Inducted into the Ring of Fame in 2008 were Gail Downey – New Mexico and Tom Waldron – Utah
Gail Downey – New Mexico
Gail Downey’s introduction to handbells was similar to many other directors and ringers – it was by accident. It was 1978 when, during an interview for the position as choir director at Kirtland Air Force Base Chapel, Albuquerque, NM, the chaplain said, “By the way, I found two boxes of English handbells in a closet. Do you think you could do something with them?” Without batting an eye she answered, “Of course”, hoping that the expression on her face did not disclose the question running through her mind – “What on earth are English handbells and what does one do with them?” She was accepted for the position and several months later the chaplain produced 2 octaves of handbells. Forging bravely ahead, the Chapel Handbell Choir was formed with seven members who knew just as much as Gail did about the bells. They struggled along for a few months before Gail received what she refers to as a “life saving” phone call from a local member of AGEHR. This caller introduced Gail to the Guild as a source of handbell knowledge and encouraged her to attend the Area XI festival which would be held in Albuquerque in a few months.
The little band of intrepid ringers voted to attend the festival. She still remembers her amazement when Doug Benton’s group processed as they rang their solo and how everyone held their breath as John Payn’s boys rollicked their way through “Bumble Boogie”. Another outstanding memory was hearing the Coppers division perform Phyllis Anchicks’ composition, “Mountain Grandeur”, a piece that would re-enter her life 26 years later. However, what impressed her most was the friendly attitude, immediate acceptance and total support everyone expressed toward her.
Gail remained at the Air Force Chapel for 8 years. The handbell program grew to include a children’s handbell choir, the original Chapel Choir and an outreach group who traveled throughout the central New Mexico area performing in a variety of venues. The two octave set of bells quickly grew to five octaves.
It has been thirty years since Gail first picked up a handbell and experimented with how to make it ring. During those years, handbells, AGEHR in general and Area XI in particular have occupied a major portion of her life. She served on the Area XI Board from 1988 until 2004 in various capacities – New Mexico State Chair, Area Chair Elect, Area Chair, CHIME Chair, and Historian. She also held the position of New Mexico CHIME Chair several times. She served on the AGEHR National Board when they began the journey to a new form of governance and was then elected to a three year term on the National Board of Directors, as a Director at Large, when the new governance was in place.
From 1989 through 2000, Gail directed the handbell teams at Manzano High School in Albuquerque, NM. It started when she was asked to help the marching band ring handbells during their marching show in the fall of ’99. Never one to turn down a handbell opportunity, she jumped at the chance. When marching season was over, the students didn’t want to stop ringing so the Manzano Royal Bronze was born. There were so many students interested in ringing that a second group was also formed. Gail was now directing 4 handbell choirs at two different churches and the 2 new groups at the high school. It wasn’t long before the teachers at the high school began asking if they could ring. Of course this led to the formation of a faculty group. In addition to ringing for assemblies and attending local festival conferences, the students of the Royal Bronze spent the entire school year raising funds to finance their summer concert tours. The tours were two or three weeks long and always included an Area or National festival. In their final year they participated in the Area XI festival in Casper. Then they traveled across the country, presenting concerts along the way, to attend the National Conference in Buffalo, NY. There they were honored to perform the opening concert. The handbell program at Manzano High School was awarded first place in the prestigious New Mexico Quality in Education Award for outstanding educational innovations.
In 2000, Gail founded Enchantment ~ Albuquerque Handbell Ensemble, an auditioned community group devoted to sharing the art of handbell ringing by presenting concerts and school assemblies throughout central New Mexico.
Gail’s most recent adventure in the handbell world is in the field of publishing handbell music. Together with business partner, Leila Norris, they have created “From the Top” Music, a company which is stretching the parameters of traditional handbell publications.
Tom Waldron – Utah
Tom Waldron is the founding director of the Bells on Temple Square. In 2003, Tom was asked by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to direct the purchasing of handbells and organize a handbell choir. Through a donation, a 7 octave set of handbells plus a 6 1/2 octave set of handbells with two 6 octaves of hand chimes were purchased. The Bells on Temple Square perform twice annually in concert and often on the Mormon Tabernacle Choir Sunday Broadcast. The Tabernacle Choir has given him the title of Bell Master for his work in teaching the singers of the choir to ring handbells for use in their concert tour programs and in some broadcasts.
In 1982, while teaching at Brighton H.S. Tom became the first public high school teacher in the state to establish a handbell choir where the students could receive credit for their membership in the group. He later moved to Jordan High School and started another handbell choir. His bell choirs at Brighton H.S. and Jordan H.S. performed for countless organizations and activities throughout the State of Utah. In 1988, he took his bells to the Western Music Educator’s Conference to assist as he presented two sessions on the advantages of English handbells in the music curriculum and the advantages provided by AGEHR.
His high school bell choir was invited to perform two times for the Utah Music Educators Association. His bell choir participated in the Portland, Oregon National AGEHR conference, the Area XI Conference in Durango, Colorado, and in Casper, Wyoming. In 1998 his High School handbell choir was featured in a Friday Evening Concert by the Temple Square Performance series.
Tom has taught numerous classes for the Utah State AGEHR during winter seminars and clinics. He directed the Utah State Mass Ring as a guest conductor twice in 1997 and 2006. Numerous high school music directors observed the successes at his high schools and Tom helped them get started by mentoring and giving workshops to them individually.
Tom served as the Utah chairman of AGEHR for two successive two-year terms. During this time he helped the Area XI board establish the area bylaws. He organized four statewide ringing conferences for bell choirs in the State of Utah and surrounding areas. He also served on the Area XI Chimes Committee.
Tom taught music in the public schools in Utah for 30 years. In 2002 he was presented with the Utah State Outstanding Music Educator Award by the Utah Music Educators Association. His choirs received numerous awards and superior ratings. Because of his outstanding work in the choral area, he has been the invited guest director of many Honor Choirs and festivals throughout the state.
Tom sang with the Tabernacle Choir for 20 years and was a featured soloist on several occasions.
He has composed handbell music for the Bells on Temple Square and has some of his compositions in print.
In 2003, Tom was presented with the Outstanding Service to the Art of Handbell Ringing Award by the Utah AGEHR.