Ring It On: Black River Falls handbell choirs prepare for state competition

Two handbell choirs brought home a starred first rating from the regional Solo and Ensemble festival at Tomah on March 28, advancing both choirs to state competition in May.

For the past four years, the band has sent a handbell choir to state. This year Band Director Barb Olson decided to put together two class A handbell choirs instead of one class A choir and one class B choir.

“In the beginning there was a lot of animosity [between the two groups], but after we realized the younger group’s capability, the older group stepped it up,” said Barb Olson.

“Our handbell group supported them, even though they may not think so,” said junior Cassie Olson. The Big A players would often stand behind the younger players at the very beginning to help them out with reading rhythms.

“Those kids helping the younger kids was such a great teaching moment,” said Barb Olson.

Little A is advancing onto state even though none of the members have competed in class A before. “We all worked pretty hard to get it,” said sophomore Josh Hanson.

Sophomore Aaron Miles attributes this to the group’s personal work ethic and self-dedication. The Big A handbell group advanced on to state with a perfect score.

“I think that our judge was nice. There were mistakes that were made, but I think that she could see the potential in us,” said Emily Lahmayer.

Olson attributes the group’s success to it’s experience–most of the musicians have played together for two or three years. “I think that one of the reasons that they do as well as they do is because they’ve had a lot of time to build relationships with each other and mature,” Barb Olson said.

Now that the state competition is less than a week away, handbell choir members must start preparing their pieces once again. “We’re going to work on expressing the piece thematically, conveying the message of ‘Soliloquy,’ not just playing the notes,” said senior Bronson Stein.

Barb Olson wants the older group to “keep themselves in check and not get over-confident.”  The younger group has their own set of problems to work on. “Little A members need to work on their confidence level, they’re still concerned about about their own parts,” said Barb Olson.

Hanson also adds that, “we need to watch each other and communicate more.” The handbell members agree that they probably wouldn’t be where they are now without their leader, Barb Olson.

“There aren’t really words to express our relationship. She’s more than a teacher, she’s like a second mom,” said Stein. “She has a lot of dedication. She has a big passion [for handbells]. The fact that she does it outside of school shows that she really cares,” said Cassie Olson.

Barb Olson, along with leading two class A handbell choirs at the high school, also is the director for two handbell choirs at Evangelical Lutheran Church.

“I really appreciate all the time that she puts in for us,” said Hanson.

“It’s such a unique animal, because there’s no one there to cover you if you screw up, but you have all the support around you,” said Barb Olson, “It teaches each individual determination and responsibility.”