© 2016 Revised 2020

An interview with Kathleen Wissinger, composer, educator, ringer, director and founder of ringTrue

Q: What motivated you to create ringTrue?

A: I've been very fortunate to have much of my music published by established companies. Some of the music I've written for school, commissions, festivals and the like wanders a bit from the mainstream: offering a piece set in different keys and formats, multi-level pieces, some with up to 5 compatible scores. Barbara Brocker encouraged me to consider self-publishing these “outside of the box” pieces – as she does with her own company “Tree-O.” This would allow me to offer all these extras and more. Another enticement for this arrangement is that I would own the copyright to ringTrue pieces, easily allowing additional versions and additions in the future. One small, but significant, nudge for me to move into publishing was to avoid the need to cut down, simplify or consolidate a piece. For example, “Through the Storm” commissioned as a tribute to the victims and survivors of the Virginia Tech shooting, had been conditionally accepted for publication but with major cuts required … and I couldn't do that to this piece. RingTrue gives me the opportunity to offer a major work like this in its entirety.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about the history behind ringTrue?

A: A serendipitous free hour at the 2014 National Seminar allowed some sit-down time with Thomas Jeffers, who was incredibly supportive and upbeat about forming a publishing partnership: “Let us do what we do well to let you do what you do well.” I immediately went to work selecting music I had in my files to prepare for the first ringTrue music catalog release in the spring of 2015. I selected my company name (from about 10 possibilities!), designed my logo and the graphics for all the music covers, came up with a catalog concept and numbering system. Winter 2014/Spring 2015 is a blur for me: cleaning-up or re-engraving over 30 pieces, creating exercises for some, writing information sheets. I took a class from the local Small Business Administration, which helped me focus on some business and organizational aspects of the project.

Q: What is the concept behind the offerings in ringTrue's music catalog?

A: RingTrue's 9 categories help organize a variety of my projects:

  1. Chord Stories – quick Level Zero (!) presentations to teach by rote
  2. Split-Level – L2 pieces with targeted L1 positions for new ringers
  3. Class ring – pedagogical, concert-worthy music, exercises for teaching concepts
  4. Celebrations – small collections for concert, worship, Salvation Army kettle ringing
  5. First String – belltree pieces using one octave, more or less
  6. little gems – solo/duet/small ensemble pieces
  7. Sing & Ring – anthems and songs with ringing options
  8. True Music – concert/festival/worship music – originals, arrangements, commissions
  9. Solo Time – for at home practice and skill building

I like to offer multiple formats for some pieces, sometimes in different keys to fall into place for various ringing needs – or in compatible formats to 1) step-up to as ringers become more skillful, 2) allow groups of differing abilities to perform together, or 3) choose each year which format best suits the ringers at hand. For example, "Circle of Time" has expanded to FIVE compatible versions over time – each one written in response to my ringers' needs or those of other students attending our annual school handbell festival.

A few examples of ringTrue offerings and their backstories:

  • A new release "Down by the Riverside" - written for my church youth group - required some tweaking for my newer 5th grade ringers at school. So, while the concepts are similar (both use marts and claps in one section), the two versions are presented differently and are in different keys. Both versions are included in a single piece of music – and a director can decide which one fits best.
  • "Cool Cats" written for 3 graduating 8th grade girls is offered in 2 staff formats: 1) each assignment on a separate staff and 2) as a grand staff ensemble – and each of these in 2 keys: 1) for 2 octaves (G4-G6) and 2) for 3 octaves (C5-C7) – to offer as many options as possible.
  • The “Split-Level” concept was born from the challenge of keeping my 6th graders engaged while I taught the new 5th graders how to ring. Targeted Level 1 positions in the pieces allowed the 5th graders to feel confident in their first ringing experience, while the 6th graders played the more challenging parts. I've also used Split-Level pieces when a new ringer joins a group and needs a little time to get oriented.
  • "Matinata" (Class Ring Series) targets introducing “paired adjacent 8th notes” (easier than sharing an 8th note with another person) and is offered in three compatible scores: "I" and "II" are Split-Level with some L1 positions for beginners, "III" is all L2. "Morning Song A & B" offers 2 additional settings of the same tune, but each is in a different key, to focus the 8th note patterns (and L1 parts) on different positions.
  • Chord Stories were developed for a music conference where my 2nd and 3rd grade group was scheduled to play for opening worship on the second day of the event. The first day, after learning the basic ringing stroke, each child learned their "Noah's Ark" part by rote – and we were ready to perform with confidence the next morning. "Stone Soup" soon followed for my 4th grade school class.
  • First String - I was asked to play bells at a family wedding in Cyprus (yes, the island in the Mediterranean Sea) – "A Thankful Heart" and "Trumpet Tune" used one octave of bells - wrapped in a shawl in my carry-on bag.
  • True Music allows me to quickly release commissions ("No Greater Love" "Semper Paratus" - the Coast Guard song – and most recently "Wichita Lineman") as well as original projects.

Whenever there is a blank page in the layout, I try to slip in a bonus piece – an extra something I've written for a conference or a class – something the same level and range as the title piece. Just for fun!

Q: Is there a specific focus for ringTrue Handbell Music?

A: My goal is to offer well-crafted, performance-worthy music that showcases the wonderful idiom and versatility of handbells and serves a wide population of ringers. I write music for all my groups (currently 7 choirs) at one time or another – and beyond. “RingTrue” allows me to share this music directly – and sometimes immediately - getting it out there for others to use, even if it serves a smaller or more focused need. It might fill a niche that no one else has written for. I'm still discovering possibilities.

The challenge – some of the unique ringTrue categories require explaining for a director to understand what is being offered. But my hope is, once the word gets out (as in this article!), directors will find that there is something here that might exactly fill their needs and encourage their ringers to be successful. And I'm always available by e-mail to help.

Q: What are some of your future projects for ringTrue?

A: While I lean towards original works, I've licensed a song I fell in love with when I heard it on TV - "We Are Done" by the Madden Brothers – so that's in the works. And over the years I've been asked by many teachers and directors to consolidate my teaching methods for beginning ringers for them – so "Square One" (working title) is also underway. It includes a step-by-step progression of the concepts, skills and reproducible exercises I've developed in my 12 years of teaching. And, as I continue to write pieces for my students and choirs and follow leads for new ideas, I'll continue to add to the ringTrue music catalog.

You can check out photos from her students’ concerts and links to specific pieces on the ringTrue Facebook page.

All ringTrue pieces are distributed exclusively by Jeffers Handbell Supply, Inc.. and can be found at Handbell World.

You can reach ringTrue by email at longwalk3@aol.com