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Soundwave Handbell Choir
by Eric Logan
Welcome to Soundwave Handbell Choir of Abilene ISD in Texas! Soundwave is a handbell music program specifically for students with special education needs in the Abilene Independent School District.
Using an adaptive music notation developed by the founding director, Letha McGrew, this program has been performing in the Abilene area and around the country since 1978. Originally the Woodson Handbell Choir, then Abilene Gold directed by Cathy Taylor, this music program highlights the potential of students with special developmental needs.
My name is Eric Logan. I am only the third music director in the 40 year history of the program! This is my third year with the program and it is indeed a very personal experience to make music with these students each day.
We are in the process of celebrating our 40th anniversary as a music program for AISD. Comprised of students from both Abilene High and Cooper High Schools, this organization continues to entertain as they perform for area schools, retirement centers, hospitals, churches, civic groups and community events. They have also performed for many state and national conventions.
This music program has presented well over 1000 performances since it’s inception including the Texas Classroom Teachers Association Convention, Texas Association of Special Education Administrators, and Texas Music Educators Association Conventions. In 1988, they played at the National Organization of American Kodaly Educators and for the International Council for Exceptional Children Convention in Washington, D.C. In December of 1991, they returned to Washington, D.C. to perform in the White House. Other notable recent performance opportunities include performances for the Texas Rangers baseball organization, the Texas Association of Secondary School Principals Summer Workshop, the American Guild of English Handbell Ringers, Inc. and performing at the Texas State Capitol.
Our adapted music method uses scale letter names, color-coding by octave and technique/note value symbols instead of traditional sheet music and theory education. Although the past few years have seen similar charts commercially available, our method is performance-ready. The complete details and instructions for our music method were published by Letha McGrew and the AGEHR in 1993.
Our music is adapted from traditional sheet music notation and written onto fabric “scrolls.” The director then directs each bell ring in the music from their position in front of the ensemble while each student follows along. We have over 200 scrolls in our library, many of them arranged by Mrs. McGrew.
Each student is assigned specific bells and they look for their corresponding letter names and colors, paying close attention to symbols indicating ringing techniques or note values. We use all the standard handbell techniques except for four-in-hand and the singing bell. This method enables our students to learn and perform some very complex musical aspects without the need of a music theory background.
We have tradtionally had two scheduled class periods, one for Training Choir and one for Performance Choir. More basic music scrolls are used with the Training Choir while scrolls with more advanced musical ideas and various bell techniques are used in the Performance Choir.
Since our classes meet daily during the school year, our handbells get plenty of use. We have a three-octave set of Malmark handbells that we use every day. We use Peery handbell tables for class time and performances. For handbell transportation we use four Port-A-Bell cases.
We are excited about our newest technological leap forward! This semester, we have taken our traditional scrolls to a digital format. The new digital transition has taken quite some time to launch, but it has been a wonderful upgrade. Having built a template using Microsoft Excel, we can recreate our music method on the computer. Using a laptop and a flat screen TV, I can now direct our digital scrolls from behind the TV with my pointer (rhythm stick), a small handheld mouse with scroll wheel and a mirror on the floor in front of me angled so that I can see what is on the screen. It has proven to be less time consuming than physical scroll creation and for the first time, an easily editable scroll.
We will be celebrating our 40th anniversary with a special concert on May 15, 2018 in Abilene, Texas at First Baptist Church, 7:00pm. Along with performances by our current students, we are putting together an alumni choir of former ringers to participate in the celebration. All three music directors will also take part in this celebration.
If anyone has questions about our program or method, please feel free to contact me, Eric Logan at Eric.email@example.com or by phone at 325-691-1000 x 1040. Keep ringing!
Follow Soundwave Handbell Choir (AISD Handbells) on Facebook and watch concert videos at the following links: 2016 Spring Concert, 2016 Christmas Concert, and 2017 Spring Concert.
Thank you Eric, for sharing this wonderful program with our readers. We congratulate Soundwave on their 40th Anniversary and hope that others will follow in their footsteps.