Bells After School – a new way to look at handbells for kids! 

May 23, 2023 | Children's Bells, Educational Resources, Latest News

Bells After School – a new way to look at handbells for kids!
by Neesa Hart, Programming Director of the Stafford Regional Handbell Society

My advanced youth ensemble had their concert recently, and I happened to arrive at our rehearsal/performance studio just as the After School Bells program director was moving the students from our downstairs area to our upstairs area.  I was so gratified to watch the parade of 1st – 8th graders marching by as they headed to the new rehearsal zone.  Represented in that group was such cultural, racial and demographic diversity, it was like watching a little micro video of why a program like this is so revolutionary.

First, a little background.  About 10 years ago, I was sitting at a traffic light, and I found myself surrounded by 15 passenger vans from martial arts studios.  They all had branding on the side announcing ‘After School Programming.’  I had heard, previously that our county considers that to be a core need.  We are a heavily commuter-based community.  There is a critical shortage of childcare for school-aged children before and after school.

It occurred to me that there are 16,000 elementary students in our county.  Surely, not all them want to go to Karate every day.  I went home and did a somewhat comprehensive search.  I found that only three types of after school care were offered here.  Your child could choose from one of several Martial Arts programs; our preschools – like Children of America and MiniLand – offer pickup and transport to their preschool facilities; and our YMCA offers a limited program in the schools where families who qualify, based on need, can drop their kids at school early and pick them up late.  This program is always oversold and entails a couple of college age students supervising the kids in the cafeteria, or gym, where the kids are expected to sit and do homework until they are picked up.

I felt like there MUST be space for another option.  Surely, 30 out of 16,000 students would like, and benefit, from a music-based program.  We were blessed to own 15 passenger vans that we used for a tour project, so we printed some yard signs saying “we pick up,” opened enrollment and planned on 10-12 kids coming daily to learn bells.

Well.  The best laid plans and all that.  What I did not count on was not having each child every day.  In my mind, Mrs. Edwards would need Monday through Friday care for her child, and she would send him every day.  What I learned, was that Billy needed to come on Mondays and Thursdays.  Emily came 5 days a week.  Tamika came on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and Evan’s schedule changed on a week to week basis.

So, how in the world were we going to rehearse?  Before Bells After School, we taught children’s bells the same way everyone else does – the same way I learned.  We put kids behind tables, put bells in their hands and taught them to ring.  They would perform a concert at the end of each semester – or in the church model, periodically in a worship service – and the ‘push’ was always to get the repertoire prepared.  Don’t get me wrong.  This method is tried and true, has worked for years, and has its place in our pedagogical universe.

BUT – it just was not going to work in the after-school setting. So, on the plus side, we had 15 kids coming to us and PAYING a weekly fee to learn to play bells. There is a paradigm shift! The program has now expanded to 50 kids.  On the not-so-plus side – the traditional instructional model wasn’t going to work.  Time to pivot.  What we developed was a curriculum that is graduated – similar to martial arts.  Children receive guide books when they enroll with specific skills that allow them to ‘level up’ when mastered.

This is easiest to explain if I walk you through the process.

Kemoni enters the program as a 2nd grader with no musical knowledge.  She is a RINGTONE.  We have multiple Ringtone ensembles for beginners.  The Ringtone Shakes (younger children who don’t come more than 2 -3 times per week – so they are ‘shakey.’)   The Ringtone Gyros – kids who come more than 3 times per week and are a little older – so they reasonably advance more quickly.  Ringtone Echoes – oldest students who are going to advance quickly enough to complete the Ringtone curriculum before the end of the semester.  This system requires some evaluation meetings and some flexibility, but it has the advantage of putting kids into groups where their skill levels are not so diverse that advancing ringers get bored and struggling ringers become frustrated.  Each group is assigned a set of repertoire – maybe 3-4 pieces – that is level appropriate.

So, back to Kemoni. She comes 4 days per week after school, so she is a Ringtone Gyro.  Like all Ringtones, she receives a purple martial arts style ‘belt,’ a Ringtones achievement book, and a Ringtones t-shirt when she enrolls.  On the days she attends, her instructor may do a variety of things during instruction time.  On some days, they will rehearse repertoire.  On some days, they will do a group activity and play games that emphasize musical skills (Ask us about “The Road to Belldorado”)  Other days are spent working with students to master skills in their books. There are specific skills in the achievement guides.  Each level has the following mandatory steps for advancement:

  • The Musical Roadmap – Music reading skill
  • Rhythm Mastery – Rhythm patterns
  • Handbell Notation
  • Handbell Ringing Mastery – students have to demonstrate mastery of various techniques including those in the notation section.
  • A rhythm mastery test
  • A level mastery test – this incorporates all the skills in the book and must be passed before a student earns their next level belt.

