By JAY LESTER/Executive Director of Fine Arts
It is difficult to believe that our nationally known handbell choir turned 40 this year. Where were you in 1978? Throughout the years, the group has had three names and three directors: The Woodson Handbell Choir directed by Letha McGrew, Abilene Gold directed by Cathy Taylor, and Soundwave directed by Eric Logan.
On May 15, the choir will celebrate their 40th anniversary with a special end of the year concert at First Baptist Church at 7 p.m. Former members of the choir are encouraged to contact firstname.lastname@example.org for information about joining the alumni choir, who will also perform that evening. All three directors will take part in the celebration.
This organization serves an important role in the lives of our special education students – to offer the joy of music making to this very special population of students and their audiences. Comprised of both Cooper and Abilene High students, Soundwave features two handbell ensembles, a training choir and the performance choir.
In recent years we’ve seen an interest in handbells at Madison Middle School. Candi Ice, the orchestra director at Madison, felt a calling to offer a similar musical group at her campus. They are going on two years and love getting a head start in learning the unique music reading method developed by Letha McGrew in 1978. Instead of traditional note reading on a musical staff, this method employs a system of note letter names in various colors on a large scroll. In recent times, Eric Logan has developed a way to bring the traditional scrolls into the digital age by incorporating a laptop, a large screen TV and Microsoft Excel.
The handbell choir has taken its show on the road over the years, including performances for President George H.W. Bush in Washington D.C., the Texas State Capitol and a Texas Rangers baseball game.
In addition to countless local functions around the Big Country, they have performed at state and national conferences such as the Texas Classroom Teachers Association, Texas Association of Special Education Administrators, Texas Music Educators Association, Texas Secondary School Principal Association, National Organization of American Kodaly Educators, the International Council for Exceptional Children Convention, and the American Guild of English Handbell Ringers.
I urge you to attend the upcoming 40th anniversary concert on May 15. Seeing and hearing these students gives me goosebumps every time I attend one of their events.