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In 1995, several individual handbell ringers wished to have the opportunity to ring challenging secular music. This small group of individuals formed a board of directors and applied for non-profit status, and thus was born Embellish.
Embellish is an auditioned community group based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Their director is Stephanie Witse and the 2015-2016 roster includes 16 ringers. The group owns 6 ½ octaves, plus C2 & F2, of Malmark handbells and 6 ½ octaves of Malmark Choir Chimes. They practice on Tuesday evenings from 7 to 9:30 in the Art and Music Center at Aquinas College, which has graciously provided not only rehearsal space, but also storage space.
Embellish presents a Fall and a Spring concert each year, as well as numerous Christmas concerts. In 2015, they joined the local Symphony and Chorus for a 5-part Holiday Pops Concert series. They have played for several Area handbell events, one National handbell event and two Pinnacles. They try to tour every other year, with plans in the works for a June 2016 tour to the Southeast.
Since their inception, the mission of Embellish has evolved to include education and outreach. The group hosts learning events for local handbell ringers and/or directors, the most recent being May of 2015, when Fred Gramann was the clinician for the invitational event. They also present a short concert called “Ringlets”, in March, that is geared toward families with young children; the past couple of years the concert has been in collaboration with a local puppeteer. Each season ends with a free concert as part of a large Arts Festival in downtown Grand Rapids.
Another goal that Embellish had was to form a second group for ringers not able to commit to the demanding level of dedication that is expected of Embellish members. Eight years ago, Campana, a non-auditioned group, was established and is now thriving and presenting two mini concerts a year. Embellish is also working with Aquinas College to strengthen their handbell ensemble, resulting in a very special inter-generational ensemble.
Currently, favorite titles include “Veni, Veni Emmanuel” by Fred Gramann, “Savior of the Nations, Come” by Sandra Eithun, “It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” and “The Skaters Waltz”, both written by Sondra Tucker and dedicated to Embellish.
Embellish is looking strong for the future as there were 11 babies born to the membership between 2009 and 2014! Thanks to supportive spouses, the challenge of balancing family time with the demands of the group has not diminished the dedication each member has to the group.
We look forward to many more years of music from this wonderful ensemble as they continue to promote handbell music through performance, education and outreach, as well as being the demo recording group for GIA Publishing. So just remember, when you get your GIA Publishing scorebook you can now say that you know the ensemble behind the music.
Connect with Embellish through their Facebook page and YouTube channel.