Indianapolis Handbell Ensemble for a number of years.

The Agape Ringers

David with his wife, Jane Holstein

In 1989, David met Jane Holstein at a music conference. Jane, who also shares David’s joy and enthusiasm for church music, had received her doctorate in organ from Northwestern University in 1988. David and Jane were married in 1991. Jane encouraged David to form a handbell ensemble specifically to record demos for Hope. He said, “She knew a lot about what I was doing with my bells, and I shared with her the idea that I’d even thought about doing my own recordings but I’d have to form my own group to do that…she really encouraged me to pursue that, so I did.” And in 1992, David put together a group comprising musicians from his church handbell choir and directors from nearby churches as well as other musicians he had met through Hope.

His idea, however, was not merely to do recordings for demos. He said, “Jane and I talked about this—I had been out seeing all the various groups across the country, and I thought I’d really like to do that. I’d like to have a professional group that meets every week and can perform.” And so began The Agape Ringers.

David said, “My goal with Agape was that I didn’t want to fund raise. Let’s see if we can make this work by performing.” So, they charged for their performances, received pay to do the recordings for Hope. Eventually, they did begin to fund raise through sponsorships but remain largely self-supporting.

Handbell Industry Council

During this time, David exhibited for Hope Publishing at AGEHR events and much discussion was taking place about getting the industry organized. He said, “at that point, the Guild itself was doing reading sessions at seminars, so they decided there should be another separate organization of industry people.” So the Handbell Industry Council (HIC) was formed with representatives from the publishing, manufacturing, and retail areas of the industry, with David elected as its first chair. He said, “I was very proud to be a part of that and to keep that going.”

David recognized that the HIC has been a good thing for him personally as well. He said, “through all that, because my name was out there, Greetings from Agape Hope Publishing Company became my byword—it still is—and that served me well. People recognized that and it helped the company. And it helped me too, because I was invited to conduct. I was honored to get those invitations.”

David the Conductor

David was honored with the invitations to conduct even though he was not himself a composer. He said, “I felt especially honored to conduct festivals, realizing that most of the festival conductors were composers. I felt very good about receiving the invitations.”

He added, “I very much enjoy working with other choirs, helping people learn more about handbells and become better in their performing and their conducting.”

Often when conducting at a festival, The Agape Ringers serve as faculty. He said, “what I’ve learned is that the ringer musicians of Agape know so much more about ringing than I do, and I make no pretense about that—my forte is conducting—so everybody in the group started teaching various classes, and I’m very proud that we do that.” They also help each other through the teaching process. He explained that every time they teach, there is a teacher and an assistant. And after so many times assisting in a certain area, that person becomes more familiar with the subject and can begin teaching that class. He commented, “I feel very good about the whole education process with Agape.”

David’s Outlook on Handbells

Asked about his outlook on how handbells has developed and the current state of the art, David said, “The emergence of community groups has been wonderful—it’s been wonderful for our organization, for our industry, for our instrument. At the same time, it’s sad for me to see fewer and fewer bells being used in churches. As we know, there are a lot of bells in closets.” He said there are various reasons for it, including different types of music being done in worship. He continued, “But now we are finding out that some of the contemporary music does work on bells, and I know that’s being done and people are doing it very well.”

He said there is no doubt, however that the use of handbells and the handbell industry has seen a decline. He said, “We’ve lost members, and I’m sure that has been a concern for the organization as well. Because the bells aren’t being used, there aren’t as many directors, so there are fewer members.” He continued, “So, I saw the growth and I’ve seen the decline—not because we weren’t trying—it just happened.”

David reflected on what his career at Hope and with handbells has meant and how it feels to be leaving after all these years. He said,

Don’t close doors. You don’t know what’s behind the next one—even if you say ‘why would I ever do that? Handbells?’ The guys here at Hope said, “Here, it’s yours, go with it.” I said, “Wait a minute, I barely know anything about this.” They said, “Well, you’ll learn, Weck, we know you’ll do that.” And actually, it’s been my catalog, and I feel very good about that—I’m also O.K. giving it up after all these years. I feel the same way with The Agape Ringers, it’s bittersweet. I will miss this job, and I will miss The Agape Ringers, but I’m ready to move on, and I don’t know what that means. Retirement sounds pretty good right now.

David will not, however completely retire from handbells. He says he will continue to take invitations to conduct and do workshops. He said, “I don’t intend to drop off the face of the earth, but I put my time in and I’m happy to have done it, I don’t have any regrets from it, and it’s just been good for me. I just hope that I have given enough to the organization, to handbells, to the handbell world in general. I know I’ve gotten a lot out of it.”