Once Kemoni passes her mastery test, she moves on to Bellistic and receives her red belt.  Her repertoire is more complex, and the advancement criteria is more difficult.

When we deployed this advancement curriculum, it helped solve the problem of varied attendance.  First, instructors/directors, were able to rehearse repertoire with whole or partial groups depending on attendance.  Whole ensemble attendance is REQUIRED for 2 days per week during the 3 weeks prior to the concert date.  It also allowed the instructor to rehearse repertoire with smaller than a whole group by using the skills students were learning to look at specific parts of the music.  In Handbell culture, we have events where we ask ringers to prepare repertoire ahead of time – on their own.  Then, everything is pulled together as an ensemble in a series of focused rehearsals.  This curriculum works the same way.

There was, however, a second, unexpected result.  We discovered that we were educating better musicians.  Previously, we had a group of kids who knew how to play 4 or 5 songs.  OF COURSE, they had learned some technique and some rhythm skills in the process of learning those songs.  BUT, when the new semester started, there was always an apparent learning-lag.  Some students seemed to barely retain what had been worked on in previous seasons, while others were advancing.

With this curriculum, students master skills before they move to a new level.  It is admittedly a little tricky when it comes concert time because I may only have 4 students who are OVERTONES – the third level book.  So, what repertoire are these Blue Belt ringers going to perform?  There are different options for this.  Typically, we just recruit advanced students to fill in the gaps, but, certainly, we could find 8 bell music and make sure we are incorporating the techniques required at this level of ringing.  Quartet music is also an option, though it may require additional bells and not everyone has them.

The ’less than a whole ensemble’ challenge can be a lot to overcome, but we have been successful recruiting either adult ringers who will perform in the concert, or, we use advanced student ringers. We REQUIRE that every ringer who moves beyond the RINGTONES level be available to perform, on demand, with lower groups as Master Ringers.

So, Kemoni is fairly advanced and motivated. She zips through the Ringtones curriculum and earns her red Bellistic belt by mid semester.  She earns the right to wear the Bellistic attire at the concert, but she remains with her assigned Ringtones ensemble for the balance of the term. She is recognized as a “Master Ringer” at the concert.  When the next semester begins, she moves into Bellistic and begins working on their repertoire.

We color-brand each ensemble, which helps with both recognition and teamwork. As students move through the curriculum, and complete the required skills in each area, they earn virtual ‘badges.’  We recognize this with a running slide show in the lobby that recognizes each student individually and emphasizes their achievement.  They earn belts by completing mastery tests for each level.  We recognize these achievements at the semester-end concert.

This process helps Kemoni remain motivated in several ways. She is in control of her own achievement level.  She can advance as quickly, or as slowly as she needs or wants to.  Her success is measurable and recognizable. Her parent(s) can clearly see the fruits of what she is learning – daily when they pick her up and see the slide show, and at the concert when we recognize students who have advanced.  Kemoni is becoming a strong musician and is developing a love for ringing handbells.

Win.  Win.

While we had the advantage of being able to transport kids to our space, this model would certainly work in an individual school.  Many school districts offer after school programming and an After School Bell program would fit nicely into the existing structure in locations that have space available.

Certainly, you could modify the program.  Certainly, you could use chimes instead of bells.  Certainly, you could scale up or down to meet your own needs.

I really want to encourage, you, though, to think about how an after school or before school program could grow your children and youth ringing program and, even better, expand the reach of handbell ringing into your community.

This is a great opportunity to put an unused set of bells to use.  There is a story about Oliver Cromwell during England’s reformation period.  The government was running out of money.  Taxes were already too high.  His advisors came to him and said, “there isn’t anymore gold to be had.  The only gold left in the Commonwealth is the statues of the saints in the churches.”  To which Cromwell responded, “the let’s melt down the saints and put them into circulation.”  Unused bells are accomplishing nothing.  They are dishonoring the people who sacrificially gave funds to purchase those bells. They are falling into disrepair.  And no one is learning to love ringing by looking at four cases on the floor of a church closet.

