In 2013 my brother Bryce and I set off across the country to participate in the Raleigh Ringers’ Virtuoso event. Along the way, we stopped by the beautiful mountain town of Colorado Springs to crash a Pikes Peak Youth Ringers concert. The kids sounded great, but what really struck me by surprise was a quartet that performed during the concert. Four ringers played “Sabre Dance” at full speed while adding a mind bending amount of choreography. The performance was fascinating to watch, and afterwards I had to go meet them. They introduced themselves as the Forté Handbell Quartet.
Founded in 2007, the group initially began as an extension of the Pikes Peak Ringers. Luke Nabeta, the group’s artistic director, is the only remaining original member. When I first met him in 2013 his goal was to take the group professional, and when I checked back in with him recently for this piece his goal remains the same. The group is actively working towards that goal, and their performances continue to improve every season. In just the couple years that I have been following the group I’ve noticed a significant increase in their abilities. What’s even more incredible is the increase in ability despite replacing half of their ringers.
The second generation of Forté doing their best punk rock pose. From left to right: Amy Drown, Michelle Eads, Tracy McChesney, and Luke Nabeta.
“We did change personnel once again, but finally have a group that’s really strong and committed to making this work” Nabeta commented. Megan Reishus, the second oldest member of the group, joined in 2011. “What you see today is sixth generation Forté”, she said. “Over the years each ringer who has come and gone has had an impact.” You can see that impact in the music the group performs. “Less and less of the music we look at is written for quartets or bells at all” says Dillon Ekle, one of the newest members of the group. “We enjoy the challenge of figuring out how to make it work (well) on our instrument.” Ekle came to Forté with less than a year of handbell ringing experience. Where most groups would see a disadvantage, Forté saw potential and trained Ekle on their energetic, unique ringing style. Tory Marting has been a member less than a year, but already he’s performing complicated choreography as well as everyone else. I remember seeing Tory perform with the Pikes Peak Youth Ringers several years ago and being impressed, so I can understand why he was recruited.
When asked what makes the group special, Ekle said “There is a lot that makes the group special, but most evident to me is attitude. When Luke first asked me about joining, he made it clear that this was not a typical hobby type of ensemble.” Reishus added that “Our ‘mission’, if that’s the right word, is to redefine possible”. From the music they choose to the style in which they play, Forté continues to push the limit of quartet playing. What many people see as a physical limitation playing so many bells with so few ringers, Forté sees as a challenge.
For those who have been long time readers of the blog, you’ve seen our attempts at music videos over the years. I am a firm believer that more engaging and higher quality music videos will help bring this art form to the masses. Forté has the same philosophy it seems. Last week they released this music video for their version of “Steam Tram to Mallaig”. Not only is the music fantastic, but the sites they chose to film at are beautiful and intriguing.
“Where I think the group is going in the future: Bigger and better” commented Reishus. I’m apt to agree with her. I have a feeling that in a few years Forté will become one of the big names in bell ringing world, if the group continues to grow and improve like they have in the past couple years, which I have no reason to doubt. There are pictures on Facebook of the group shooting videos on mountain tops, so I think more fantastic videos are coming soon. “We work hard and have fun doing it, and if we keep a piece from one performance to the next, you can bet we’re working on making improvements” Reishus said about the group’s process. “That’s how we’ve grown and continue to grow – never settling for ‘good enough’ and always pushing for more, whether that’s improvement of a piece we ‘know’ or adding new pieces to our repertoire.”
Forté Handbell Quartet: Tory Marting, Dillon Ekle, Megan Reishus, Luke Nabeta