Creating a New System for the Scroll Method of Adaptive Notation

by Lorna Noack and Linda Ellison

Lorna Noack grew up on a farm in northern Illinois and still misses four distinct seasons. After graduating from Concordia College, now known as Concordia University Nebraska, in Seward, Nebraska, with BS in elementary/special education, she moved to Texas and was introduced to handbells for the first time. Lorna curently rings in the Jubilate Deo handbell choir at Trinity Luthern Church—Klein. Lorna is a 14-year member of Houston Bronze Ensemble and currently serves as president of the HBE board.

Linda Ellison graduated from the University of Texas in Austin with a Bachelor of Music. After living in Illinois, California, and New York, she returned to Texas and taught elementary and intermediate school music and private flute lessons in the Houston area. She is a regular participant at Distinctly Bronze East and has participated in Virtuoso, an event sponsored by Raleigh Ringers in North Carolina.

“Be careful what you wish for” is a phrase most often used with a sense of warning, but for the Houston Bronze Ensemble it has become a source of great blessing and joy. In the fall of 2016, HBE began their season wi

Kevin Coleman, director of Brookwood Handbell Ensemble, directing from Adaptive Notation on PowerPoint slide.

th a renewed determination and commitment to perform at the highest level of excellence possible and to be more proactive and intentional in educational outreach. Some immediate changes in routines and expectations were made as the group started on this journey toward excellence, but there were also many questions and unknowns.

In the early stages of brainstorming and researching various ideas for educational outreach, an email request crossed the inbox of one of our ringers. The Brookwood Handbell Ensemble (The Brookwood Community is “a God-centered educational, residential, and entrepreneurial community for adults with disabilities” whose mission is “to change the way the world thinks about adults with disabilities.”) had a new director who was seeking out someone to mentor him and the group. Mentoring another group was not on HBE’s list of ideas, but since the opportunity had presented itself, we agreed to give it a try. Little did we know what a rewarding adventure this would become.

Brookwood Handbell Ensemble and Houston Bronze Ensemble.

We began our time together working closely with Brookwood’s fifteen ringers and their director, Kevin Coleman, on basic ringing techniques, ringing and damping together, dynamics, and performance etiquette. We discussed rehearsal techniques, recruitment of new ringers, and concert attire. As we got to know each ringer individually as well as the program as a whole, we quickly realized that the questions and issues they faced are the same questions and issues that every handbell ensemble encounters. Our relationship quickly moved beyond the mentor/student stage to mutual friendship with both groups excited about seeking ways to encourage and challenge each other. To celebrate this new-found friendship, The Brookwood Handbell Ensemble ringers joined us as guest artists at one of our Spring 2017 concerts. We even rang a selection together, which was a thrilling experience for ringers and audience alike.

As we began our next season of working with Brookwood, our attention shifted to their music notation format. Due to tracking and attention differences, the group’s music was handwritten on scrolls. In this music delivery system, each octave of bells is assigned a color. Each ringer knows the name and color of their note(s). On the scrolls, notes that ring together are written in the correct octave color and placed in boxes. The director conducts by pointing to the boxes at the appropriate time. When their note is in the box being pointed to, the ringers play it. Brookwood’s ringers made it look so easy! As relative newbies to the system, we, however, struggled to follow along.

Our difficulties with reading their music primarily included having no idea of note value (which was cued by the director), uncertainties of note colors due to the age of the scrolls and fading colors, and inconsistencies of size and placement of the hand-written notes within the boxes. We also discovered that creating a scroll for a piece of music was extremely labor- and time-intensive, resulting in having a very limited repertoire on hand. Being young and tech savvy, Brookwood’s new director hoped to find a way to bring the music delivery format into the 21st century.

Scroll method of Adaptive Notation

Working together with Kevin and the Brookwood ensemble members, we developed a system using PowerPoint slides displayed on a TV screen. In the slides, each box now represents a beat, each line is a complete measure, and notes are arranged by octave color in a consistent order. Arrows are used to indicate note value and melody notes are highlighted. The ringers whole-heartedly approve of these changes due to the improved readability and clarification of note values. These improvements have also increased the music vocabulary of the group. They now recognize and communicate note values (including whole, half, quarter, and eighth notes), dynamic markings for pianissimo through fortissimo, crescendos and decrescendos, and notation for marts, LVs, thumb damps, mallets and singing bell. The ability to easily create slides for drills to practice specific skills, rhythms, and techniques has improved the group’s precision and musicality. Thanks to the time-saving features of this updated format, four new pieces have been added to their repertoire over the past year. Brookwood recently performed using this new format for the first time, and we look forward to showing it off together as we will again join forces for a concert in Spring 2019.

 

Moving forward, we are in the process of transferring their “old” music to this new system. The conversion process is still labor- and time-intensive as each note and symbol have to be input manually, but mistakes can be corrected and the ringers appreciate the improved clarity. Our hope is to create a program that can take a music file and convert it into this adapted format making this music delivery system easily accessible to anyone interested and significantly broadening the repertoire choices. We are currently in the research and development phase of this process. Because we have seen the many emotional and physical benefits this adaptive system provides to the ringers who use it, we are determined to successfully complete this project and share it with the rest of the handbell community. You can follow our progress on our website (www.houstonbronze.org) or our Facebook page.

Two years ago, we had no idea what we were getting into when we agreed to act as mentors for this special group of ringers in The Brookwood Handbell Ensemble. Now, each week we look forward to attending rehearsal with them and seeing what new heights of musical excellence they can attain. In the process, they have become dear friends who deeply enrich our lives and have taught us far more than we have offered them. We are forever grateful that “we wished for” an educational outreach opportunity and now have the privilege of being involved with Brookwood’s program, their director and their ringers.