It is time for creative solutions. Can you borrow a set of bells from a church that isn’t suing them?  Can you get grant funding to purchase a set of chimes?  Area 3 offers loaner chime sets for programs just like this. Can you do a community fundraiser?  Can you get corporate sponsorships?  Is there any funding available at the school level.  Does a school in your district already have a set of bells that could be used.

Can you fit a program like this into an existing after school environment?  Does your church have a licensed preschool – then, PRO TIP – parents of elementary aged children can receive child-care reimbursement from the state to send them to your program.

As I watched that group of 50 kids walk by me, and listened to them interacting with each other, building team-based relationships, integrating with each other through a shared joy of ringing, I saw a bright future for our instrument.  Many of these kids would never reasonably have access to music education – a $6000 flute would be out of the question for most of these families – but in bells, everyone succeeds together.  There is no distinction between students based on their family’s ability to afford private lessons and expensive instruments.

If you have a love of ringing, and you have a love of kids, I would strongly encourage you to consider some type of after school program.  If you need help, PLEASE feel free to reach out to me for resources, ideas, and suggestions on specific problem solving.

As we say here in Stafford – “Grab your Bells and Get out There!”

Kerry Johnston, Chair-Elect (2025)

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, and on the HMA Area 3 board as North Carolina 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.

Karen Strausser, Treasurer (2025)

Karen Strausser began ringing bells in 1982 when her church started a handbell group for youth and was hooked instantly.  She remembers the first time they played in church, the run started in the bass and ended there as well – learned, don’t listen to your neighbors but watch the director!  Karen tried all the bells from bass to treble and liked the challenge of ringing more than one bell at a time.  She then branched out into solo and ensemble ringing and still does that as often as she can.  Karen is the crazy ringer that only missed one rehearsal after the birth of her twins (her third daughter was born in the summer).  Karen has rung with Charlotte Bronze Handbell Ensemble and subbed in various groups across NC.  She currently directs at two churches in Winston Salem, NC, and also a handbell rotation in a summer music camp.  The rest of Karen’s time has been spent working in office management in the private sector and finance for a non-profit as well as state and local government agencies.  Karen is married to Dave (who prefers being a roadie to ringing) and they have three adult daughters (all bell ringers) and one son-in-law.

Tammera Missel, Events Coordinator

Tammera has been an active member of Virginia Handbell Consort since January 2015 and Handbell Musicians of America since June 2014. She started ringing handbells/handchimes in 1991 at FUMC Kerrville, Texas. 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 UMC 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 expanding the art of ringing. She enjoys thinking outside the box and problem solving and has a passion for the art of handbells! 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!

Laura Swafford, Board Member (2023)

Bio coming soon!

Dottie Tweedie, Board Member (2025)

Bio coming soon!

Debra LeBrun, Webmaster

Debra LeBrun received her B. Mus. from Syracuse University and her M.M. in Organ Performance from the University of Illinois at  Urbana/Champaign. In October 2010 she became the full-time Director of Music for Raleigh Court United Methodist Church in Roanoke, VA after serving for 24 years as the Minister of Music for the Congregational Church of Littleton, MA. She has been a professional musician for over 30 years, working as a church music director and organist, conductor, accompanist, director for musical theater and opera productions, teacher of piano and organ, and as a handbell clinician. Debra’s love affair with handbells began in college and handbells have played an important role in her life ever since. She is a past member of the New England Ringers and now performs regularly as a handbell soloist. Debra has served on the Handbell Musicians of America Area I Board as Secretary and Chair and the Area 3 Board as State Chair, Member-at-large, and Webmaster, as well as being involved in organizing and teaching at many handbell events throughout New England and in Virginia. She has attended six International Handbell Symposiums and was selected to be in the All-Star Choir representing the United States at the 2012 International Symposium in Liverpool, England.

