The Magnolia Ring Handbell Festival was held at First Presbyterian Church in Hattiesburg, MS June 20-22. Over 200 ringers from Handbell Musicians of America’s Area 6, (Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee) as well as ringers from Texas, Kansas and Puerto Rico, enjoyed the event.
The festival began Thursday afternoon with an opening ceremony and mass rehearsal with clinician Fred Gramann, from the American Church in Paris, France. Gramann’s wit, charm and strong musical leadership quickly captured the attention of the ringers. After a full afternoon of rehearsals, classes and shopping at the handbell vendors’ area, the ringers convened in the beautiful sanctuary of FPC to enjoy the opening concert.
The concert, designed and led by Andrew Duncan, Chair-Elect of Area 6, featured the Embellishments Handbell Choir from Birmingham, AL, directed by Phyllis Kirk, Past-Chair of Area 6 and the Deep South Ringers from Hattiesburg, MS directed by Larry Smith, Mississippi State Chair and local liaison for the festival. Deep South Ringers opened the concert with two numbers, “Prelude ‘Gathering’” arr. Ad Libitum and “Change Ring Prelude on DIVINUM MYSTERIUM” written by our festival clinician. Next, Embellishments rang the well-known Rachmaninoff “Prelude in C# Minor” which was followed by two movements from Debussy’s Suite Bergamasque, originally written as a piano solo. Andrew Duncan played the “Menuet” from the suite on piano and Embellishments rang a transcription of the well-known “Claire de lune.” The Deep South Ringers took the stage and played a setting of “Good Christian Men Rejoice” arranged by Kimberly F. Strepka. An uncharacteristic event at a handbell festival followed as Dan Lawhon, Area 6 Chair, played Sigfrid Karg-Elert’s “Marche Triomphale on ‘Now Thank We All Our God’” on the 27 stop—35 rank Dobson pipe organ. For a transition, Andrew Duncan wrote and performed a short satire bemoaning the woes of the handbell director. A quartet of ringers from the Deep South Ringers played an exciting malleted setting of “Pick a Winner” arranged by Ardis Freeman. The Embellishments ended the concert with a setting of Paul Miller’s “Moonlight Serenade” and Arnold Sherman’s “Jazz Rag”.
Friday morning began with a meaningful worship service designed by Barbara Broome, former Area 6 Secretary, and led by the Red Stick Ringers of Baton Rouge, directed by Shanna Drescher. The bells began the worship service with “Resounding Joy” by Kevin McChesney. This was followed by a Call to Worship and “To God Be the Glory,” a congregational hymn led by Tom Jones, Louisiana State Chair, with Dan Lawhon at the piano, assisted by the bells. An invocation followed with a choral response, “At the Break of Day.” The bells then played a Musical Offering, “It Is Well with My Soul,” arranged by Laurie H. Thompson. The congregational hymn that followed, “Come, Christians, Join to Sing,” was treated antiphonally between the organ and bells, as well as between the two sides of the congregation. The bells then played a setting of Franck’s “Panis Angelicus” with Shanna Drescher assisting on flute followed by a responsive reading. A service choir made up of festival participants directed by Tom Jones sang a setting of “Here I Am Lord” accompanied by the Red Stick Ringers, with Janelle Teekel signing, and Bernadette St. Amand as alto soloist. Phyllis Kirk led a brief meditation “The Parable of the Four Bells,” paralleling our effectiveness in service and discipleship to that of a well-adjusted bell. The service ended with a Choral Benediction, “Go in Peace.”
Following worship, Friday was filled with rehearsals and classes. The three days included opportunities to attend “hands on” ringing classes such as Back to the Basics, Chimes, Drills, Skills & Thrills, Unique Techniques, Bass Bell Techniques, Ensemble Ringing, Change Ringing, Bell Trees, Bells in Worship, What Do You Mean 11/8?, Four-in-Hand, Weaving, Advanced Techniques and Repertoire. Additional classes included percussion, yoga, Color Me Happy (a personality assessment class) and a Round Table discussion.
On Friday afternoon the Bayou Bells from Lake Charles, LA, were featured in a concert led by Bruce Allured. They rang a wide range of literature, including: “Flipzicato Frolic” by Donald E. Allured, “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” arr. Kevin McChesney, “My Heart Will Go On” James Horner, arr. Kevin McChesney, “On This Day Earth Shall Ring” arr. Fred Gramann and “Under the Sea” Alan Manken, arr. Kevin McChesney. After the group played the setting of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” by Kevin McChesney, the audience responded enthusiastically with a standing ovation.
