Your New Chair-Elect
The Chair-Elect position is for two years before becoming Chair. As the “Chair-in-training” the Chair-Elect will perform duties as assigned by the Board or as specified in the Area’s Governance document.
Kerry Johnston is Director of Music Ministry at First United Methodist Church in Cary, North Carolina. At First Methodist, he oversees a music ministry of 400 participants from kindergarten through adult, with a graded handbell program of over 80 participants. He served churches in Texas and Arkansas, before moving to North Carolina. Kerry holds a Bachelor of Music in organ performance from Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas, and a Master of Sacred Music jointly from Perkins School of Theology/Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Kerry has
been involved with handbells since 1974, when he borrowed a 2-octave set of Petit & Fritsen bells to spur interest in the church he was serving. That started a long association with handbells and bell ringers. Kerry served previously on the AGEHR Area VI board as Arkansas State Chair. He was the founding director of Ozark Bronze, an auditioned community ensemble in Northwest Arkansas. Kerry has conducted massed ringing at festivals and taught numerous classes at workshops. He is also a composer and arranger, with handbell pieces currently in print with Beckenhorst Press, Lorenz Publishing, and Choristers Guild. In Kerry’s own words, “It would truly be an honor to serve as Chair Elect and Chair for Handbell Musicians of America Area 3. I would enjoy the opportunity to give back to this organization that has given me so much over the past forty years. If elected, I would like to see Area 3 explore offering some smaller, regional events, and also work on ways to reach ringers and choirs that are not currently a part of our membership.”
Your New At-Large Board Members
The primary job of the Area Board is to establish policies that connect membership needs and desires with the output of the organization. The Board governs with an emphasis on outward vision rather than internal preoccupation, collective decisions, and being future-oriented and proactive.
Neesa Hart has been ringing bells for 45 years. “There is nothing else,” she admits, “that I have stuck with this long — not even relationships! So, I guess, you could say, I am a ‘long-hauler.'” As someone who has always loved the inclusivity of the instrument, Neesa’s work in Handbells reflects that. She is the programming director for the Stafford Regional Handbell Society – and bears responsibility for the organization and planning of the Society’s 6 youth ensembles and 5 adult ensembles. “It is important to me that we have a place for every ringer. From 1st grade to Senior Citizen, students with special needs and professional musicians, we offer ensembles for every person who has a desire to make music with handbells.” She is also the co-creator of The Great Christmas Ring, a collaborative event that brings handbell musicians together to perform in large public spaces — most recently, at Carnegie Hall in 2019. “I believe,” Neesa says, “that the secret to building an audience and a following for our instrument is to put it out there for people to see. Novices are always fascinated by the bells. There is a certain magic to watching a group of people perform on a single instrument. The more we give the public quality music and performances, the more the public can appreciate the beauty of what we do. For me, the beauty of handbell ringing goes so far beyond the sound of the music. It is in the visual appeal. It is in the community that exists among an ensemble and, even, the handbell community at large. I can’t imagine my life without handbells in it — and I am deeply driven to spread that joy to others.”
In her tenure as an At-Large Area 3 Board Member, Neesa has been instrumental in several new initiatives. She played a key role in organizing the 2020 virtual Director’s Seminar. She has spearheaded a policy to broaden Area 3’s pool of workshop presenters for festivals and events, she, and the Coordinator of Events, are formulating ideas for an advanced youth ringing event and an advanced ringing event for individual adults. “I love serving on the board of Area 3 for so many reasons,” she says. “I love hearing what is going on with bells across our region. I love networking with, and resourcing for, other directors. I love facilitating new choirs that are just beginning their journey and celebrating with the veterans as they reach new heights of achievement and enjoy milestones of accomplishments. As an at-large member, it is exciting to talk about the future of bells in our area and lay groundwork for a vibrant and healthy ringing culture in years to come.”
Neesa is an advocate of handbells and large public performances. She is working with the National Park Service to bring a mass ringing event to the steps of the US Capitol for New Year’s of 2022, and to Wolf Trap Farm Park for the Performing arts for its December season. She is also partnering with Walt Disney World Resorts for a Christmas 2021 opportunity, with Carnegie Hall for a return of the Great Christmas Ring, and with Global Bronze Productions to bring non-seasonal ringing opportunities to world stages.
“If I have one goal for handbells,” she says, “and I realize this a little unorthodox – it is to replace in people’s minds the quintessential ‘Dicken’s Carolers Quartet’ as the go-to Christmas musical performance. While I love bells year- round, I recognize that bringing an audience into an awareness of what bells can do, and how they can sound, and what a world-class performance looks like – begins with meeting an audience where they are comfortable. There is a reason the Hershey Company got push back on the changes to their iconic handbell ad this year. People love to hear bells at Christmas. By tapping into that – we can help them love to hear, and play, bells beyond the Christmas season.”
That is the energy, vitality and vision Neesa plans to bring to the Area 3 Board in the next term. “We are emerging from a long period of silence and meditation. As the sun comes up on our next chapter, it is time, as we say in Stafford, to ‘grab your bells and get out there.’ The world needs the sense of community and joy handbell ringing provides. We have been isolated for so long, that the vibrancy of ringing together brings a new meaning to our musicianship.” The motto of the Stafford Regional Handbell Society is, “Every Ringer Counts.” That is the same vision Neesa brings to the Area 3 Board. “I love the inclusivity of handbells,” she says, “and that is the energy I look forward to harnessing with the Area 3 Board as we strive to make plans and create an environment where every Handbell Musician in our region has the opportunity to grow and flourish.”