Neesa Hart, Board Member (2025)

Neesa Hart began playing handbells in 4th grade at First Baptist Church in Richmond, VA. After six years of highly unsuccessful piano lessons, she persuaded her mother to let her make the switch. Thus began a life-long love of handbell musicianship and the relationships, experiences, and musical camaraderie that comes with ringing. She is the program manager for the Stafford Regional Handbell Society — a community ringing organization in the Fredericksburg, VA area. She is responsible for concert planning for the Society’s 9 ringing ensembles, inventory and maintenance of the equipment, and administration of the Society’s Bells After School program — a music instruction program for elementary – high school age students using handbell ringing to teach advanced musical concepts. Founded in 2005, the Society’s youth ringing program enjoys a national reputation for musical excellence and innovation. She is also the organizer for the National Honors Handbell Ensemble, a national youth ringing event the Society sponsors. She is the co-creator of The Great Christmas ring, a mass ringing event for handbells held world wide annually. She has also served AREA 3 in various volunteer capacities as equipment chair and workshop chair for several events. Neesa hopes to bring her commitment for innovations in youth ringing and growth for Handbell Musicians of America to the Area 3 Board. Handbell musicians need innovative solutions to sustaining and growing handbell ringing programs. Thinking beyond the walls of the church, new approaches to community ringing, and a commitment to viable and sustainable youth ringing programs is essential to the future of Handbell musicianship. She would like to serve the members of Area 3 by equipping existing handbell programs to grow and thrive, and by identifying underserved populations and establishing handbell ringing programs at the local level.

Kevin Chamberlain, DelMarVa Chair

Kevin B. Chamberlain serves as Minister of Music and Organist Avenue United Methodist Church, Milford, DE. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Music from Asbury University in Wilmore, Kentucky, and a Master of Music in Church Music with an emphasis in Organ Performance from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. Beginning December 1, 2019, Kevin will be starting a doctoral degree in Worship from the Institute for Worship Studies in Jacksonville, Florida. Kevin works part-time at POLYTECH High School in Woodside, DE where he teaches all of the choral classes and several music technology classes throughout the year. He serves as the Assistant Director/Accompanist for the Mispillion Children’s Chorus; a non-profit organization providing educational and inspirational music to children ages 6-12yrs old. Kevin serves as the co-Director of the Lay Servant Academy for the Dover District Board of Laity in the Peninsula-Delaware Conference of the United Methodist Church. He is on the faculty of the Music School of Delaware where he teaches private and group piano lessons. He also maintains a small private piano and organ studio with several high school students. Kevin is involved with various professional music organizations where he serves in various capacities. He has long been an active member of the Fellowship of United Methodists in Music and Worship Arts, the American Choral Directors’ Association, as well as the Hymn Society in the U.S. and Canada.

Beau Lochte, Maryland Chair

Musician, teacher, composer, and conductor with a degree in Music composition from Towson University, Beau Lochte currently directs three handbell programs and teaches over 20 piano students. He arranges original, popular and symphonic music for handbells including Rimsky Korsakov’s Scheherazade and Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor. He also performs regularly as a solo ringer and in chamber ensembles. In 2013 Mr. Lochte founded Charm City Bronze Handbell Ensemble (CCB) in Baltimore, MD. This exciting group ranges in age from youth to adult and performed alongside Arsis Youth Handbell Ensemble from Estonia in 2014. CCB has twice participated in the annual Festival of Trees to benefit the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Maryland and has also live-streamed concerts from unique venues in Baltimore such as the historic Bromo Seltzer Tower, the Pagoda in Patterson Park and the Palm House at the HP Rawlings Conservatory.

Blaine Russel, North Carolina State Chair

Blaine Russell, North Carolina State Chair of Area 3, has served as the Director of Music at Fletcher United Methodist Church in Fletcher, NC since 2013, where he directs the Memorial Handbell Choir and Chancel Choir.  He also serves as the Director of the Blue Ridge Ringers, an advanced community ensemble based in Hendersonville, NC.

Reggie Fox, Virginia Chair

Mr. Fox began his musical career at the age of 10 and culminated his 35th year as Director of Music for First Baptist Church Morrison in Newport News, VA. He is currently the Director of Music for First Baptist Church in Williamsburg, VA. He is a talented musician, conductor, composer, choreographer, and singer. Mr. Fox has produced a number of dramas and musicals, namely The Christian Nutcracker and the musical theater, Death of a Church. He is the former Director of Choral Music and Drama at Bruton High School where he touched the lives of many young people and inspired them with an appreciation for the arts. He has served as guest clinician, accompanist, and performer for numerous church, civic, community events throughout the United States, and performed in Germany & France. Mr. Fox has appeared as guest conductor with Chorus for the Williamsburg Symphonic Orchestra and appeared as soloist with the York River Symphony Orchestra, along with conducting the Chorus.

