How have three established groups made the transition from one director to another?

I asked this month’s participants to share their experiences in transitioning leadership after the retirement of a long-time director. Thank you very much to our contributors for joining in the conversation.

Your group had a director retire after many years in leadership. Please share the group’s name and location. How long was the previous person director? Please share the outgoing and incoming directors’ names if you are comfortable.

Lynn: James River Ringers of Richmond, Virginia. The outgoing director is the group’s founder, Dottie Tweedie, who began the group in 1997. The incoming director is Lynn G. Atkins.

Kim: The Capital City Ringers, Lansing, Michigan, performed a music director search after 31 years with the founding director, Jane C. Wright. Nicole Leppala was selected from a field of well-qualified applicants.

Tammy: Strikepoint of Texas, Kingwood, Texas, and greater Houston area. Melanie Bankston founded the group in 1991 and was its musical director for 22 years. Tammy Waldrop, who rang with the group for several years, became the musical director in the fall of 2013.

What was the timing between the announcement of the retirement/resignation and the start of the next director’s tenure? Was there a lengthy search process, a promotion from within the ranks, or another process? Was there an interim director?

Lynn: JRR’s founding director retired in December 2015. An interim was selected from within the group and a search was started. The incoming director was hired in June 2016 to start in August 2016.

Kim: We had approximately 10 months from the time Jane announced her retirement until the new director would be expected to start her duties. CCR conducted a director search through an organized process and publicized the opening through various publications and social media.

Tammy: Melanie announced her retirement in fall 2012, to be effective after the spring concert in 2013. The board considered various people during the spring and a meeting of the members was held after the spring concert. At that time they elected Tammy as their new musical director.

Was the replacement process done by committee? Was a special committee formed or was it done by an existing committee? Were any outside consultants brought in?

Lynn: A search committee was formed for the purpose of hiring. Outside bell directors and other area musicians were brought in to help with the search.

Kim: A search committee was formed consisting of a cross section of board members, ringers, and members at large. Director search experience and input was sought from similar groups who had recently gone through the process of hiring a new director.

Tammy: (See answers to the first question)

How were the members involved in decisions about the new leader?

Lynn: Three active committee members and the entire group (14, including all bell ringers) had input on the decision.

Kim: An audition process was arranged with applicants conducting the group along with interviews. A scoring system was used along with observational comments to help rank the applicants in various categories. All ringers and board members were allowed to provide input.

Tammy: (See answers to the first question)

Was the original leader part of the search process?

Lynn: Yes!

Kim: Yes, the original and founding director was part of the search committee in terms of input into the process itself, but did not have input into the actual evaluations.

Tammy: Yes, in that she submitted a list of recommendations for director, but she was not involved in the voting

Did the group desire that a new director would carry on in the tradition of the group, or hope that there would be some changes in direction?

Lynn: N/A

Kim: A bit of both. We wanted the new director to be free to develop their own style and create their own “mark” on the group, while continuing some of the traditions that had defined the group, i.e., we didn’t want wholesale changes.

Tammy: Now that’s an interesting question and one I’m still trying to figure out. I’d say most of the group was open to a new direction—but some dragged their heels, because they were “comfortable” in the previous status quo of the group. For example, Melanie put them in one position for the entire year. Tammy has ringers move to different positions for various reasons. Some, of course, move more than others. The biggest hurdle has been that Melanie liked to have a finger in every pie, so the group waited for her to initiate projects. Tammy, on the other hand, wants to hand over the non-musical details to the board and members for them to run with it. She’s happy to make recommendations, but feels no need to control all the details. So much so, that this next year is a transitional year where the board takes on these responsibilities. We’ll see how it goes.

What was the closure process for the former director?

Lynn: Our founding director is still involved while the incoming director gets oriented to the position.

Kim: Much celebration and farewell during the last term of her tenure, which was dedicated entirely to her with a themed concert script celebrating her 31 year history with the group.

Tammy: It went well. We had a great last concert, where Melanie picked her favorite selections, and a party afterwards.

Was there overlap between leaders?

Lynn: Yes and No. The two terms definitely have “clean breaks,” but the founding director has indicated her desire to help train and guide the incoming director.

Kim: There was some overlap and a literal “passing of the baton” during our last local concerts. After being introduced as the new CCR director, Jane would pass the baton to Nicole, who directed the last piece on the program.

Tammy: No

Was there a process for the new director’s transition into leadership?

Lynn: No

Kim: The directors met and exchanged information and discussed the transition. I don’t honestly know the details, but I know they met.

Tammy: Not really, and perhaps because Tammy had been a part of the group. She and Melanie are good friends and Melanie is always open to talk about Strikepoint details.

Were there any membership changes due to the change in director?

Lynn: Not as of yet. The entire group will audition in January 2017.

Kim: No, we did not have any turnover in membership, and everyone was looking forward to the next chapter of CCR.

Tammy: Not sure, but I don’t think so.

Did the former director step away for a period of time, did they stay for a brief period of time, or are they still involved in the group in some way?

Lynn: The founding director is serving as a consultant to the incoming director on a temporary basis.

Kim: Due to the way the new director was introduced and the smooth transition (passing the baton), there was no need for stepping away. Jane did, and still does, drop by rehearsals just to say “hi” and stay in touch. The directors have known each other for many years and have a mutual respect for each other.

Tammy: No, However, she has been back to sub direct, and this past year, when the group celebrated their 25th season, she came back to direct a piece for the spring concert. It’s been a happy parting for her and she still comes to all our concerts and events.

What are your recommendations for groups facing leadership changes in the future? What would you do again? What would you do differently?

Lynn: We suggest planning ahead. We took our time to look through our candidates thoroughly prior to inviting them to audition.

Kim: Get input from groups that have gone through the director search/hiring process! This was invaluable for us. It’s hard to say what might have been done differently; we feel we researched things fairly well and were pretty well prepared.

Tammy: Communication between the outgoing director (if possible) and the new director. A clear communication of where the group has been and where they want to go, including the non-musical details, such as publicity, equipment management, financial details, etc. In my opinion, the musical director shouldn’t have to deal with non-musical details. Incidentally, it took two years for the board to get my contract to me. Looking back, I should have declined to begin as director until I had that clear statement of what was expected of me.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Kim: If you need to search/hire a new director, allow plenty of time, if you are able to have the luxury, to complete the process thoroughly. It takes a long time from beginning to end.

Tammy: One of the things I did, when I took on the job, was to have every ringer fill out a “DNA” test. This was a survey of ALL their talents and interests in musical and non-musical areas. This has helped us plug people into jobs they are inclined towards. For example, a social media savvy person took over the Facebook page, another good with crafts oversaw concert decorations, etc.

This Month’s Participants


Lynn G. Atkins, Jr. of Richmond, Virginia, is the new artistic director of the James River Ringers


Kim Finison of Lansing, Michigan, is equipment manager and board member of Capital City Ringers of Lansing, Michigan


Tammy Waldrop of the Kingwood, Texas, area is musical director of Strikepoint of Texas