Tammera Missell has been an active member of Virginia Handbell Consort for 6 years and Handbell Musicians of America 7. She started ringing handbells 30 years ago and has a passion for ringing. She first started ringing handchimes in middle school at FUMC in Kerrville, Texas, and was invited to join the adult handbell choir in 9th grade. Tammera started playing piano as a young girl and picked up the clarinet in the 6th grade (only because the band director would not let her start on oboe!). She finally switched to oboe in the 7th grade and continued through her junior year of college, while also playing baritone in marching band. After a break from music while serving our country in the U.S. Navy and having a child, she joined one of the handbell choirs at FUMC Round Rock, Texas and continued to grow as a musician. Tammera is the handbell director at Trinity United Methodist Church in Smithfield, and enjoys ringing at various churches in Hampton Roads as a solo ringer. She is always looking for ways to bring the art of handbell ringing to others and expand the art of ringing. She enjoys thinking outside the box and problem solving, which is a must as a director! Tammera holds her Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice. When she’s not ringing handbells or directing, she enjoys being a Mary Kay Independent Beauty Consultant, spending time outdoors, spending time with family, and traveling!
Having grown up in north Richmond, VA, surrounded with church music, it was discovered early that I had a “talent” for directing. The story is told, according to my father, that as an 8(ish) year old, I began “conducting” my mother’s church choir from the front pew of the sanctuary while sitting alone during the morning worship service. Dad sang bass, and even though he and the rest of the choir could clearly see my antics, my mother was kept in the dark for several months, until someone in the congregation commented, “she’s so cute, sitting up there directing the choir!”
For all the years of piano lessons, school band (flute), show choir, and an apparent knack for things musical, my main interest in college was biology, ending up with a science degree from Atlantic Christian College (now Barton College) in Wilson, NC. To keep from becoming a total science nerd, I sang in the college choir and by the time I was a senior, was the Music Department’s head secretary.
I came home to New Kent County in 1975 to take over the directing duties at Mom’s church in Hanover Co. It was there that I first encountered handbells when a church member said, “I just heard the most wonderful thing at the church I was visiting last week! We have to get some handbells… here’s $800 to get it started!” Charged with learning everything I could about bells, raising funds and recruiting the first bell choir, the church purchased 3 octaves of Schulmerich bells a year later in 1989. I “retired” from church work after 25 years to finally enjoy some free Sundays.
I am the founding director of The James River Ringers, an auditioned community group based in Richmond, VA since 1998. I have taught a variety of classes at Handbell Musicians of America’s Area III Adult Festivals, Directors Seminars and Bravissimo!, and led JRR’s many Ringer Workshops for beginning and advanced ringers. I have also served as the guest conductor for the Genesis track at HMA’s Ocean City Festival in March of 2011. When AGEHR dropped Pinnacle, I was instrumental in establishing Bravissimo!, Area III’s event dedicated to community and performing groups, and twice served as program chair for that event.
In 2016 I handed over JRR’s baton to step down into “retirement” although I am still active in supporting the group. At the end of 2016 I retired from my real job of working as the office manager for a residential building contractor.
After years of having other obligations vie for my time, I now feel like at this point in my life I have the flexibility to put my talents to use for Area III. Although I have been out of the loop for the past several years, I come with over 30 years of exposure to bells, both from the learning at the beginning to becoming knowledgeable and proficient toward the end. Area III and HMA have been the main source of my bell education, and I feel it still has a vital role in supporting and growing the art.
Your New Treasurer
The Treasurer handles all the financial matters of the Area including routine banking functions, budget planning, regular status reporting, and meeting annual IRS requirements.
Leslie Lewis has been ringing handbells since 1979 when she was introduced to them at the Montreat Worship and Music Conference. Leslie has been ringing in the bass section for Distinctly Bronze East since the event began in 1999 and participated in the Distinctly Bronze European Tour in 2007 and added Distinctly Bronze West in 2019. She has rung low bass in many area and national All Star Choirs and rang low bass at Virtuoso 2017 and 2019 sharing the stage with the Raleigh Ringers for the final concert.
Leslie is currently ringing with Queen City Ringers based in Charlotte, NC (currently serving as treasurer of the group) and is serving as the Treasurer for Area 3 of the Handbell Musicians of America. She enjoys substituting for choirs in the Gastonia and Charlotte area and dabbles in solo ringing. Having added the lower 6th and 7th octave chimes to her growing set of handbell ‘toys’ she hopes to offer her services to add the lower chimes for groups that don’t have them available once ringing returns to ‘normal’ in the area.
After graduating from NC State with a degree in computer science, Leslie worked for IBM and First Union National Bank for a combined 15 years before turning a part-time role preparing income taxes into a career. Leslie is currently President of Unified Income Taxes and Accounting, Inc in Gastonia, NC where she prepares all types of tax returns and as an Enrolled Agent represents clients during IRS tax audits and appeals. In 2015, Leslie added the role of Chief Accounting Officer for a commercial aircraft maintenance, repair, and overhaul station located in Medley, FL.
Outside of bells Leslie enjoys playing golf and walking on the beach as a precursor to life after retirement.
In Leslie’s own words on why she would like to be Area 3 Treasurer – “When I assumed the role of Area 3 Treasurer in 2017 I noticed several anomalies in the accounting software and have made great strides in standardizing the accounting and cleaning up outstanding entries, but still have more I would like to see done to help future treasurers and simplify their job. Also, as someone who is passionate about ringing I want to continue working with the board to strengthen our financial position while growing our membership again.”
Thank you for helping to further the work of Area 3 by participating in this important election for your Board members.
Paul Brill, Area 3 Chair