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Hascall is a bell ringer supreme

by: Vern Uyetake, Nancy Hascall does just about everything with handbells that you would possibly want to do — player, director, composer, teacher, recording artist, and author. Her brilliance at handbells has taken her all over the United States and to many foreign countries.

handbell ringing is known for its superb blending of tones and its ensemble playing. The handbell simply does not strike people as a great solo instrument.

Unless you are Nancy Hascall.

The Lake Oswego woman has the respect, and even the awe, of handbell players throughout the Portland area, not only as a performer, but as a choir director, as a writer, as an innovator, as a composer and arranger, and as a teacher.

When it comes to handbells, Nancy Hascall is the great communicator.

'She's the guru,' said Bob Mensel, bell choir director at Christ Episcopal Church. 'I went to one of her workshops and she's really quite good.'

'Nancy Hascall is amazing,' said Kat Riley, who is quite a handbell ringer herself. 'She's one of the few bell soloists I know of. She's got a full set of bells at her house, and she's got a bell tree on a stand that she can play like a xylophone.

'Nancy looks so graceful when she's playing. It's like she's dancing with bells.'

Truly the tall, slender Hascall can put on the silky smooth moves when playing a table covered with bells. What she can do with such stylish ease, most people would be lucky not to knock half of the bells over. Her total dedication to the art of bell ringing is incredible.

'I'm addicted,' Hascall said. 'I'm working on a book about solo bell ringing, I've published music, I'm the director of the handbell choirs of the First United Methodist Church in Portland and the Bells of the Cascades, and I play in the bell choir of my home church at Lake Grove Presbyterian.'

And you know one of the most incredible things of all about Hascall? When she had her very first chance to play with a handbell choir at church, she turned it down flat.

Of course, that seems pretty funny now, but Hascall actually had some good reasons for the turndown.

'I had Yamaha Music School and I was raising four children,' she said.

Hascall was also active musically as a singer and musician. But bell ringing intrigued her.

'I had been watching people do it for too long,' she said, and she began borrowing bells from Lake Grove Presbyterian over the summer.

Before too long, Hascall's home was dominated by a long table of bells and she was 'the guru.'

In fact, it would not be far fetched to call Hascall a world handbell figure. She teaches and performs at events around the country - Pennsylvania, New York, Virginia, Ohio, New Jersey, and California, plus Toronto, Australia and Japan.

While Hascall has gained her greatest renown as a soloist, even putting out a CD, 'Ringing From The Heart,' as a director and teacher, Hascall is highly focused on the sound of the group.

'A choir is only as good as its weakest ringer,' she said. 'In a bell choir there are 13 people and any one of them can make a mistake. It's fun, but it's a real challenge. It makes you really, really aware of details.'

Of course, not everyone can handle details like Hascall.

'Sometimes it's a little too much and it drives people nuts. I've got a drawer-full of compositions I'm not ready to publish because they're not ready for what I demand.'

Truly it seems she was born for bells.

'I always loved music and I was always active in music,' Hascall said. 'But when I started ringing it seemed like the bells were growing out of my arms. I was not a bad singer or flutist or pianist, but bells just fit. I love experimenting with them.

'Bells can run the whole gamut of emotions. They can be happy, sad or uplifting. Like Gethsemane, which is so dramatic. You can hear the nails pounding into Jesus' flesh. It really reached a lot of people.

'On the other hand there is Carnivale, which is a hoot with all kinds of carnival sounds.'

For Hascall the future is bells, bells, bells.

'I'll keep going as long as I can lift a bell,' she promises.

As a role model, she recalls a once great bell ringer still ringing away at a festival in Europe, even though she was confined to a wheelchair and could barely lift her bell.

New challenges will keep bell ringing fresh for Hascall. There is not only her new book about solo playing, but she is using her music to work with Bill and Diane Savage of Lake Oswego on a project for World Vision, building wells in Zambia.

'I wanted to use my music for some purpose other than the fun of playing,' Hascall said.

For more information about Nancy Hascall and her handbell ringing activities, go to her Web site at www.heavenlyhandbells.com .