Mr. Fox holds a B.A. Degree in Fine & performing Arts, a Master of Science Degree in Education with an endorsement in Administration & Supervision, and has completed doctoral work at Old Dominion University. He has served as adjunct professor at Christopher Newport University and Old Dominion University. Mr. Fox retired from the York County School Division with 35 years of service.  He currently serves as the Virtual Learning Specialist for the Virginia Department of Education. He provides leadership and training for the Virtual Learning Program. Mr. Fox is an active member of the YJCW Chapter of the NAACP.  Mr. Fox is married to Antonia, and they have two boys, Joshua & Aaron.

Trinity Martin, North Carolina Chair

Trinity Martin, residing in the greater Charlotte area, has been playing and directing handbells for nearly 25 years. She currently is the Master Theory Instructor for the National Handbell Musicians of America which includes both writing the curriculum and teaching the theory classes 1, 2 and 3 starting the summer of 2021 in Phoenix, AZ. Trinity holds a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Theory from Belmont University in Nashville, TN, and a Master of Music degree in Music Theory from the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. Trinity received a full assistantship working as a graduate instructor teaching theory and aural skills and served as the University’s theory tutor. Upon receiving her Master of Music degree in Theory, the University of North Carolina-Greensboro hired her as an adjunct theory professor teaching advanced undergraduate theory and aural skills. She went on to pursue the Doctor of Musical Arts in Choral Conducting at the University of North Carolina in Greensboro, NC finishing her course work but is still contemplating her dissertation. Trinity Martin is the Director of Music at St. Francis United Methodist Church in Charlotte, NC where she works with an enthusiastic adult choir, adult, youth and children’s handbells and a very active children’s choir. Trinity has over 20 years of experience in music ministry previously serving as the Director of Handbells, Youth and Children’s Music at Myers Park United Methodist Church (Charlotte, NC) where she worked with 7 handbell ensembles, 3 children’s choirs and a youth choir. She served at Elon Community Church (Elon, NC) as Director of Children and Youth Music and Handbells, overseeing and directing eight ensembles from pre-k to adults. While at Elon she planned and directed a Music Camp for children and youth ages 2-18 that attracted close to 100 kids every summer. She served as Director of Music at Sedge Garden United Methodist in Kernersville, NC and at Summerfield United Methodist in Summerfield, NC and was a college music intern at Belmont United Methodist in Nashville, TN. Trinity joined the 2018-2019 season of Charlotte Bronze, an elite handbell ensemble performing all over the southeast, and served as the ensemble’s assistant conductor. Trinity is married to Steve Martin, an attorney and a very talented musician in his own right. They have three daughters together, Gwen and Evvy (twins), and their youngest, Harper. In Trinity’s spare time she loves to cook and bake and has become quite the accomplished bread maker.

Jerry Hill, Metro D.C. Chair

Jerry Hill is the handbell director at First Baptist Church Alexandria, Virginia where he oversees the handbell ministry and directs the Adoration Ringers and children handbell choirs.  He is also the music director at Christ Episcopal School in Rockville, Maryland where he directs four hand chimes choirs.  Jerry earned his master’s degree from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.  He has taught in both private and public schools for over 25 years as well as served on several church staffs.  In 2009 Jerry represented the National Association for Music Education on a cultural exchange program to China.  His choirs have performed on national television, regional conferences and recently performed at the National Cathedral. He is a former Area 3 District Chair for Northern Virginia.

Marcia Payne Wooten, Secretary

Marcia Payne Wooten is a retired Foreign Language Educator (Spanish, French, ESL, FL Pedagogy) and “Abuela” to the twin tornados (4 years old and in high gear). She is also the Director of Music and organist at Union Grove United Methodist Church in Union Grove, NC. She has been involved with handbells as a ringer, director, soloist, roadie, etc since 1998 when Bob Ivey came to introduce handbells to her church.  She has attended several National Seminars (Des Moines was the first), Area III and XII conferences, and Distinctly Bronze East in 2017. Marcia rang with Bells of Lake Norman for a year and a half until Covid shut down everything and plans to continue to ring when they start back up. Handbells have contributed so much in her life, and she is ready to serve Area 3 as needed.

Sue Atkins, Membership Chair

Bio coming soon!

