Special thanks to Karen Leonard, Debbie Rice and Joyce Terry for their invaluable contributions and recollections.

Have you ever wondered how Distinctly Bronze got started?

Victor Kostenko, the AGEHR executive director from 1989-2001, had attended a Bay View concert and wanted to develop an event that was based on the success of the Bay View Week of Handbells (check out their website at http://www.weekofhandbells.com/).  Vic assembled an originating team and began the brainstorming process.  He initially envisioned a vacation-style event with activities beyond ringing for ringers and their families.  He loved the Sea Trails Plantation Resort on the North Carolina coast, so Sea Trails became the first Distinctly Bronze venue in 1999.

What about the name “Distinctly?”

“Since ‘bronze’ is a category for mass ring events with advanced ringers it was a matter of finding the best way to be inclusive of this concept, but at the same time figuring out what would “distinguish it” from being just another bronze division event.   Yes, there were other suggestions, but when “distinctly” evolved it was like the Ah Ha moment.”

Why David Davidson?

“…A major component included the appointment of a highly-respected conductor. The easy part of this event’s evolution was asking David Davidson to be THE conductor, as Don Allured had been for many years at Bay View.”

Karen: “David was always a driving force behind the event.  He was very invested in the event.  He had a real passion to provide excellent music and to be able to push ringers to new heights.”

David directing the 2005 group

David directing the 2005 group

What has changed since 1999?

Debbie: “The big lesson learned the first event was NOT to borrow handbell sets.”  After the first event, the DB leadership decided that borrowing bells was too risky and turned to the Malmark and Schulmerich manufacturers for a short-term loan of multiple bell sets.  This arrangement is still in place with the occasional extra C#7 or specialty instrument provided by individual ringers.  Additional Handbell Industry Council (HIC) members also provide music and table covers.  This collaboration has provided a consistent baseline of equipment and material for the DB ringers.

“The second lesson learned was the need for a ringer evaluation process. We had a meeting during the event and decided it would be necessary for me to send a letter on behalf of the conductor and committee to attendees who were clearly not up to par even on a less than satisfactory handbell sets. Yes, I did receive phone calls afterwards from a few unhappy campers, but it was an important step to take towards establishing ringer standards for future events.”

Another change introduced after the first few years was the addition of a 9th choir.  After intense debate, David finally agreed to accept the additional row which allowed for more ringers and helped offset event costs.

What makes Distinctly Bronze unique?

“The combination of restricted size, competition to get in, and the evaluation process makes the Distinctly Bronze events unique.”

David recovering from a Silly String attack in 2008

David recovering from a Silly String attack in 2008

What are some significant milestones?

Scholarship Opportunity
The William H. Griffin Scholarship Fund was established in 2003 and continues to give ringers the opportunity to compete for financial assistance to attend a Distinctly Bronze event.

David Davidson Composition Contest
Established in 2008, this composition contest encourages the composition of original works for advanced handbell ensembles.  Works selected for awards from this fund will illustrate the high musical standards embodied by Maestro David Davidson.  To date, there have been 3 compositions chosen for this award.

Distinctly Bronze West
Within just a few years after the first Distinctly Bronze, David and the AGEHR national board began discussing the possibility of a West Coast Distinctly Bronze event.  After evaluating the locations and applying the early lessons learned, the first Distinctly Bronze West was held in February 2009 and would be the final Distinctly Bronze event for David Davidson.

David Davidson’s Death
David died Sep 5, 2009, just days before DB East in New Bern.  His tribute page can be found at  http://www.handbellmusicians.org/memorial/davidson/index.html.  William Griffin and David Weck split the conducting responsibilities for the 2009 DB East.  After David’s death, the conductorship of Distinctly Bronze evolved into a rotational opportunity for national and international handbell conductors to lead a Distinctly Bronze event.

Jason Wells directing the 2011 group

Jason Wells directing the 2011 group


Kevin McChesney directing the 2014 group

Kevin McChesney directing the 2014 group

Memorable Moments

Joyce: “September 11, 2001, approximately one month before the third Distinctly Bronze.  There was a flurry of discussion among the DB ringers what we could do.  We had played Arnold Sherman’s arrangement of America in 1999 and 2000 so most of us knew it fairly well.  One of the ringers suggested to David Davidson that we play it again in remembrance of 9/11.  David agreed and it was quickly obtained by the 2001 newbies.  By 2000, the Convention Center at the resort was ready so we had a more conventional configuration for the bells.  We had added Schulmerich low bass by 2001 and had a full contingent of ringers. We also had a very good local following by that time and had a large audience.  When the time came to play America, David made some very poignant remarks and turned to face us.  As we began to ring, my 6’1” mother who was on the front row, stood up and put her hand over heart.  Very soon everyone in the audience was standing in remembrance of those who died and the brave people who went in to help.  All the ringers lost it.  We were ringing and sobbing, but played it the best we ever had.  David, of course, had no idea what was going on as his back was to the audience until the cheer went up when we finished and he turned around.  I still can’t tell the story without tearing up.”

Debbie: “There was one DB where extra musicians came during a near final rehearsal. David fired them as they just didn’t cut the mustard. Many of us behind the tables were concerned that this was not going well and wondered what he/we would do.  It was a relief to witness his bold decision to send them home after a relatively short time rather than accept substandard musicians.  I wonder if others left DB knowing they should also stand strong in the future if a situation was warranted.  Yes, in theory, the brass parts would have added a lot, but not at the expense of our musical product.”

Another highlight of the DB event series is the DB European Tour in the summer of 2007.  Twenty-nine ringers presented five concerts through the UK and Paris under the direction of David Davidson.  For a delightful day-to-day blog of this trip, go here:  http://agehrdbtour.blogspot.com/.

Who knows what the future holds for DB?  With the talent and commitment from so many ringers and members, this event series will continue to be a “sell-out” event for advanced ringers.  Past, present and future participants are reaping the rewards of dedicated leaders who realized a vision and made the time investment to create and sustain Distinctly Bronze.

It’s not “Noticeably Bronze” or “Palpably Bronze”; it’s Distinctly Bronze.

Karen Leonard and Debbie Rice have both been event chairs for multiple Distinctly Bronze events; they are both past presidents of the AGEHR National Board and recipients of the HMA Honorary Life Membership Award.

Joyce Terry has the unique distinction of having attended every Distinctly Bronze event to date.