Competition featured some of the best hand bell choirs from Hong Kong

By Chad Koenen


Gloria Axelson has the unique ability to be in the right place at the right time. She also has the knowhow to walk through an opening when a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity is knocking at her door. 

Axelson, who lives on East Battle Lake near Vining, recently had a door open for a unique chance to judge an international hand bell contest. 

“They were so good. I have never heard anything like that.”

Gloria Axelson about the groups she judged

Of course being offered the chance to listen to some of the best hand bell choirs in the world was an honor in-and-of itself, but the series of events leading up to her being asked to judge the contest are almost too remarkable to believe.

Approximately five years ago, Axelson took a summer class at Concordia University in Wisconsin for hand bell techniques. During her time in Wisconsin, the Vining resident was assigned a dorm with a group of women from Hong Kong. The women took a liking to Axelson as they dubbed her their “American grandma.” 

Despite being half a world away, the women stayed in touch. When the women from Hong Kong told Axelson that they were going to perform at a Christmas concert in London a few years ago, their new “American grandma” asked if she could help arrange a piece for the concert. Four months later the piece was completed and the local hand bell aficionado’s piece was performed at the prestigious Christmas concert in England. 

Fast forward to 2022 and the same women from Hong Kong reached out to their American friend to share another exciting idea—a contest between the best hand bell choirs in Hong Kong. The women were looking for a well versed group of judges to judge the contestants and asked if Axelson would be willing to step in and lend her expertise.

“I felt honored they asked me,” she said. 

The contest was called Teams in Hong Kong and featured the best hand bell choirs taking the stage to perform in a contest to see who would reign supreme.

Never one to turn down a unique opportunity, Axelson agreed to judge a group of the hand bell choirs. 

“All of them played the same number and that was kind of unique that they played the same tune,” she said. 

Along with Axelson, another American and two international judges were part of her semi-finals group. Another set of judges analyzed the other semi-finals group to narrow down the expansive competition. 

Judging took place online from August 17-18 and took nearly 10 hours over two days to narrow down the competition. Axelson said she didn’t know what to expect going into the competition.

In order to help her access the files online, Axelson enlisted the help of her son and quickly realized the hand bell choirs she was listening to were simply remarkable. 

“I didn’t realize it was that big of a deal until my son said ‘mother what did you get yourself into,’” said Axelson with a laugh. 

The final six groups will compete in the championship round of the Teams in Hong Kong in September with Axelson once again getting a front row seat for the show. 

“I am honored to tell you I also will be one of the judges to pick the winner,” said Axelson.