by Marlene Anderson
When you are driving along the waterfront in front of our condo, if you are not paying attention to the road in front of you, I can guarantee that one of two things will happen: You will either smack your head or biff your car on the way over the bump! Key words: “not paying attention.”
Of course there will be speed bumps even if you are paying attention and planning carefully, but, there are tools you can use to minimize the impact.
Absenteeism, the #1 Challenge
I am in a church situation with three lively and healthy choirs. I do not have issues with absenteeism because when my ringers join they  know in advance that there are only 3 acceptable reasons for absences:
  1. My death
  2. Their death
  3. A temperature of 104 and the “barffs”!
I want my ringers to be at every rehearsal and I want them to want to be there!  In my imperfect world a rehearsal is cancelled if there are 3 absences. My job, then, is to teach them to succeed, to mentor them in every way imaginable, be parent, proctor and protector to children and youth entrusted to me. Feeling good and enjoying making music and new friends and being part of incredible teamswork, keeps them coming back.
Positive Reinforcement
All musicians have many choices of how to use their free time. I try to remember to thank each of my ringers for choosing to be a part of our Handbell Ministry. Everyone needs to feel validated. Be grateful for what aand who you have!
On a rare Sunday or concert when a substitute is absolutely necessary, especially at the very last minute, I stomp and bluster, but I also call in favors or ring the part myself if I must. There are life circumstances that trump your best laid plans. It is good practice to learn how to “get over yourself” and move forward.
All are Welcome
As a church musician, I have always felt that the Handbell Ministry should be open to anyone.  That works for me. If the situation involves a new teen music reader, he/she will need to spend some time either in separate coaching or as a member of the younger choir until they understand the instrument, the involvement., and the commitment. If they don’t read music, I will teach them.  Youngsters in elementary school rarely get much music instruction and that is key to your recruitment plan! Teach them to read music! Utilize the bulletin boards to promote the advantages of engaging in music for the developing brain, and for the more mature brain the advantages are many as well.  The results of the research are out there! Use those resources in your campaign to recruit new members.
Leveling the Field
My years in a mega church taught me the value of assimilating new members quickly and efficiently. Recruitment was never an issue, but keeping up with the growth certainly was. I know and understand that all of us would wish to have this problem. Do keep in mind though that the bigger the church, the bigger the problems.  My solution worked for me. I wrote a curriculum “Hooked on Handbells”® and held a new members class monthly as necessary. This booklet has yet to be published, but you are free to drop me an email for help.
Staff Relations
This can be challenging but, the better the communication, the less likely you will hit the speed bumps. Be aware of the process for worship and event planning so that everyone is aware and the appropriate parties have input. Use the common tools such as, Google docs, for posting shared information such as, worship elements. Know when meetings are scheduled for planning and do your best to be in attendance.
When there are interpersonal misunderstandings, can you talk things out? Good advice I received is “let’s declare victory and move on!” When that proves challenging, who are the go-to staff to help mediate misunderstandings and bad communication? Utilize their talents and gifts.
Concert Planning
When I think of planning for performances I frankly get the hives! My worst fear is planning a boring concert! A very good friend,  Mark Andersen taught me the true value of variety in programming. Consider composer/arranger, tempo, mood, key, setting, sacred, secular or avant-garde selections.  Plan to engage rather than entertain your audience. Ask your audience for feedback and provide them with a means to give it to you.
I love the Ministry of Handbells and if we produce beautiful music in the process then the journey has been worth the occasional speed bump, particularly if you have planned to avoid undercarriage replacement, or a smack on the head.
Marlene M. Anderson is a consummate music educator who has been in Music Education, Music Ministry and Handbells for 50+ years, inspiring children, youth and adults to share her passion for bells well rung. She has served Area 10 as State Chair, Area Chair, and has served various terms on the National Board. One of her favorite activities is giving her workshops entitled “Hooked on Handbells” for any choir that requests her services. The workshops are specifically designed to meet the needs of that particular choir. Marlene (and her husband Wes) are the Malmark Representatives for the states of Alaska, Washington, Idaho and Montana. She enjoys meeting their clients, and providing support in their handbell lives.