by Ed Rollins

Every July, Handbell Musicians of America holds its annual National Seminar, a week of concerts, instruction, exhibits, new ideas, celebration, and community. While Seminar has become a staple for many as they begin to think about fall programming, it is also a time when attendees gather to reconnect with their friends and build community. 

Ed Rollins
Interim Executive Director

Seminar 2021 in Glendale, Arizona, was unlike any other I have attended. This was the first HMA face-to-face event since October 2019, when we began to alter our lives to address the COVID virus. While numbers were half the size of Seminars prior to COVID, this particular event was also attended by nearly 120 people on a virtual platform. Much of our Seminar experience was just like previous years with great concerts, informative classes, and terrific new ideas. However, much of Seminar this year felt so much different.

It was abundantly clear that members and friends of HMA were glad to reconnect. Acquaintances were renewed, old friends brought laughter and tears, and a spirit of joy permeated the entire event. We were back together after facing a year of uncertainty, fear, and hopelessness. Seminar 2021 was the renewal that we needed to bring hope to dark days. It also allowed us the opportunity to talk about our COVID experiences; how it affected us personally, how we continued to ring in trying times, or how we had to stop ringing to protect each other. Seminar was a cathartic time to process this wild year of pandemic.

At seminar, two very unexpected events encapsulated this year’s Seminar experience. The first experience happened during the reception we hold annually for Legacy Society members and Sustaining Partners of HMA. The national board hosts this event and gives a short program of inspiration and thanks. As the board thanked everyone for attending—generally the point when those in attendance begin to leave the reception—a past president of our organization unexpectedly began to share with us how much this organization has affected her life. She talked about the experience of working with our founding members; she talked about the joy she finds in seeing so many younger people beginning to “come back” to Seminar; and she talked about the wonderful spirit of this year’s Seminar. When she stopped speaking, another person began to talk about their experience and the meaning that handbells have provided in their life. The sharing kept going for 25 minutes. It was a beautiful testament to the joy that handbells have brought to our lives and how the Handbell Musicians of America is such a vital part of that experience. The sharing of personal testimony was something that I had not experienced before. It was a moving time when the young and the young at heart talked about this organization in a manner that fits our mission statement: “Handbell Musicians of America is dedicated to advancing the musical art of handbell/handchime ringing through education, community, and communication.”

The second unexpected event (there were many but I’m just addressing two) happened at the close of Seminar during the final concert presented by Bells of the Cascades and Cathedral Bells conducted by Matt Compton and Alex Guebert. While the entire performance was exceptionally played, the final selection filled the room with the light of faith in our future together. Lumen Fidei, an original unpublished composition by Matt Compton, was a gentle work with repetitive chords, lush harmony, and an easy-moving flow. After playing for a while, the choirs began to move from the tables and surrounded the audience. Then, several in the audience began to rise from their seats and played with the choirs. Audience members were not only surrounded by sound; they were pulled into the piece by those audience members who were now playing. The symbolism again reminded us that we are a community of like-minded individuals who find joy in music and each other. It was powerful; it was cathartic; it was unlike anything we had ever experienced. Experiences like this may have happened in the past but our year-long journey through COVID made this more meaningful and infinitely more hopeful for our future.

This too is an organization unlike any other, and we are continuing to walk through our new normal together. COVID is undertaking a fourth major surge so we are not out of the woods, but we have been reminded that even during these days of pandemic, we will be there to make music and to celebrate each other.

My thanks to all those who worked, performed, taught, and inspired us: reminding us that we are a community of musicians dedicated to advancing this unique art.

Seminar 2021 in Glendale, Arizona, was unlike any other I have attended. This was the first HMA face-to-face event since October 2019, when we began to alter our lives to address the COVID virus. While numbers were half the size of Seminars prior to COVID, this particular event was also attended by nearly 120 people on a virtual platform. Much of our Seminar experience was just like previous years with great concerts, informative classes, and terrific new ideas. However, much of Seminar this year felt so much different.

It was abundantly clear that members and friends of HMA were glad to reconnect. Acquaintances were renewed, old friends brought laughter and tears, and a spirit of joy permeated the entire event. We were back together after facing a year of uncertainty, fear, and hopelessness. Seminar 2021 was the renewal that we needed to bring hope to dark days. It also allowed us the opportunity to talk about our COVID experiences; how it affected us personally, how we continued to ring in trying times, or how we had to stop ringing to protect each other. Seminar was a cathartic time to process this wild year of pandemic.

At seminar, two very unexpected events encapsulated this year’s Seminar experience. The first experience happened during the reception we hold annually for Legacy Society members and Sustaining Partners of HMA. The national board hosts this event and gives a short program of inspiration and thanks. As the board thanked everyone for attending—generally the point when those in attendance begin to leave the reception—a past president of our organization unexpectedly began to share with us how much this organization has affected her life. She talked about the experience of working with our founding members; she talked about the joy she finds in seeing so many younger people beginning to “come back” to Seminar; and she talked about the wonderful spirit of this year’s Seminar. When she stopped speaking, another person began to talk about their experience and the meaning that handbells have provided in their life. The sharing kept going for 25 minutes. It was a beautiful testament to the joy that handbells have brought to our lives and how the Handbell Musicians of America is such a vital part of that experience. The sharing of personal testimony was something that I had not experienced before. It was a moving time when the young and the young at heart talked about this organization in a manner that fits our mission statement: “Handbell Musicians of America is dedicated to advancing the musical art of handbell/handchime ringing through education, community, and communication.”

The second unexpected event (there were many but I’m just addressing two) happened at the close of Seminar during the final concert presented by Bells of the Cascades and Cathedral Bells conducted by Matt Compton and Alex Guebert. While the entire performance was exceptionally played, the final selection filled the room with the light of faith in our future together. Lumen Fidei, an original unpublished composition by Matt Compton, was a gentle work with repetitive chords, lush harmony, and an easy-moving flow. After playing for a while, the choirs began to move from the tables and surrounded the audience. Then, several in the audience began to rise from their seats and played with the choirs. Audience members were not only surrounded by sound; they were pulled into the piece by those audience members who were now playing. The symbolism again reminded us that we are a community of like-minded individuals who find joy in music and each other. It was powerful; it was cathartic; it was unlike anything we had ever experienced. Experiences like this may have happened in the past but our year-long journey through COVID made this more meaningful and infinitely more hopeful for our future.

This too is an organization unlike any other, and we are continuing to walk through our new normal together. COVID is undertaking a fourth major surge so we are not out of the woods, but we have been reminded that even during these days of pandemic, we will be there to make music and to celebrate each other.

My thanks to all those who worked, performed, taught, and inspired us: reminding us that we are a community of musicians dedicated to advancing this unique art.

Ed Rollins
Interim Executive Director