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Our Story

Did You Know:

Learning a new skill/language ...

stimulates cognitive thinking and helps to combat mental atrophy typically caused by the onset of dementia or Alzheimer’s

Your brain needs dopamine ...

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that help to convey signals in our brain between neurons. It plays a big role in not only our mental and emotional responses, but also fine motor reactions. Listening to and playing music are great ways to stimulate dopamine release in the our brains.

How many ways ...

can you get sound out of a handbell? While the action of ringing a handbell is simple and quickly understood by even novice ringers, it goes beyond simply ringing or shaking the bell. There are over 30 different techniques for getting the sound out of a handbell.


Having handbell rehearsal each week gives me something to look forward to.

C.F. Program Participant

I've never played a musical instrument. Alan is always very patient and makes learning fun.

I.G. Program Participant

I've made new friends since playing handbells that I would not have typically met.

D.B. Program Participant

It started with a concert...

The genesis for Music To Free (MTF) came after Christmas Handbell concerts that our founder, Alan Payne, organized for the Fellowship House/Hunters Woods in Reston, Virginia. The Fellowship House is a senior living facility for low/fixed income seniors. Alan organized the concerts so that the Fairfax United Methodist Church’s handbell choir would perform for the residents. After the concerts, the residents would ask how to ring the handbells and would take pictures and videos of themselves ringing the instruments. As much as Alan enjoys ringing handbells, showing how to ring the handbells and seeing the residents' immediate success and joy was his favorite part of the concerts. From these interactions, the idea of starting handbell programs at these types of facilities was born.

Our Mission

Music To Free has a simple mission - to bring the gift of music to those that need it. Often, as a society we overlook those on the fringes. The elderly, the poor, those that have served our country, and those suffering with addiction. While playing music won't solve these issues, it does give people an opportunity to focus on something else and to be uplifted by others working towards a common goal. Our name, "Music To Free" embodies the premises that while playing music your mind is freed. Free from the daily noise of our lives; allowing us to focus completely on something else, even if just for a short while.

No musical experience necessary

The majority of our participants have never played any type of musical instrument nor do they know how to read music. Our programs start with the foundational aspects of reading music and how to ring handbells. Learning to read music and additionally, handbell specific notations, is like learning another language and combines many different cognitive aspects including creativity, math, critical thinking, and ambidextrous movements with each hand.

Why Handbells?

Handbells, as an instrument, are very accessible for just about anyone to ring. In a typical 3 octave set of handbells (37 bells) that range from C4 to C7, the individual bells weigh from 2.8lbs to 8 ounces. Ringing a handbell is a very fluid and low-impact motion that involves both abduction (away from the body) and adduction (towards the body) movements. Handbells don't require the high level of manual dexterity needed by other instruments or require normal lung capacity to produce a sound. Additionally, while handbell ringers typically stand while ringing, handbells can be played while sitting on a stool or even in a wheelchair. For those that do not have bilateral use of their hands (e.g., someone who has suffered a stroke or an amputee) or might be missing a finger, typically they can still play handbells and be part of an ensemble.