Fred Gramann

Got Bronze?

That was the slogan printed on T-shirts one of the handbell groups was wearing at this week's Bronzefest (the handbell workshop/concert I attended in Kettering, Ohio.) The word Bronze refers to several things - English handbells are crafted from bronze; also, handbell groups have traditionally been classified in levels of proficiency as tin, copper, and bronze, with bronze being the most proficient of the three. Thus, the "Bronzefest" is an invitation only affair with six of the top groups from Michigan and Ohio participating. Classical Bells has been invited to participate for 15 of the 20 years the festival has been in existence. The event involves preparing six pieces of music, working with a guest conductor for about 10 hours of rehearsals over Saturday and Sunday, and then performing a concert en masse on Sunday afternoon.

This year I was a "ringer" in more than one sense of the word, filling in as a substitute for a regular member of Classical Bells who had knee surgery and wasn't able to attend. It gave me an opportunity to brush up on my advanced handbell skills, plus work with the finest director in the handbell business, Fred Gramann, who is the music director of the American Church in Paris. Fred is a regular guest conductor for Bronzefest - he says it's his favorite handbell event. He raises our playing skills several notches by the time the weekend is over. In addition to being a superlative musician, he is gracious and utterly charming. It was worth every minute of standing on my feet for 15 hours - truthfully, I never even noticed being tired because it was so enjoyable.

What Fred does is teach us to make music instead of just playing notes. It's like the difference between writing functional sentences and poetry - one gets the job done and conveys the desired result, the other makes you sigh with pleasure and your heart beat a little faster. It's what we all want to achieve whatever our art might be - that higher level of expression and experience that separates the finished product from the everyday into the extraordinary.

So when I say we all "Got Bronze" over the weekend, it's almost an understatement.

Here's the concert if you'd like to see Bronze in action...Classical Bells is the group wearing the sparkly blue tops (see, I told you we "ring in color"!)