Group Spotlight - Soundwave Handbell Choir

Soundwave Handbell Choir of Abilene, Texas is a handbell music program specifically for students with special education needs in the Abilene Independent School District. Using an adaptive music notation developed by the founding director, Letha McGrew, this program has been performing in the Abilene area and around the country since 1978. Originally the Woodson Handbell Choir, then Abilene Gold directed by Cathy Taylor, this music program highlights the potential of students with special developmental needs.

Eric Logan, the current music director, is just the third to hold that post in 40 years! This is his third year with the program and he is honored to be able to participate in this very personal experience making music with these students each day. They have a three-octave set of Malmark handbells that get plenty of use since we meet daily during the school year.

Celebrating a Milestone

Soundwave is in the process of celebrating its 40th anniversary as a music program for AISD. Comprised of students from both Abilene High and Cooper High Schools, this organization continues to entertain as they perform for area schools, retirement centers, hospitals, churches, civic groups and community events. They have also performed for many state and national conventions.

Their 40th anniversary was celebrated in May with a special concert in Abilene, Texas at First Baptist Church. Along with performances by current students, they brought together an alumni choir of former ringers to participate in the celebration. All three current and past music directors also took part in this celebration.

This music program has performed well over 1000 performances since its inception, including the Texas Classroom Teachers Association Convention, Texas Association of Special Education Administrators, and Texas Music Educators Association Conventions. In 1988, they performed at the National Organization of American Kodaly Educators and for the International Council for Exceptional Children Convention in Washington, D.C. In December of 1991, they returned to Washington, D.C. to perform in the White House. Other notable recent performance opportunities include performances for the Texas Rangers baseball organization, the Texas Association of Secondary School Principals Summer Workshop, the Handbell Musicians of America and performing at the Texas State Capitol.

Adapted Teaching Method

The group's adapted music method uses scale letter names, color-coding by octave and technique/note value symbols instead of traditional sheet music and theory education. Although the past few years have seen similar charts commercially available, their method is performance-ready. The complete details and instructions for our music method were published by Letha McGrew and the AGEHR in 1993.

Soundwave's music is adapted from traditional sheet music notation and written onto fabric "scrolls." The director then directs each bell rung in the music from their position in front of the ensemble while each student follows along. We have over 200 scrolls in our library, many of them arranged by Mrs. McGrew.

Each student is assigned specific bells and looks for their corresponding letter names and colors, while paying close attention to symbols indicating ringing techniques or note values. They use all the standard handbell techniques except for four-in-hand and the singing bell. This method enables the students to learn and perform some very complex musical aspects without the need of a music theory background.

Soundwave has traditionally had two scheduled class periods: one for Training Choir and one for Performance Choir. More basic music scrolls are used with the Training Choir while scrolls with more advanced musical ideas and various bell techniques are used in the Performance Choir.

Going Digital

The organization is excited about their newest technological leap forward! This semester, we have taken our traditional scrolls to a digital format. The new digital transition has taken quite some time to launch, but it has been a wonderful upgrade. Having built a template using Microsoft Excel, they can recreate their music method on the computer. Using a laptop and a flat screen TV, the Director, Eric, can now direct their digital scrolls from behind the TV with a pointer (rhythm stick), a small handheld mouse with scroll wheel and a mirror on the floor in front, angled so that he can see what is on the screen. It has proven to be less time consuming than physical scroll creation and for the first time, they have an easily editable scroll.

Connect with Soundwave

If anyone has questions about Soundwave's program or method, please feel free to contact Eric Loga via

email: Eric.logan@abileneisd.org

phone: (325) 691-1000 x 1040

Facebook: facebook.com/AISDHandbells/


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