Kath Wissinger, CHIME Loan Coordinator

Director, clinician, teacher, composer, ringer – Kath Wissinger loves all aspects of handbell ringing. This is her third term on the Area 3 Board – the first 2 as Secretary. She directs the teen ensemble “Spectrum” at Massanutten Presbyterian Church in Penn Laird, Va., and teaches 2 music classes (using bells and chimes) for 4th-8th grades as well as K-3 music at Redeemer Classical School in Harrisonburg, Va. She has taught and directed at local, regional, area and national events – for all Levels and ages. Kath has over 50 pieces in print – including a wide variety of ensembles and full choir pieces, some for double choirs, some with instruments, and a few original hymns accompanied by bells. She enjoys writing commissions for special occasions and pedagogical pieces that teach specific skills while still being musical. A former National Park Service Ranger, commissioned handweaver and Elder Hostel teacher, Kath currently teaches piano in her home studio in the Shenandoah Valley. Her website is:

Bio Coming Soon

Lynn Bogovich, Composition Contest Chair

Bio coming soon!

Sarah Sheffield, Events Coordinator

Sarah’s start into handbells began like so many folks out there. In 1994 her church purchased a set of handbells. Since she could read music, she was on the short list of recruits. Thankfully she jumped at the chance as she has been playing bells ever since. Sarah currently rings with Queen City Ringers (since 2002 and is currently President) and with The Raleigh Ringers (2017 was her first year!). Even though she works for an Insurance Agency to pay for her handbell addiction, Sarah received a Music Education degree from Wingate University where her principal instrument was French Horn and secondary instrument was flute. She lives near Charlotte with her husband, Milton, who is a fellow ringer. Handbell highlights include: 3 performances at Disney World directing the Weddington UMC Youth Handbell Ensemble; participation in Distinctly Bronze East since 2002 and Distinctly Bronze West since 2014-2017; performing the National Anthem for the Washington Nationals and Texas Rangers; and performing onstage with the Raleigh Ringers as part of Virtuoso 2013 and 2015.

Karen Eggert, Historian

Retired from her 25+ year career as a librarian for the International Monetary Fund, Karen serves as the Area 3 historian/archivist helping to organize, preserve and make accessible the Area 3 historical materials for future handbell ringers. She also has a 20+ year stint ringing handbells with various choirs and currently rings with the Anacrusis Handbell Ensemble and duets with Chesapeake Bronze. These efforts have culminated in participating in numerous Distinctly Bronze events, Area 3 festival choirs and International Handbell Festivals.

Ken Bissell, Mentor Coordinator

Bio coming soon!

Laura Blauch, Scholarship Chair

Laura Blauch started playing handbells in 1978, in her hometown of Emmaus, PA. Laura continued to ring after moving to Maryland, and in 2002, she was asked to form and direct a new handbell choir, as her church had received a memorial gift to purchase a new set of handbells. Laura began attending workshops and festivals, and quickly discovered that she loves directing as much as ringing! Laura moved to NC in 2006, and currently directs the Chancel Bells and sings in various choirs at Davidson United Methodist Church in Davidson, NC. Laura has a B.A. in Sacred Music (voice) from Lebanon Valley College and a Masters of General Administration from University of Maryland University College. She is a Senior Financial Analyst with HP. Laura is married to Dave, a Professor of Chemistry at Davidson College and bass ringer in Laura’s bell choir, has 2 wonderful children, Tim and Katie, 4 cats, and in her spare time, loves to play tennis.

Theresa Carpenter, Registrar

Bio coming soon!

Gregg Bogovich, Layout Coordinator

Gregg designs all of the floor plans for Area 3 festivals. He has been listening to handbells since 1996, and has been the unofficial roadie and videographer for his sister Lynn’s various handbell groups, including Anacrusis and the Community United Methodist Church in Crofton, MD.

Kyler Brengle

Kyler Brengle, Music Director at Westminster United Methodist Church (WUMC), is a graduate of the University of Maryland, College Park, where he earned both a BS and MS in Music Education. His responsibilities at WUMC include directing all vocal choirs, children through adult, and the church’s 5-octave adult handbell choir. Kyler was a member of the Westminster Ringers, an auditioned community handbell ensemble, from 2006-2016, serving on their Board of Directors and as Assistant Music Director. He was the guest conductor for the Holston River Handbell Festival in Kingsport, TN in October 2017, and served as Area 3 Chair from 2015-2017.

