Tag Archives: handbells

Music & Previews of Coming Attractions


Bells ring in Chapel of Mercy–two members of MMU Hand Bell Ensemble.

Tonight was a combination event that had all kinds of interesting ingredients, like a fusion restaurant.

This is “Mercy & Mission Week” at Mount Mercy University, and events this week are meant to remind us of and tie us with our heritage as an institution founded by the Sisters of Mercy. And tonight there was a “Poems, Promises, Music & Immigrant Stories” event in the Chapel of Mercy which was both a Mercy Week event and listed as part of our Fall Faculty Series.

It was an interesting show. Music was provided by the MMU Hand Bell Ensemble—which was nice to hear, although it’s too bad I’ve had to give up my participation in that crew. Miss you ringers, you sounded great!

There was also Jonny Lipford, who plays and teaches the music of various wooden native-style flutes. Several of them were two-in-one or three-in-one instruments—meaning flutes with more than one body—which means he harmonized with himself and sounded like a flute group.

The local choir Ingenzi, made up of Africans from various countries performing in their native languages, was pretty amazing—and harmonizing—too. They had some trouble finding the Chapel of Mercy, and thus ended up being the final act, but it was quite a final act.


Members of Ingenzi, above and below.


And Father Tony Adawu, our MMU resident priest, spontaneously became part of the music, singing an African song and showing us a dance that goes with it.


Fr. Tony and audience dance.

I liked the music, but two speakers really stood out to me. Immigrant stories were shared by Gabriel Hernandez Acosta, a senior who is in his final semester, and Dr. Ayman Amer, our economics professor.

Dr. Amer told several compelling anecdotes—how his neighbors in Cedar Rapids acted instinctively to ensure his family was safe in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, how a wealthy business person in New York City—which he always had seen as the least friendly place on Earth—helped him the first day he was in the U.S., and also of his seeing snow for the first time that day.


Dr. Ayman Amer shares a few stories of coming to America from Egypt.

Snow! That story touched me personally. Dr. Amer described it as looking magical that first day in January in New York City. His story took me back to when I was a boy and our family moved from California to Iowa. Snow, if you had only seen it on TV, was indeed a magical and strange thing to actually see falling from the sky for the first time. (We moved in August, so it was a few months before I saw snow—but it still made quite an impression on me.)

Anyway, I think the whole night was most highlighted by Gabriel Hernandez Acosta, who told of his illegal journey to the U.S. as a 6-year-old. His story was well-told. It went well with the art he displayed, and both he and Dr. Amer are scheduled to speak again later as part of our fall series.


Gabriel Hernandez Acosta–speaker and also events staff for tonight’s presentation.

Hernandez Acosta will be a key speaker at the Oct. 15 “Our Immigrant Stories: Coming to Cedar Rapids and Mount Mercy,” a special community day that will feature multiple presentations. He will be a highlight of one of the highlights of our whole series, and hearing him tonight, he’s fully capable of pulling that off.

image-of-logo-colorDr. Amer will speak Nov. 15 on “The Dollars and Sense of It: What Immigration Does to our Economy.” He will also, as part of that presentation, share part of his personal story. And by the preview tonight, he has quite a few personal anecdotes to share.

About 70 people attended the concert tonight—a good turnout. I hope you were there—but if not, come to hear two of tonight’s speakers on Oct. 15 and Nov. 15. And check out all of the other events in our Fall Faculty Series.

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Your Thursday Morning Earworm Courtesty of MMU

It may look like a Barbarian or possibly a Viking warrior in the chapel, but it’s just David, a member of the MMU Handbell Ensemble, providing you, for free, with your morning earworm. You’re welcome:

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And I Learn Musical Grizzly Bears Aren’t That Helpful

Carolyn Sternowski, our choir director, e-mailed me this photo. I think her husband Bob took it with a cell phone. Me at Hallmar shooting flowers.

Carolyn Sternowski, our choir director, e-mailed me this photo. I think her husband Bob took it with a cell phone. Me at Hallmar shooting flowers.

It’s mid-March, and I’m three weeks into my piano lessons. It’s also mid-March, and I just finished the longest hand-bell concert of the year.

March is the music month, apparently.

The piano lessons have been fun, but I have not yet been allowed to touch a piano. I first must learn all of the line notes, a process aided by a somewhat awkward, but functional, internet flash-card style series of exercises.

