Bells flashed and rang, filling the air with a symphony of sound, delightful to the ear and invigorating to the senses. Hundreds of bells and more than 50 high school ringers had spent two days together in an intense clinic under bell choir director, Jason Wells, to master these pieces.
It had long been the desire of many high school handbell choirs to have a place to go for advanced training. At the urging of his students, Ben Purvis, Gem State Adventist Academy (GSAA) music director, put together the first "Total Workout" handbell clinic with Jason Wells conducting and teaching.
Wells' renown in the handbell world is a result of his leadership and conducting skills with Ring of Fire, a group of junior high-age ringers from Tualatin Valley Junior Academy. Wells and Ring of Fire have performed three times at the Crystal Cathedral, at the Presidential Inaugural Ball, and have shared the stage with the Boston Pops, as well as traveled and performed in 22 states.
Purvis said, “When word got out Wells was coming, I started receiving calls from handbell directors all over the U.S. For many, the travel to Idaho was prohibitive, but choirs did come from all over the Pacific Northwest.” Olympia (Wash.) Junior Academy, Tualatin Valley (Ore.) Junior Academy, and Franklin Junior Academy from Pasco, Wash., joined the beginning and advanced choirs from GSAA in Caldwell, Idaho, to form a bell group with more than 50 members.
Famous bell soloist from Nampa, Idaho, Phyllis Tincher, inspired students with a concert to kick things off. Tincher soloed three octaves of bells and taught breakout sessions throughout the day. Eager to learn new techniques, students spent many hours in rehearsal with Wells.
After a long day of practice, bells students joined GSAA students for a "Total Workout" worship service with Jay Hagadorn, world-famous body builder. Hagadorn combined feats of strength, such as rolling up a new frying pan like a burrito, with spiritual truths about faith, and challenged students to a real commitment to Jesus, not just "playing" Christian.
Bell students' efforts culminated in a free Saturday evening concert. Concertgoers were amazed at the skill level of the group and their ability to stay together through several very challenging pieces.
“This year so many experienced students signed up for bells that both an advanced ensemble and a beginning group have been formed,” said Purvis. The advanced ensemble is made up of 6 members that play 4 octaves of bells normally played by 13 students.
In the last several years, the GSAA handbell program has grown and flourished partially because of the introduction of Cool Ringings, a handbell festival for 5th–8th grade students that teaches both beginning and intermediate students the skills of the art of ringing. The third annual Cool Ringings will take place Jan. 20–22. If you are interested in learning handbells, contact Ben Purvis at (208) 459-1627 ext. 127, for more information.