Teri Gregory, Member-At-Large (2027)

Teri Gregory has been ringing since the Fall of 1992 when her church acquired their first set of handbells and a call went out for ringers.  She had no idea what a handbell was but she missed the opportunity to play her flute and piccolo and was looking for other musical outlets.  Handbells quickly became a passion.  In 2009, Teri attended her first Distinctly Bronze East.  The high level bronze ringing and handbell community found at the event was transformative and she has attended nearly every Distinctly Bronze East since then.  Teri has also participated in several Distinctly Bronze West events, Virtuoso 2019, International Symposium 2022, and many Area 3 and Area 1 festivals.  Teri currently rings with Capital Carillon, as well as continuing to ring with her church choir, Jubilate Bronze, as one of only 2 founding members of the choir still active in the group.  Over the years, Teri has also expanded her handbell experience to include solo, duet and quartet music and she has recently developed a passion for bell trees.  To support her handbell habit, Teri is the lead thermal systems engineer for NASA’s Exploration and In-Space Services Division at the Goddard Space Flight Center and she keeps busy with her wonderful husband and two children.

Patricia Lane, Member-At-Large (2027)

Patricia Lane  Music has been a hugely important part of her life since she started playing trombone in 1967.  While she still plays trombone in  her church orchestra today, handbells are her passion now.  Patricia first saw handbells in 1980 at a post chapel on Fort Ord in California, but with one bell per person (she thinks she got an accidental that didn’t play at all in that first rehearsal), she didn't see the appeal (pun intended) and didn't go back.  Fast forward to 2004; Pat was invited to ring when her church started a second bell choir and she was hooked!!  She was fortunate enough to start out ringing next to someone with good technique and teaching skills.  Looking for more ringing opportunities, Patricia put her name on the Area 3 substitute list.  This turned out to be an excellent strategy, as she now rings with two of the groups that called her to substitute from that list.  Contacts in those groups got Patricia involved in three additional ensembles, Distinctly Bronze, and other Handbell Musicians of America events.  Patricia currently rings with two community groups, two church choirs, a small ensemble, Area 1's bronze orphans, and at Distinctly Bronze.  That makes de-conflicting Christmas concerts a real challenge, but her normal week is filled with bell rehearsals and she’s happy.  She gets to play on White Chapel, Malmark, and Schulmerich bells in various positions, so she is always being challenged.  Ringing bells has broadened Patricia’s musical experience and knowledge in so many ways that it is hard to imagine life without them.  Patricia’s life is richer for being part of the bell-ringing world, an experience she wants to share with as many people as she can talk into joining her there!

Alan Payne, Member-At-Large (2027)

Alan Payne started his handbell journey about 18 years ago when his kids were playing handbells at Fairfax United Methodist Church.  Church policy required a 2nd adult present for all youth-related activities and Alan became bell-dad.  Since he had played instruments before, the director often asked him to fill in when a ringer was absent and that was all he needed to get hooked.  Alan soon began ringing with the adult choir at the church and slinging the low bass bells.  After his 3rd child left for college, Alan auditioned for a community group in Northern Virginia.  He rang with them for 4 seasons and also served as Vice President and President.  In September of 2020 Alan formed Music To Free, a 501(c)(3) organization with a mission to teach handbells at low/fixed income senior living centers.  These programs are provided at no cost to the residents or the facilities.  In 2022, to help fund these programs, Alan formed Bronze Unlimited, a new community ensemble for advanced ringers.  In addition to doing public concerts, Bronze Unlimited does private events and community outreach events.  Bronze Unlimited’s May concerts, Hope & Remembrance – a concert for those affected by cancer, will help raise money for Music To Free as well as local cancer support groups.

Brian Childers

Brian Childers is an accomplished composer whose works are performed throughout the world. He is in demand as a clinician and conductor. His easy-going style and teaching expertise quickly connects with ringers of all ages who respond with enthusiasm and energy. He currently serves as Director of Children and Youth Music at Myers Park United Methodist in Charlotte, NC where he conducts 7 handbell choirs. Brian is an avid runner and a rabid fan of the San Antonio Spurs. You can learn more about Brian and his compositions at

Pepper Choplin

Pepper Choplin is a full-time composer, conductor and humorist. With a Bachelor of Music degree from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, he went on to earn a Master of Music degree in composition from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. His published works includes over 300 anthems for church and school choir with 20 church cantatas and two books of piano arrangements. Since 2013, he has conducted several cantatas with choir and full orchestra at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center in New York City; and at Meymandi Hall in Raleigh, NC. He also visits many schools, churches, and conferences to conduct and to entertain.