Tony, my piano teacher, says the pneumonic devices, such as “every good boy does fine” or “grizzly bears don’t frighten anybody” are not that useful, because when playing the piano, one must find the right note in a heartbeat. Tell me about it, Tony. I struggled for weeks to play the song “Ashes” on hand bells, and even with marking all of my music (something I know Tony won’t let me do with piano music so I won’t even try), it was easy to get lost. So easy. Like falling off a bike in an icy street. Like eating that fourth doughnut and giving yourself a tummy ache. Like, well, insert easy vice here. That easy.


Screen shot of music lessons from http://www.emusictheory.com.

Anyway, I am pretty good now with reading G and A and D (bottom, top and middle) notes in the bass clef and E and F and B (same in treble). I’m just starting to try to engrave the other lines in memory, and it is a slow process. My 55-year-old brain takes some time to form new neural pathways and to make new pathways persistent.

But, I suppose that is partly the point. I don’t have ambitions to become much of a piano player, but I am learning and enjoying and hope to get to learn enough that I can at least amuse myself on the piano. As I said the lessons are going well, and with any luck, before the month is out, I will actually touch a piano.

This Sunday, I touched some bells. We had our annual concert at Hallmar, a nursing home located at Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids.

It’s our biggest concert of the year. I like going there—the audience really appreciates us being there—but I mildly regret that we learn all these songs to play there and never perform them at MMU. Maybe a couple of Sundays after the Hallmar affair we should repeat the concert in the U Center—it wouldn’t hurt MMU to have a Sunday event now and then, if it’s family friendly and timed to not conflict with church services.

Anyway, about my solo—in “Ashes” I played a D, an E flat, an F, a G, an A flat, a B flat and a C flat. Those are seven bells, all in a row, all in the treble clef, which is alien territory to me. Playing a bell solo is a bit like learning a dance, I suppose, although I’ve never learned a dance so it’s a pretty poor comparison for me to use. Anyway, you have to learn a coordinated, ritualized set of moves to end up with the right bells at the right time in the correct hands.

Many things can go wrong, and in my case, do. One of the biggest issues is to put the bells down in the right place, because you probably will want to pick that bell up again later, and it’s harder to do when the bells migrate.

Another issue is “switches,” where a bell starts in one hand and you have to switch to the other, usually so that, for example, if you rang the C with your right hand, but soon need to pick up a B, you might have to ring with your right and then switch to your left to ring on the next beat. It’s not hard, but if you forget the switch, then you have a whole string of bells you’re playing in the wrong hands that you haven’t practiced with, and that’s just asking for trouble.

On Sunday, trouble came. I messed up a switch and ended up playing the whole last line of my song with the “wrong” hands. The good news is that it was the last line and I made it through, relatively well. If I had messed up in the middle of the song, there was no way I could have continued going to the end.

Or so I think. Probably that’s wrong. With enough practice and enough ability to read music, I would have found a way back from hands wandering wildly in the midst of a song.

I don’t plan to try that just to see, but I do plan to take, and am taking, piano lessons. My wife encouraged the piano lessons because she thought they would help with my bell ringing.

They probably will. It will take some time. I have to learn all those notes. I only have six so far, and four more will take me to 10, but that will only be the line notes and no spaces or sharps or flats yet.

There are many more notes to come. Still, a long journey has to start with the first step. And a baby has to crawl before she can walk or run. (Well, technically, as parents of toddlers know, no, because sometimes babies do all kind of locomotion that circumvent crawling and some never crawl much at all—but the saying still expresses a decent point).

I’m just starting to crawl. There is a lot of toddling ahead before I can walk, and in a musical sense, I’m not sure I will ever run.

But I might, if I keep at it. After all, I didn’t think I could play the final line of “We Rise Again from Ashes” with the bells in the wrong hands without missing a beat. And yet, I did.

Sunday was a pretty good day.

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Sunday Ringing, Saturday Singing?-Music Weekend

Self portrait. I'm sitting on a couch, trying to rest the camera on the end of it due to very slow shutter speech. Me as a Christmas ornament. One of my two disguises in this post.

Self portrait. I’m crouching by a couch, trying to rest the camera on the end of it due to very slow shutter speech. Me as a Christmas ornament. One of my two disguises in this post.

The above video shows Kathi and I rehearsing, or something like it. Do you like my little girl disguise? I’m the one on the left, by the way.

The Mount Mercy University Handbell Choir is playing this Sunday, Dec. 15, at 2 p.m. in a free program at the Cedar Memorial Chapel of Memories at Cedar Memorial Cemetery near Lindale Mall in Cedar Rapids.

