Handbell ensemble ringing as a holistic experience: issues of embodied practice, musical communitas and accessibility
Strepka, Kimberlee French
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Issues of embodiment, musical communitas, and accessibility have been adapted by music educators and music therapists within their practices. Music education in general may benefit from the unique aspects of what these models have to offer. In this qualitative phenomenological research study, I examined the perceptions of a diverse sampling of handbell musicians and their directors with respect to the three phenomena of embodiment, musical communitas, and accessibility. The findings were compared to existing research related to various forms of embodied learning, musical communitas as seen through the field of music therapy, and accessibility as defined by universal design concepts. The central questions that guided this study were: 1. What are handbell musicians’ perceptions of embodied handbell ringing and/or embodied learning? 2. What are handbell musicians’ perceptions of functioning as one unified instrument? 3. How are handbells unique with regard to their accessibility? The data revealed seven themes with regard to embodiment and whole-body expression, seven with regard to musical communitas, and six with regard to accessibility. Three unrelated themes, as well as a small instance of conflicting data with regard to accessibility, were reported and addressed. Consistent throughout the transcripts was the use of three words: together, everyone/everybody, and whole (as in holistic or not divided). This common language represents a sympathetic resonance that existed among the participants without respect to age, position, or experience. Music educators may benefit from more research in music education based in embodied learning to strengthen the acceptance of the body, not as supplemental, but as foundational in music learning, and to dispel the “either/or” notions that place the body in opposition to the brain. The design of the handbell ensemble may provide a model for music making that values embodiment, communitas, and accessibility, which can address a number of music education’s current goals including creating, performing, and responding (NAfME, 2014b).