Handbells: Olympic-Style

It’s like the Olympics – without the competition.

This is how Jessica Westgard ’98 describes the International Handbell Symposium.

Westgard, conductor of Concordia’s handbell choirs, is taking part in the festivities as a member of the Handbell Musicians of America All-Star Ensemble.

This year’s symposium will be in Liverpool, U.K., at the same time as the London Olympic Games.

“In the same time and the same place, we are holding our own handbell Olympics,” she says, “but we’re more focused on sharing, performance and worship, not on competing.”

Westgard had the privilege of being the U.S. flag bearer for the handbell opening ceremonies. More than 400 participants from around the world will be ringing bells in harmony. “The World in One City” is the theme for this year’s event.

“Our sole purpose is to bring countries together through handbell ringing,” she says.

In addition to workshops and concerts, each day they will have massed rings, where all participants will play under a different international baton.

And the ringing is serious business. Westgard was selected to become a member of the all-star ensemble after a nationwide audition, and the all-stars have to arrive early for three days of rigorous rehearsal.

Handbell ringing may never be officially recognized as an Olympic sport, but handbell musicians do consider themselves to be more agile than the average musician.

“We think we’re somewhat athletic,” Westgard says.