Y’all are welcome. It’s one of two times, I think, you can hear my generation of Sheller make music in the CR area this weekend—on Saturday night, my sister Cate sings in a Quire concert (or so I suspect, I am not certain). I think it’s at 7:30 at Zion Lutheran Church in Iowa City, but sadly, I am not sure (about date or time or location) so maybe check with her if you want to hear her sing. I do. So comment Cate and let the blogoverse know the true story.

Anyway, along with attempting to ring along with the group and sometimes (knock on wood) succeeding, I’ll be playing a duet with Kathi, who can ring better than I can and looks better as a little girl, too. So come on out and listen to me try to do it in a duet.

The full program includes:

  • In the Week When Christmas Comes : a poem by Eleanor Farjeon
  • Bell Peal by Derek K. Hakes
  • O Come All Ye Faithful arr. By Douglas Wagner
  • Pastores a Belen arr.by Carlos J. Avila Baez
  • Lo How a Rose ere Blooming arr. By Janis Yarbrough; solo ringer: Janis Cummings
  • O Little Town of Bethlehem arr. By Sharon Elliott Cheek; solo ringer: David Mione
  • Night of Silence by Daniel Kantor; soprano: Hillary Kaefring; cellist Ben Nelson; oboist, Abby Konzen
  • That Glorious Song of Old arr. By Tammy Waldrop; cellist, Ben Nelson
  • Good King Wenceslas arr. By Sharon Elliott Cheek; solo ringer: Brad Nachtmann
  • O Come Little Children; arr. By Douglas Wagner; duet by Kathi McLaren and Joe Sheller
  • Bring a Torch Jeanette Isabella arr. By Cathy Mocklebust
  • We Three Kings arr. By Valerie Stephenson
  • Go Tell It On the Mountain arr. By Douglas Wagner; duet sue Boyens and Jenn Boyens
  • Bidding antiphon: Let Us Live in Holiness and Love; Hillary Kaefring, soprano
  • We Wish You a Merry Christmas arr, by Carolyn Sternowski

Hope to see you there! And, maybe, Saturday night, too!

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Music Made By Human Hands

hand1 hand2 hand3 hand4

When I was a little discouraged after a recent handbell workshop, my sister posted wrote that I should stay in the handbell choir because “music is good for the soul.” I’m sure she’s right and I’m pretty certain to keep ringing.

Anyway, the MMU spring concert was Wednesday night. The handbell ensemble got to perform two songs, the choir sang, the band played and there were a number of solo performances.

I enjoyed myself. As I sat there listening to others perform, I was also thinking about hands.

Singers used their voices and many of the instruments were powered by human breath, but kept in time with a conductor’s hands. The piano was in frequent use, a percussion instrument that is played hands down. I rang bells and chimes in my hands.

I don’t totally understand music—in fact, to be honest, it’s an area of human endeavor where I am woefully undereducated. But music is like language. Although it exists in nature, in the songs of whales or birds, it is still a singularly human activity—with our hands we’ve made it an interesting non-verbal way of communication, which somehow makes it fascinating for a language guy.

The dexterity of hands, their rhythmic timing, the sounds they make—they filled the Chapel of Mercy with beautiful noise Wednesday night. Granted, voices were engaged too. But for some reason I was caught up in the hands.

I don’t know why. It’s, a music thing, I suppose. Which to me makes it part of a delicious mystery. Is that part of the reason why it’s good for my soul?

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#handbells to be played on Monday so come hear

Y’all come here me ring on Monday. Here is an announcement I borrowed from Cate’s church:

Inter-Religious Council of Linn County

Thanksgiving Service 2012

Monday, November 19, 2012

7:00 p.m.

Christ Episcopal Church

220 – 40th Street NE

Cedar Rapids, Iowa

An inter-faith gathering for reflection and thanksgiving.

Readings from various faith traditions, including Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Unity and Unitarian Universalist

Vocal and instrumental music provided by a combined community choir, featuring the Christ Episcopal Church Chancel Choir and

The Mount Mercy University Handbell Ensemble

Please bring non-perishable food items for the Linn Community

Food Bank.  A monetary offering will also be collected.

Refreshments provided after the service.

(bold and italics added)


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MMU Concert Goes Better Than I Expected

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“De Colores” was written by a Spanish sadist.

That’s clearly the only explanation for a song so packed full of 8th notes in 3-4 time. And after about 8 measures playing on the “and” of every beat, other patterns suddenly intrude, and then I get to play with mallets.  Joy.

Well, despite several awful practice sessions, in the end it was not so bad. The 2012 homecoming concert, featuring the hand bells, the group I’m in, and the choir and band was not so bad. Pretty cool.


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