For whom the (hand)bell tolls

Argen Duncan

A Portales man has been honored for his contributions during more than 30 years of handbell ringing and handbell choir directing.

Bill Wood has received the 2010 Ring of Fame award from Area 11 of the American Guild of English Handbell Ringers. He said he was honored in June but learned of the award in January.

“It’s a very humbling experience,” Wood said. “I couldn’t believe it.”

Wood said only six people had received the award before him and he had never put himself in the same category because they had all been his mentors and advisors.

According to a news release from the guild, the award is intended to honor commitment to handbells based on exceptional service to the organization and to handbell or handchime ringing.

Wood has directed youth and adult choirs at First United Methodist Church and Eastern New Mexico University, served as an area officer in the guild, led workshops, taken choirs to various handbell festivals, written articles on handbells, organized the annual Eastern New Mexico Handbell Festival and composed handbell arrangements. A few years ago, he said, one of his compositions, “All-American Hometown Band,” was the best selling of all handbell arrangements the guild has published.

Cindy Stone, who teaches choir and has taught band in Portales schools, rang in Wood’s choir starting in sixth grade, moved away for 20 years, then returned to ring in his adult choir. She said one of her fondest memories is dressing up like barbershop quartet singers and ringing “All-American Hometown Band.”

“Bill has given his ringers so much more than memories of states traveled and the satisfaction of learning that challenging part,” she said in an e-mail. “Bill has shared with us his life and his passion for music. For this, I, along with so many more of his ringers, am eternally grateful.”

Jan Smartnick has been a ringer or substitute ringer in Wood’s adult handbell choir at the Methodist church for many years. She said the choir nominated him for the award, and she filled out the paperwork.

“He’s a very meticulous director,” Smartnick said. “He’s fun to ring with. He knows his music well, and he works the choir hard to make sure the music is performed the way the composer intended.”

Wood said he began directing a youth handbell choir at the Methodist church in 1980 with little prior experience with handbells.

He started the choir because he thought his three children and others in the church needed an outlet for musical expression, and a set of handbells was sitting unused in a closet. Wood was looking for something different to do after finishing is doctorate in music education, he said.

“The kids really seemed to enjoy it and were enthused about it,” Wood said.

The congregation was also supportive. Wood added a second handbell choir for younger children in 1981 and an adult choir in 1982, and brought in more handbells and handchimes.

At Eastern New Mexico University, Wood directed a handbell choir for about 20 years, according to the release.

Today, Wood directs the adult handbell choir, Las Campanas, which means “The Bells.” The group includes ENMU students, youth and people who aren’t members of the Methodist church.

“I thoroughly enjoy directing handbells and seeing the progress people make in ringing handbells,” Wood said, adding that he likes seeing ringers improve in reading music and in musical teamwork.

Wood also enjoys the people involved in ringing and the non-competitive nature of handbell festivals, as well as the wide variety of music — classical, contemporary, religious, secular and more.