Nick Hanson

Nick Hanson received a BA degree from Concordia University, Irvine, CA, as a major in music with concentration in handbells. He is in his twelfth year as the director of handbell ensembles at the Potomac School in McLean, Virginia, teaching instrumental music to 5th – 12th grade students in four handbell ensembles. He is also in his tenth year as the handbell director at Bush Hill Presbyterian Church in Alexandria, Virginia. Nick has served as faculty, clinician, and conductor at handbell events in 13 states, Washington DC, and internationally in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan. In 2015, Nick was chosen as the first-ever Associate Conductor for Distinctly Bronze, under the mentorship of renowned conductor, Dr. William A. Payn, and, he also conducted the Distinctly Teen ensemble at the Handbell Musicians of America National Seminar in Dallas, Texas. This summer, he will be the co-conductor for the 2018 All-Star Handbell Ensemble at the National Seminar in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He has written articles for the national handbell magazine “Overtones”, and has arranged and composed over 40 pieces of handbell music.

Linda R. Lamb

Linda Lamb has been involved with handbells since 1992, as director, ringer, and composer. She received a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology from Carson-Newman College (now University) with a minor in music, and a Master of Church Music with handbell emphasis from Concordia University Wisconsin. She is the founder and list owner of the Frustrated Friends of Finale (FFF), a mailing list for users of the computer music program who mostly compose and arrange for handbells. She has numerous handbell publications to her credit. She is married with two grown children and two grandchildren.

Ann Cameron Pearce

Ann Cameron Pearce has directed handbells at Highland UMC in Raleigh, NC since 1987, developing one of the most accomplished church choirs (comprised of adults spanning five decades) in the Triangle. A Raleigh native, she earned her Bachelor of Arts from UNC-CH and a Master’s from Duke Divinity School. She is a founding member (1986) of the Raleigh Flute Choir, in which she specializes in contrabass flute. She is a freelance performer and served twenty years as flute instructor at Saint Mary’s School. In 2011, she and one of her sons established an online sheet music publishing company, ScoreVivo.

Al Reese

Al Reese has been the Musical Director of Virginia Handbell Consort since January 2008, has taught classes for ringers and directors at Handbell Musicians of America Area 2 and 3 events and has served as Massed Conductor for such events as La Plata, MD, Hampton (Genesis), Ringing at the Springs, Virginia Baptist Handbell Festival, and Area 3 Roanoke Festival. He was selected as the Associate Conductor for Distinctly Bronze East, 2015.

Al is a published composer and holds a Master of Church Music Degree with concentration in Handbells from Concordia University, Wisconsin where he studied with William Payn, John Behnke, and Arnold Sherman. He is currently an Adjunct Instructor in the Music Department of Norfolk State University teaching private Trumpet, Piano and Music Theory, and serves as the Music Director/Organist at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Suffolk, VA.

Debbie Henning, Chair-Elect (2027)

Debbie Henning has been involved with handbells for over 50 years as both a ringer and a director. Besides ringing with the Westminster Ringers & directing Accelerando – both ensembles of Westminster Ringer, Inc., she is the Director of Music at Grace UMC in Gaithersburg, MD and coHandbell Director at the Westminster Church of the Brethren in Westminster, MD. Debbie serves as Managing Director and Treasurer for the Westminster Ringers, Inc.  In the past she served Handbell Musicians of America Area 3 as their Maryland State Chair, Treasurer, and Coordinator of Events for over 10 years. In addition to her musical activities, Debbie loves to quilt, sew, cross stitch and care for her three young grandchildren.

Kathleen Wissinger

Kath embraces all aspects of bells–director, teacher, ringer, composer. Directing since 1988–advanced teen groups, young beginners, adults, community group, grades 4-8–she creates a wide swath of music for her diverse groups, plus commissions and pieces that simply catch her fancy. Well-known for unique originals and fresh arrangements–as well as unique series that include pedagogical pieces written over her 15 years of teaching–she also loves a good challenge in writing for solo/small ensemble, belltree, double choir; including voices and instruments; and adapting pop and movie themes. Her publishing company “ringTrue” features all these and more.