by P.L. Grove

In thinking about the issue of diversity in the handbell community, you may have asked yourself the same questions I’ve been wondering. Are we diverse? If not, why not? And how do we become more diverse?

P.L. Grove
National Board President

But wait … perhaps there are different ideas of what diversity means. So let’s start with a definition.

Being diverse means having a variety or a range of different things. In sociological and political studies, it’s the degree of differences in identifying features among the members of a group, such as differences in racial or ethnic classifications, age, gender, religion, philosophy, physical abilities, socioeconomic background, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

But do the benefits outweigh the drawbacks of identifying as a “diverse” handbell community? Yes, we want to have a range of various individuals involved with handbells, but calling out those differences can make things uncomfortable. For example, a few years back, I was talking to a fellow African-American handbell director who told me she struggled with the notion of attending handbell conferences because the last time she did so, as the massed ringing began, the entire room turned around to look at her choir: the only African-American group in the room. Hmmm … was this because they were “different”? They had two hands, two feet, and had gloves on just like everyone else in the room. Another example is when a gay friend said he felt singled out at handbell events because he is gay. I was astonished at his comments. I asked him what had happened, and he said he just felt he was treated differently. I know I can’t possibly understand all of his feelings, but I do understand being treated differently.

Aha! When I think deeper about the definition, I begin to understand why I’m uncomfortable with the ideal of diversity in handbells. Focusing on diversity highlights people’s differences. But we’re all human—meaning we’re really all the same. And as handbell ringers, we’re all drawn to the complexity, beauty, rhythmic energy, and physicality of our instrument. That makes us all here for the same reason. I don’t know about you, but I feel that I have found “my people” when I come across a fellow handbell musician. So perhaps inclusion is a better word. Inclusion means all of us are incorporated because of our love of the instrument—not singled out for some unrelated reason. It shouldn’t matter whether people are old or young, white or black, gay or straight, or what religion they ascribe to. All people should be encouraged to play handbells … together.

Isn’t that what we’re about as an organization: uniting people in our musical art? Perhaps instead of seeking diversity, we should seek to include everyone. Yes, it’s semantics, but it looks at the issue differently. It asks the question how do we include? Each of us needs to consider what it would feel like if you were the only person “like you” in the room: with red hair, blind, skinny (or fat) lips, bad knees, with a ponytail, extremely slow, bald, overweight, thick eyebrows, wearing glasses — pick something to obsess about. How would you wish to be treated? Would you want to be singled out and made to feel different/bad, or would you want to be included as part of the group?

We need to look beyond each other’s differences — and step outside of our group sameness — to find ways to bring more people to the ringing table and help everyone feel included. Consider the additional benefits: added members, more resources, fresh new leaders, new artistic ideas! After all, we have hopefully moved beyond the questions of Malmark or Schulmerich, or white gloves or black (or gloves at all!). In the same way, everything else should simply be about making music — all of us, united together.

P.L. Grove
plgrove@handbellmusicians.org

But wait … perhaps there are different ideas of what diversity means. So let’s start with a definition.

Being diverse means having a variety or a range of different things. In sociological and political studies, it’s the degree of differences in identifying features among the members of a group, such as differences in racial or ethnic classifications, age, gender, religion, philosophy, physical abilities, socioeconomic background, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

But do the benefits outweigh the drawbacks of identifying as a “diverse” handbell community? Yes, we want to have a range of various individuals involved with handbells, but calling out those differences can make things uncomfortable. For example, a few years back, I was talking to a fellow African-American handbell director who told me she struggled with the notion of attending handbell conferences because the last time she did so, as the massed ringing began, the entire room turned around to look at her choir: the only African-American group in the room. Hmmm … was this because they were “different”? They had two hands, two feet, and had gloves on just like everyone else in the room. Another example is when a gay friend said he felt singled out at handbell events because he is gay. I was astonished at his comments. I asked him what had happened, and he said he just felt he was treated differently. I know I can’t possibly understand all of his feelings, but I do understand being treated differently.

Aha! When I think deeper about the definition, I begin to understand why I’m uncomfortable with the ideal of diversity in handbells. Focusing on diversity highlights people’s differences. But we’re all human—meaning we’re really all the same. And as handbell ringers, we’re all drawn to the complexity, beauty, rhythmic energy, and physicality of our instrument. That makes us all here for the same reason. I don’t know about you, but I feel that I have found “my people” when I come across a fellow handbell musician. So perhaps inclusion is a better word. Inclusion means all of us are incorporated because of our love of the instrument—not singled out for some unrelated reason. It shouldn’t matter whether people are old or young, white or black, gay or straight, or what religion they ascribe to. All people should be encouraged to play handbells … together.

Isn’t that what we’re about as an organization: uniting people in our musical art? Perhaps instead of seeking diversity, we should seek to include everyone. Yes, it’s semantics, but it looks at the issue differently. It asks the question how do we include? Each of us needs to consider what it would feel like if you were the only person “like you” in the room: with red hair, blind, skinny (or fat) lips, bad knees, with a ponytail, extremely slow, bald, overweight, thick eyebrows, wearing glasses — pick something to obsess about. How would you wish to be treated? Would you want to be singled out and made to feel different/bad, or would you want to be included as part of the group?

We need to look beyond each other’s differences — and step outside of our group sameness — to find ways to bring more people to the ringing table and help everyone feel included. Consider the additional benefits: added members, more resources, fresh new leaders, new artistic ideas! After all, we have hopefully moved beyond the questions of Malmark or Schulmerich, or white gloves or black (or gloves at all!). In the same way, everything else should simply be about making music — all of us, united together.

P.L. Grove
plgrove@handbellmusicians.org

P.L. Grove
National Board President