“Be careful what you wish for” is a phrase most often used with a sense of warning, but for the Houston Bronze Ensemble it has become a source of great blessing and joy. In the fall of 2016, HBE began their season wi

Kevin Coleman, director of Brookwood Handbell Ensemble, directing from Adaptive Notation on PowerPoint slide.

th a renewed determination and commitment to perform at the highest level of excellence possible and to be more proactive and intentional in educational outreach. Some immediate changes in routines and expectations were made as the group started on this journey toward excellence, but there were also many questions and unknowns.

In the early stages of brainstorming and researching various ideas for educational outreach, an email request crossed the inbox of one of our ringers. The Brookwood Handbell Ensemble (The Brookwood Community is “a God-centered educational, residential, and entrepreneurial community for adults with disabilities” whose mission is “to change the way the world thinks about adults with disabilities.”) had a new director who was seeking out someone to mentor him and the group. Mentoring another group was not on HBE’s list of ideas, but since the opportunity had presented itself, we agreed to give it a try. Little did we know what a rewarding adventure this would become.

Brookwood Handbell Ensemble and Houston Bronze Ensemble.

We began our time together working closely with Brookwood’s fifteen ringers and their director, Kevin Coleman, on basic ringing techniques, ringing and damping together, dynamics, and performance etiquette. We discussed rehearsal techniques, recruitment of new ringers, and concert attire. As we got to know each ringer individually as well as the program as a whole, we quickly realized that the questions and issues they faced are the same questions and issues that every handbell ensemble encounters. Our relationship quickly moved beyond the mentor/student stage to mutual friendship with both groups excited about seeking ways to encourage and challenge each other. To celebrate this new-found friendship, The Brookwood Handbell Ensemble ringers joined us as guest artists at one of our Spring 2017 concerts. We even rang a selection together, which was a thrilling experience for ringers and audience alike.

As we began our next season of working with Brookwood, our attention shifted to their music notation format. Due to tracking and attention differences, the group’s music was handwritten on scrolls. In this music delivery system, each octave of bells is assigned a color. Each ringer knows the name and color of their note(s). On the scrolls, notes that ring together are written in the correct octave color and placed in boxes. The director conducts by pointing to the boxes at the appropriate time. When their note is in the box being pointed to, the ringers play it. Brookwood’s ringers made it look so easy! As relative newbies to the system, we, however, struggled to follow along.

Our difficulties with reading their music primarily included having no idea of note value (which was cued by the director), uncertainties of note colors due to the age of the scrolls and fading colors, and inconsistencies of size and placement of the hand-written notes within the boxes. We also discovered that creating a scroll for a piece of music was extremely labor- and time-intensive, resulting in having a very limited repertoire on hand. Being young and tech savvy, Brookwood’s new director hoped to find a way to bring the music delivery format into the 21st century.

Scroll method of Adaptive Notation

Working together with Kevin and the Brookwood ensemble members, we developed a system using PowerPoint slides displayed on a TV screen. In the slides, each box now represents a beat, each line is a complete measure, and notes are arranged by octave color in a consistent order. Arrows are used to indicate note value and melody notes are highlighted. The ringers whole-heartedly approve of these changes due to the improved readability and clarification of note values. These improvements have also increased the music vocabulary of the group. They now recognize and communicate note values (including whole, half, quarter, and eighth notes), dynamic markings for pianissimo through fortissimo, crescendos and decrescendos, and notation for marts, LVs, thumb damps, mallets and singing bell. The ability to easily create slides for drills to practice specific skills, rhythms, and techniques has improved the group’s precision and musicality. Thanks to the time-saving features of this updated format, four new pieces have been added to their repertoire over the past year. Brookwood recently performed using this new format for the first time, and we look forward to showing it off together as we will again join forces for a concert in Spring 2019.

 

Moving forward, we are in the process of transferring their “old” music to this new system. The conversion process is still labor- and time-intensive as each note and symbol have to be input manually, but mistakes can be corrected and the ringers appreciate the improved clarity. Our hope is to create a program that can take a music file and convert it into this adapted format making this music delivery system easily accessible to anyone interested and significantly broadening the repertoire choices. We are currently in the research and development phase of this process. Because we have seen the many emotional and physical benefits this adaptive system provides to the ringers who use it, we are determined to successfully complete this project and share it with the rest of the handbell community. You can follow our progress on our website (www.houstonbronze.org) or our Facebook page.

Two years ago, we had no idea what we were getting into when we agreed to act as mentors for this special group of ringers in The Brookwood Handbell Ensemble. Now, each week we look forward to attending rehearsal with them and seeing what new heights of musical excellence they can attain. In the process, they have become dear friends who deeply enrich our lives and have taught us far more than we have offered them. We are forever grateful that “we wished for” an educational outreach opportunity and now have the privilege of being involved with Brookwood’s program, their director and their ringers.

Lorna Noack grew up on a farm in northern Illinois and still misses four distinct seasons. After graduating from Concordia College, now known as Concordia University Nebraska, in Seward, Nebraska, with BS in elementary/special education, she moved to Texas and was introduced to handbells for the first time. Lorna curently rings in the Jubilate Deo handbell choir at Trinity Luthern Church—Klein. Lorna is a 14-year member of Houston Bronze Ensemble and currently serves as president of the HBE board.

Linda Ellison graduated from the University of Texas in Austin with a Bachelor of Music. After living in Illinois, California, and New York, she returned to Texas and taught elementary and intermediate school music and private flute lessons in the Houston area. She is a regular participant at Distinctly Bronze East and has participated in Virtuoso, an event sponsored by Raleigh Ringers in North Carolina.


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