Listen to audio excerpts of the interview

Honoring David Weck

We asked some of David’s colleagues to share their thoughts and tributes on the eve of David’s retirement from Hope Publishing Company and The Agape Ringers

Dave is a gracious and gifted man and it is an honor to know him. He is a consummate professional, always quick with a word of support for others, and humble in receiving praise. A gifted conductor, Dave is kind and concise as he demands the best from the ringers and creatively guides the ensemble(s) to a musical final product. On the other hand, Dave and I shared a technological deficit as we entered service together on the national board that confounded the rest of the members and provided many comic relief moments during difficult days of working for AGEHR/HMA. I am delighted to say that both Dave and I have actually become slightly more adept with technology but neither of us is exactly what you would call techno-wizards! All the best to you, Dave, in your retirement, and I raise my glass to you in love and appreciation!

Beth Judd, Past President, Honorary Life Member

David Weck is one of the most notable persons regarding handbell music and finding that special piece one needs for a concert or other event. I have called or emailed him many times asking for just such a piece of music, which he always found of course. I will miss his voice on the Hope Publishing CDs.

Joyce Miller, Fellow Conductor

David is one of my favorite people on the planet. Aside from the fact that he’s a fine conductor, musician and consummate professional, David is FUN to be around, and I’ll miss seeing him across the hall at Hope Publishing Company. I will, however, continue looking forward to the annual joint celebration dinner of our April birthdays. Retiring? Ha! We who know him know that all this does is give him more time to continue wreaking havoc in the handbell world. Legacy, chapter 2 begins.

Joel Raney, Composer

I wish I had some funny story to tell about David, but I’d rather tell of his kindness to me and his faith in me as an arranger. As a friend, especially during my illness, he would call just to ask how I was doing. That meant a lot! The Hope handbell catalog and The Agape Ringers are a testament to the tremendous influence he has had on the handbell world. Thank you, David. We’ll miss you!

Martha Lynn Thompson, Composer, Honorary Life Member, Past President

When I grow up? I want to be just like David L. Weck.

K.C. Congdon, The Agape Ringers

David has been a personal friend from the very beginning. Hope Publishing was the “go to place” to review the latest in handbell music. As a published person, he edited my music with great integrity. I was pleased to share the Honorary Life award with him in 2011. Congratulations!

Linda McKechnie, Composer, Past President Honorary Life Member

Dave’s legacy in the handbell world is huge…from managing a great catalog of music to directing a premier handbell ensemble. HMA was spot on to grant him the Honorary Life Award! I was honored to serve on the National Board with him for six years where his dual perspectives of handbell musician and handbell businessman were invaluable. Additionally, when it was time for us to launch Three Rivers Ringers in 2010, he and his organization–The Agape Ringers–made our lives much easier by sharing all of the wisdom they had with us. We were spared the process of trial and error as we began. His on-going support for me has been a precious thing. Words are inadequate! And someone should mention is love of a good time…Best wishes for years and years of continuing good times!

Nancy Lutz, Fellow Conductor

Congratulations on your retirement! Your work at Hope Publishing and with the Agape Ringers has been exceptional. You have certainly had a great influence on the bell world and you will be sincerely missed by all. Chris and I wish you good health and great happiness on your next chapter of life. May you and Jane share many more adventures and years together, enjoying every moment of the ride.

With a big hug and very best wishes, We raise our glasses with you! John and Chris Behnke, Composer, Fellow Editor

He wore his director/conductor mantle well and with ease. His true legacy to The Agape Ringers and to everyone who ever rang under his baton was always about bringing the music off the page, not just ringing the notes. What a privilege it was to experience that in person for very many years.

Kim Ahlgrim-Heine, The Agape Ringers

In 1974 Dave Weck, who was working as a part-time Jr. High school music teacher, showed up at Hope Publishing Company looking for a job. He was told that the only position available was Stock Room Clerk. Dave took it. A few months later, Senior Editor John F. Wilson, approached George and Bill Shorney and said, “you know Dave in the shipping room, he’s a musician, maybe we should try to find something other than wrapping packages for him to do.” The Agape handbell catalog had just been introduced and the Shorneys asked Mr. Weck if he might like to take on the task of editing. 44 years later both Dave and Agape are still going strong!

John Shorney, President of Hope Publishing

I am grateful to have met David Weck in 1986 and have been fortunate to witness his impact on the growth of handbell literature and our art form through his work at Hope Publishing Co. His efforts within the Handbell industry have helped transform handbell repertoire, ringing articulations, notation and have taken the instrument beyond church doors. As a clinician and director, David has led brightly! Always kind and light-hearted, he has taught us to be honest to the score and to not take ourselves too seriously. Under his direction, we unite and bring the best out of each other along with the music without criticism or arrogance. Wishing David the best in retirement as I am indebted to him as a wonderful friend, colleague and mentor!

Kathy Ebling Shaw, Fellow Conductor