During the first week of December I got the privilege to tour with the fantastic Sonos Handbell Ensemble. For eight days we traveled around the Midwest, performing from Ohio to Texas and ending in Long Beach. The entire experience was exhausting, but it was also some of the most fun I have had ringing.
The first thing I had to learn was how to fly with a handbell ensemble. I have been hanging around Sonos for a few years, but I had not realized how thoroughly every piece of equipment and luggage Sonos has was designed to fly. The custom bell cases are all designed to weigh less than 50 pounds so the can be checked for free (the scale said 48 pounds when I checked my case in). A vacuum lives in one of the equipment suitcases, along with rolls of tape and garbage bags, to vacuum pack foam pads so they can shrink down into 2 small bags. All the chimes are stored two suitcases to keep the number of pieces of luggage down. Tess, the equipment manager for Sonos, has traveling with the group down to a science. If your group ever needs help traveling, she is the one to ask for advice.
Of course, the whole point of the trip was our performances. The concert halls we were invited to perform in were beautiful, from the lovely campus of Cal State Long Beach to the surprisingly gorgeous community performing arts center in Van Wert, Ohio. In fact, our largest, and arguably most fun to perform for, audience was at our first stop in the small community of Van Wert, Ohio. With only a population of 10,000, they nearly filled all 1,200 seats in their local performing arts center. To see that kind of turn out for a handbell concert was stunning.
We stuck around after the performance in Van Wert to hold a workshop for 60 or so local ringers, who in turn fed us dinner. I have taught four-in-hand classes before, but is was surreal to be teaching while wearing a Sonos polo. Living on the West coast, I’ve taken classes from many of the Sonosians before at various Area 12 events, so it was weird to finally be teaching classes as one of them.
For those who argue that handbells isn’t rocket science, consider the set up we had to use to perform in Richardson, Texas. The church we were using had a fixed communion rail in the front of the sanctuary, so to get the tables to fit we had to use a complicated mess of cases and hymnals to get everything to fit. For the record, Rick, the guy sitting in the middle of this picture trying to get this configuration to work, is actually a rocket scientist. It just goes to show that even with all the planning that goes into a Sonos trip, we still have the same problems as every other handbell ensemble.
My favorite part of the whole trip was hanging out with everyone. Most of the ringers in the group are people that I’ve looked up to since I was a young bell ringer. It was incredible just to sit around and chat about handbells and other nonsense while driving for hours through the Midwest.
Side note: where are all the mountains in the Midwest? As a born and raised Nevadan, I have always been surrounded by mountains. The lack of mountains on the drive from Ohio to Texas really started to unnerve me after a while.
Everyone in Sonos was incredibly nice and took the time to show me everything I needed to know about performing at a professional level. I think that is my favorite part about the handbell community in general, everyone who plays handbells is a pleasure to spend time with. This instrument in particular tends to attract people who are team oriented and patient. I can’t wait for my next opportunity to tour with the group.
Plus, I got a paycheck in the mail last week from the group. It wasn’t a whole lot, but getting paid to ring bells is the best feeling in the world.