— Krystle Hara
I struggled with how to explain to my family, friends, and co-workers why I was flying to the mainland for handbells. Distinctly Bronze West is not a conference where I would sit in a large room and watch PowerPoint presentations, nor a convention with classes for which I would choose smaller rooms to sit in and watch more PowerPoints. I started calling it my “bell thing,” and that seemed to convey enough of the information that my friends needed to know about my upcoming trip. I would say things like “I’m practicing for my bell thing” or “it’s the music for my bell thing,” but this nickname never felt quite right.
In preparing for DB, I felt like a student again. I was studying and counting down the days until the big exam where I would be graded on how well I knew the material. I heard two voices, one telling me how it would be difficult and to be prepared to be overwhelmed, and my friend, Becky, saying I would be totally fine and rock the music. As much as I wanted to believe the latter, the first ate away at me. What if I’m not good enough? What if I can’t get those fast runs of sixteenth notes? What if I ring on a rest and everyone turns and looks at me? I imagined the monotonous bell of the Septa from Game of Thrones ringing with chants of “Shame. Shame. Shame.”
My neighbor, Carolyn, gave me a gift before our first rehearsal. Her “first-timer’s pack” included an energy bar, reinforcements for my music, mints (because she had to stand next to me), and encouraging stickers that said “fabulous” and “great job” to reward myself for any time I did well or needed some encouragement. I survived the first rehearsal without any glares or stares, and surprised myself with how I was so comfortable that I wanted to play (some) songs even faster!
I met ringers from around the country and Canada, including Matt Compton, the composer of a piece I had just performed last Christmas. We talked and laughed about my struggles plucking his piece, and he offered to help me out. During a break the next day, he made some suggestions which changed the way I pluck for the better (but I still prefer thumb damping treble bells).
Before coming to DB, I did my homework. I studied the music and joined the Facebook groups, but I wasn’t prepared for the outpouring of love and friendship from my fellow ringers. There was something really special about being in that place in the mountains with a bunch of other people who are just as passionate about this niche hobby turned obsession.
I had been preparing myself mentally in case I failed. It would be an honor to even be accepted to attend once, and I could tell myself that it was a great learning experience. But now, there is no way I’m not going back. Should I be asked to take a year to improve my skills, I will work even harder to get there. I’ve been told that I’m “part of the gang” now and I won’t let my people down. DB is no longer “that bell thing” to my not yet enlightened to handbells friends, but “bell camp” to evoke the same sense of making new friends through shared experiences in a gorgeous remote location that I felt from camps as a child. DB West 2017 may have been my first time, but will definitely not be my last.