It was around midnight after the closing ceremonies of the 17th International Handbell Symposium, and I found myself sitting on a dock overlooking the convention center that had been my home for the past 5 day lit up in rainbow colors celebrating Vancouver Pride. Luckily the weather by the ocean was perfect, not too hot and not too cold, since all the bars had closed for the night and we found ourselves stuck outside. My new friends Emily and Aidan from Britain and Imran from Canada were there, chatting about bells and life while making fun of the way we each pronounced words differently. We talked for hours, all of us wanting to make the most of this incredible moment when like minded people from different cultures could meet and share ideas. When exhaustion finally took over, we all walked as far as we could together before we had to say our good byes and go our separate ways, knowing that it would be a long time before we would be able to have a conversation like that again.
The 17th International Handbell Symposium, held July 26-30 in Vancouver, Canada, was my first experience traveling abroad for handbells. Nearly 800 ringers met from all over the globe to ring bells together and learn from the assembled faculty. My group in Reno, Tintabulations, decided that we would travel to the Symposium as a group. We spent a full year raising the money to make the trek north, playing as many concerts as we possibly could. This spring alone we played 16 concerts over a few months. Somehow the money came together, and we loaded all of our equipment and ringers into a caravan of cars for the 1,400 mile drive to Vancouver.
Because of the distances people travel to get to Symposium, the event is 5 days long. While most of that time is spent massed ringing, classes, meals, and excursions are mixed into the schedule as well. Conductors for the massed ringing represented the seven member countries of the International Handbell Committee: Great Britain, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Australasia, and the United States (at the event, Singapore was officially added as the eighth member country, so they will be represented at the next Symposium). Also, because of the diversity of langues spoken, all announcements were translated into both English and Japanese. This became a challenge during rehearsals, when it was easy to get distracted by the translation and forget what was being rehearsed. The music chosen was probably the most diverse set of music I have rang, with several pieces reflecting the styles of traditional Japanese and Canadian First People’s music.
Beyond the ringing, the best part of the conference by far was meeting people from all across the globe with similar passions and talents. Even though there were nearly 800 people there, walking up to someone and introducing yourself was easy because we all had something in common to talk about. Some of my favorite moments were:
- Being called “rubbish” from the podium by Malcolm Wilson from Great Britain. Due to his thick accent I couldn’t tell if it was an insult or compliment, but it quickly became everyone’s favorite word of the week.
- Introducing some British friends to Cards Against Humanity and realizing how many specifically American references are made in the game.
- Running across downtown Vancouver after a rehearsal to catch one of the best fireworks shows I have ever seen.
- Unabashedly fan-boying at handbell people I had seen online but never had the opportunity to meet in real life.
- Watching the Japanese translator’s confused looks as they tried to translate the obscure Midwestern metaphors Ed Rollins from America used while conducting.
- Performing with my home group, plus Bells of the Sound from Seattle on two fantastic joint pieces representing American ringers during one of the showcase concerts.
If you ever get the chance to attend an International Symposium, do it!!! The experience was well worth the cost and travel. There are more photos and videos from the Symposium on our Instagram, Twitter, and Tumblr pages, so be sure to check those out. See everyone at the 2018 Symposium in Cairns, Australia!
Update: The entire closing concert was shared on Youtube!