Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, March 19, 2001

Kay Knutson brings knowledge of handbells to Winsted

By Ryan Gueningsman

Performing at St. John's Lutheran Church, Winsted, on Sunday, March 25, at the 10 a.m. service, are the Jubilant Bell Choir and the Messiah Junior Bell Choir, both under the direction of Kay Knutson (Gatz).

Knutson is the daughter of Paul and Marilyn Gatz of Winsted.

Her training began in grade school where she studied with the nuns at Holy Trinity convert. Throughout high school, she studied organ with Mark Ochu of Winsted.

After graduating from Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted High School in 1978, Knutson went on to study for one year at Cornell College, Iowa; and later, transferred to Concordia University, St. Paul, where she completed her bachelor of arts degree in music, with an emphasis in organ performance.

"My love for handbells began after college while serving at a congregation in Inver Grove Heights," said Knutson. "After their handbell director stepped down, I was given the position. Not having any prior training, I spent many hours reading, attending conferences, and just working with the bells to learn as much as I could. The more I worked with them, the more I fell in love with them. It was truly 'Baptism by Fire' that first year."

While there are now many classes offered on handbells and different techniques of ringing, that wasn't the case when Knutson was in school.

"When I was working towards my BA in the late '70s," said Knutson, "there were no classes offered to teach how to ring or direct handbells. Now, many schools and colleges have their own classes, and there are several professional groups located in the metro area."

Since taking over the Messiah Choirs two and one-half years ago, Knutson has made some changes.

"When I came, they were playing three octaves of bells, said Knutson. "The first year I directed, I saw the need to expand the program and we increased the choir to four octaves. It is my hope to further expand to five octaves this next year. This will allow more ringers to be involved in the program, and the added beauty of the bass bells is a wonderful experience of sound."

There are many different styles of ringing and different techniques used to produce different sounds. Some examples include:

· Martellato. This technique is done by forcing the bell into a table pad. A thump sound is produced and it also stops the vibrating bell.

· Plucking produces a percussive sound and requires the ringer to lift the clapper inside the bell and throw it against the wall of the bell.

· Malleting is done while the bell is lying on a table or suspended in the air. The ringer hits the bell with a mallet to produce a percussive sound.

Even though Knutson doesn't have a "favorite" style, she enjoys playing and directing all styles of music. She cites some favorite composers as William Payn, John Behnke, and Arnold Sherman.

Knutson will be taking classes this summer at Concordia University, Mequon, Wis., which is the only college in the country to offer a master in church music with an emphasis in handbells.

"Although the choirs mainly perform at Messiah Lutheran," said Knutson, "we also have attended several bell festivals, and are trying to make the performance at Winsted an annual event."

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