This post is not just a summary of my time at Pinnacle 2015; this post is about how much freaking handbell fun you can cram into four days.
Handbell Musicians of America recently hosted a four day handbell celebration called Pinnacle in Dallas, Texas. Like most National Seminars, the festival was filled with class sessions on every topic you can imagine from many of the most famous names in handbells. A quick poll of friends after the conference recalled classes they enjoyed from Bob Avant, Jason Krug, Nick Hanson, Michael Joy, Dave Harris, Jim Meredith, Greig Aschurst, and Stevie Berryman to name a few. The themes of the classes ranged from group management to business skills to performance techniques.
However, Pinnacle also offered a huge selection of performances. From soloists to full ensembles, Pinnacle had it all. Every single performance got a standing ovation. These weren’t just standing ovations because we are polite handbell people and we like to make everyone feel special; these were standing ovations because the groups brought us to our feet and we didn’t want them to stop playing. Day one kicked us off with soloist Mary Liao’s wrist-cramping-fast version of “Saber Dance” and the Houston Chamber Ringers‘ entertaining western themed opening concert. As someone who has played an opening concert at a big seminar I understand how difficult that challenge is, but Houston Chamber Ringers made it look like a walk in the park. At one point they had us on our feet dancing the “Cotton Eye’d Joe”, as seen in the video below. This performance features arranger Tammy Waldrup on banjo and group leader Stevie Berryman on fiddle.
I guess that’s one way to welcome us to Texas!
Another stand out performance was the Dickens Handchime Chior from Garden Grove, California. Combining musicianship and cuteness, this group wowed the audience with their Christmas in July music. In addition to giving us a fabulous concert, the Dickens’ kids also participated in Distinctly Teen along with the fabulous kids of Ring It!. Distinctly Teen was quite the challenge for the Dickens group having never played on bells before, but they looked like naturals after only a few days of practice. Here’s a clip from their performance featuring the youngest members of their group.
Talk about cuteness overload!
I wish I could just post all the performances that happened at Pinnacle because they were all unique and fantastic. Unfortunately only a few of the pieces were recorded (hopefully next year I can change that).
Luck for you though, my favorite piece from the week was recorded. It is a piece that we all had to wait a whole year to hear performed after it caused quite a stir at National Seminar 2014 in Atlanta. In the Silent Auction in Atlanta there was an arrangement of “Soft Kitty” from the Big Bang Theory by Saundra Tucker. Beth Judd and Jessica Westgard Larson were locked in a bidding war most of the event over this piece, with Jessica’s group at one point adding money to the bid. Eventually a compromise was worked out and Saundra sold two copies of the piece. For Beth’s performance of the piece, she teamed up with The Austin Handbell Ensemble who used part of their short concert to showcase the work. This performance features Beth Judd conducting and Colin Gilligan as Don Gatto. If you look closely you’ll see me cracking up laughing in the front row.
How can you not like that performance?! Even amid all the crazy antics, the bells are spot on the entire piece laying down a solid foundation for the actors to work with. That is how you play a silly song and still make it a fabulous performance!
I could probably write for days about how awesome Pinnacle was. For me the event was special because I finally got the chance to get many of my handbell friends from across the nation in the same place. We all play bells in very different groups, but nerding out about bells together was a blast. I apologize to anyone at the conference who may have been a bit scared by our crazy enthusiasm. Hopefully in the future you’ll start hearing from more of them on this blog.
Next year the National Seminar is moving to Rochester, NY. I’ve already made my reservations, and you should too! HMA is offering a reduced price if you sign up before September 30th, so check out their website for more details. How many of you am I going to see there?