WACS Handbell Ensemble Rings Out

The Westfield And Academy Central School Handbell Ensemble prepares to perform one of its selections at the Pittsburgh convention center.

PITTSBURGH — The Westfield Academy and Central School Handbell Ensemble rang out.

The ensemble, directed by WACS music teacher Kent Knappenberger, was chosen from more than 170 musical groups in 11 states to present a concert as part of the biennial Eastern Division Conference of the National Association for Music Education.

The 47 students in grades 10 through 12 who make up the handbell ensemble traveled to the David Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh to play for an audience of music educators, professionals and college students on April 5.

“The students worked extremely hard, and literally shocked people with the high level of musicianship that they possess,” Knappenberger said. “I was just blown away by not only the groups selection to be featured at this event, but also by their performance,”

Two WACS seniors, Grace Bodenmiller and Luke Stephenson, were selected to take part in the All-Eastern U.S. Mixed Chorus, which rehearsed and performed in Pittsburgh that weekend as well, Knappenberger said.

Knappenberger noted that the WACS ensemble was one of only two groups chosen from the New York state for the event. The other group was a high school choir from Long Island. Knappenberger added, “It’s pretty cool to think that they were recognized out of the entire north east U.S.”

The handbell ensemble is made up of students who enroll in one of the high school’s music classes,” Knappenberger said. However, the students’ talents go far beyond their classes.

“Besides being all-around musicians, these kids, play other instruments, sing, are some of our best academic-minded students, athletes, and many of them are active as volunteers in our community,” Knappenberger said. “It’s amazing to me that this is just a small part of what they do.”

The students themselves were thrilled by the experience, “I was incredibly honored and so excited to play the song we worked so hard on in Pittsburgh,” said sophomore Emma Heim. Her classmate Richard Barney noted “I had an exceptionally fun time playing with everyone in Pittsburgh.”

Bret Babcock said he was overwhelmed that the WACS ensemble was selected to perform. “It was shocking that we got picked from a small town out of so many big schools.” Nonetheless, the handbell ensemble was up to the challenge. “I think we rocked the conference,” he said.

Knappenberger said that the ensemble was encouraged not only by those who attended the concert, but also by many of the composers whose music they performed.

Knappenberger said that the use of handbells at WACS serves many purposes. “Our school uses handbells to teach a variety of musical elements, but primarily, we knew it was something that ordinary people were doing out in the world,, who are recreational musicians.

However, it is the students who make it worthwhile “I couldn’t ask for a better group of high school students with whom to work,” Knappenberger said. “I’m beyond proud of them.”