Friday night featured a banquet in the ballroom of the Thad Cochran Center on the campus of the University of Southern Mississippi. A wonderful buffet meal, prepared by the USM catering service, and a concert featuring steel drum music and singing by Dr. John Wooton, Director of Percussion Studies at USM, combined to create a delightful evening, reminiscent of the Caribbean. The audience participated by playing rhythm instruments, forming a conga line, doing the limbo and singing along. Dr. Wooton is a frequent entertainer and leads worship services with his steel drums. If you would like to have more information about Dr. Wooton’s music and his availability, you may visit his website www.johnwooton.com. (Make sure you spell Wooton with “o” not “e”.)
Saturday morning continued with rehearsals and classes. The rehearsals focused on preparing for the afternoon concert. As the concert time approached guests began to arrive from as far away as Gulfport, Mississippi and Indiana. Approximately 150-175 folks, ranging from children to senior adults, attended the concert. The concert began with the 200+ ringers ringing “Toccata on ST. DENIO” arranged by Sondra Tucker, the newly elected Area 6 Chair-Elect for the next term. Two groups from the mass choir (gold and green) played alternately. The gold group played “Expression of Joy” by John Behkne and the green group followed with Fred Gramann’s transcription of the organ solo, “Carillon” by Louis Vierne, which was exceptionally effective on bells.
A highlight of the final concert was the Advanced Ringers Choir led by Area 6 Chair-Elect, Andrew Duncan, Minister of Music at First United Methodist Church of Oak Ridge, TN. The group played two challenging numbers: Debussy’s “Sunken Cathedral” (an original piano solo transcribed for bells by Kevin McChesney) and a new work “Joyous Fanfare” composed by Mr. Duncan. The choir played both of the numbers with precision, displaying musical understanding of the contrasting works.
Mr. Gramann returned to the podium alternating the gold and green groups with a setting of (gold) ”Holy, Holy, Holy” by Michael Helman, (green) ”Te Deum Laudamus” by Cathy Moklebust, (gold) “Haleluja” arr. Tyleen Stults and (green) “St. Louis Blues” by W. C. Handy, arr. by Susan T. Nelson. The concert concluded with two mass choir numbers, “Cantabile” by Emily Li, a lovely, lyrical number sensitively played and “Everlasting Light” by Mr. Gramann, a work that incorporated one of the oldest Christian hymn tunes, CONDITOR ALME SIDERUM (Creator of the Stars of Night) and the Lutheran chorale WIE SCHÖN LEUCHTET (O Morning Star How Bright and Fair).
Dan Lawhon, Area 6 chair led closing remarks and the closing bells. As folks packed bells and loaded vans, there was an extreme sense of accomplishment and joy. Over 80 evaluations of the event were received with overwhelmingly positive comments on all aspects of the event.
Many thanks go to the following:
- Area 6 Board for countless hours of preparation: Gary Bynum, Andrew Duncan, Jen Griffin, Ruth Howald, Tom Jones, Phyllis Kirk, Evy Lamb, Dan Lawhon, Kathy Mahloch, Kathy Milstead, Bill Moats and Larry Smith
- Board members family members who graciously helped with setup: Scott Montgomery, Laura Milstead and Lina Moats
- Non-board faculty: Barbara Broome, Susan Mayfield, Nancy McCracken, Jaime Ray, Michael Sneed, and John Wooton
- First Presbyterian Church, (Dr. Sean Michael Lucas, Senior Pastor) Hattiesburg, MS for the generous use of their facilities
- Rodney Gillentine, Mike Parks and David Smith for insuring the building was always ready and comfortable
- Deep South Ringers, especially Jennifer and Marilyn Morgan, for making available wonderful snacks and drinks, which were economically priced, during the event
- University of Southern Mississippi School of Music for the banquet hall
- Handbell Services, Inc., Jeffers Handbell Supply, Inc., Malmark, Inc. Bellcraftsmen, Schulmerich Handbells, and Port-a-Bell Cases for providing an excellent shopping venue for the festival
- Jeffers Handbell Supply, Inc., for putting together and loaning music packets for many of the classes
- Schulmerich Handbells for the loan of the seventh octave bells for the advanced track
- All the directors who prepared their groups so well for the festival
- All the ringers who were so cooperative and took personal time to be a part of the festival
A special word of thanks to the following area churches who were unable to attend but supported the event through loaning their bells and equipment for use in the classrooms:
- Carterville Baptist – Petal, MS
- First Baptist – Columbia, MS
- First Baptist – Ellisville, MS
- First Baptist – Picayune, MS
- First Baptist – Purvis, MS
- First United Methodist – Picayune, MS
- Main Street Baptist – Hattiesburg, MS
- Main Street United Methodist – Hattiesburg, MS
- Roseland Park Baptist – Picayune, MS