Therapists increasingly use handbells as part of their music therapy programs because of the versatility and flexibility of the medium. Therapists appreciate that participants do not need prior musical training or extensive instruction to be part of a handbell group. They also find it easy to set up the group and manage additions or substitutions of group members as patients start and end their therapies. Since handbell performing requires participants to both perform independently and work cooperatively, handbell programs offer a powerful, real-life way to teach – and reward – positive social behaviors. Therapists report that the handbell programs provide an important complement to one-on-one therapeutic efforts.
One example of a successful handbell therapy program is the Melmark Joybells handbell choir. Led by two professional music directors, adults with developmental disabilities use a variety of handbells, handchimes and percussion instruments to perform sacred, classical, popular and patriotic music together. Since 1970, the Joybells have performed regularly at churches, schools, colleges and corporate and community events, including three White House events and a Pennsylvania gubernatornial inauguration. Joybells forms an important part of non-profit Melmark’s program of services for children and adults with developmental disabilities.