My Name Is... Lisa Lewis

Conductor of Smithtonian Handbell Ensemble


‘Extension of myself’

I’ve got a degree in chorale conducting. I got to know bells before I was hired at any job. Then when I moved here, I was ringing with this group, and the director retired. I took over because I like to ring, but I also have a talent for leadership.

I was a music major, and I knew I wouldn’t make it in performing, but I found I had a talent for conducting. It became a natural extension of myself. There’s a lot of competition in music schools for conductors, but I felt like it was my gift. I had always intended on going back and getting my doctorate, but I had babies instead.

Come together

Conducting a handbell ensemble is pretty darn amazing, but it’s different from conducting a band, because when you’re with a band, you’re just trying to keep everyone together on a beat. Conducting bells, you’re trying to get the whole group to move together to express different emotions.

Bells are very visual, and they’re fun to conduct and play. Most people who conduct bell groups are doing it as an extension of playing, or because their conductor left. But it’s my passion, and I’ve been at it for 34 years.

Ring my bell

The group was started in 1983 or so, by Don Smith, who was Arapahoe High School’s director at the time. He got his hands on a set of bells, but didn’t know what to do with them. He got together with some other teachers, and started playing. That’s where they got the Smithtonian name, because of all the teachers involved early on.

Christmas is our big season, as well as May. We’ll do a lot of original works. Last year we did “Age of Aquarius” and “Dancing Queen.” We’ll do every genre imaginable. When I first became acquainted with the bells, it was simpler. Stylistically and technically, it’s much more advanced now. It’s broadened so much, and it’s fun to see what a bell can do.

Once you start ringing, you’re hooked. People think it’s a sissy instrument, but it’s so cool.

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