Tyler music director known worldwide for handbell compositions

Published on Friday, 28 July 2017 12:37 - Written by BETTY WATERS, news@tylerpaper.com

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Arnold B. Sherman lives quietly in Tyler, yet his music compositions and arrangements, mostly for handbells, have made a resounding impact in church music and festival circles across the United States and in other countries.

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir and its handbells have performed Sherman’s music and it has been played at festivals in Japan and England.

Sherman is internationally sought as a clinician to come to festivals and conferences. He teaches composing classes for handbells at national seminars.

Sherman has served as clinician/choir director for festivals and workshops in about 40 states, the Bahamas and three foreign countries - Japan, Canada and Great Britain.

Type Sherman’s name in on YouTube and countless videos appear of choirs from many church denominations, universities and other groups presenting different pieces composed or arranged by Sherman.

Chris Nabors, who is founder and director of Cast of Bronze, a nationally recognized handbell ensemble from Dallas, said Sherman’s contributions to the music field are “almost immeasurable.”

“He is one of the most respected handbell composers and arrangers ever in the history of handbells,” Nabors said. “I call him the Johann Sebastian Bach of handbells because he is that well known. He’s one of the most beloved figures of handbells.

“Some of the best original handbell compositions that have ever been written for handbells came from Arnold Sherman,” Nabors said.

Besides handbells, Sherman has composed and/or arranged choral music, theater and considerable church music.

Sherman not only composes music but also is highly regarded as a transcriptionist of classical pieces and hymn arrangements - someone who adapts music written for an orchestra or other instrument to be played by handbells.

“In the handbell world, he is one of the most prolific handbell composers that … (is) out there,” Nabors said.

Sherman has been consistently creative through the years. He quit counting when the number of his original published compositions and arrangements, mostly of church music, reached “somewhere over 400.”

That was about 15 years ago and ever since, he still regularly turns out new pieces.

One of his best-known compositions has the Italian title “Grazioso” and is for handbells.  

Some television shows have focused on Sherman’s music. “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” a children’s program, demonstrated handbells by playing a Sherman piece and a handbell group played Sherman’s music on “Fox and Friends.”

“You just never know where it pops up now and then,” Sherman said. “It’s been pretty amazing.”

Most of his compositions and arrangements are church music. If a church has handbells, people involved with music at the church probably know who Sherman is.

“I’m not so sure that I chose music as much as it found me,” Sherman said. “There’s just a huge strong connection for me. It’s the way that I best express my faith. It moves me in ways I can’t describe. It’s just a constant stream flowing through me all the time.”

Sherman has never gotten over the joy of getting a letter back from a publisher accepting one of his pieces for publication.

“It’s a very humbling thing,” Sherman said.

For every one piece he has published, Sherman has written two or three more pieces that were not published - hundreds altogether of varying sizes.

Although the majority of his published work is for handbells, he also has written organ and choir pieces. Some of his work is to be performed by a combination of handbells and orchestra and a couple of pieces are for handbells and band.

For Sherman, composing and arranging music is something that he loves to do.

“It’s like breathing for me; I’m going to write until I can’t anymore,” he said.

Passages in the Bible are probably the main inspiration for his pieces, Sherman said, but added a sunrise or sunset or just talking to people or taking a walk inspires him.

Sherman is thrilled that people actually play his music.  

“People have had a lot of kind words to say over the years about what my music has meant to them,” Sherman said. “That absolutely awes me.”

Sherman’s career did not happen the way he thought it would.

“I thought I would be teaching school or writing music for Broadway shows,” he said.

Born in Rochester, New York, Sherman moved around a lot growing up because his father was in the Navy.

As a child, Sherman first became interested in music in fifth grade. Directors of music in junior high and high school inspired him.

When he was a high school freshman in Rockville, Maryland, his mother got a piano and Sherman became fascinated with it. He took piano lessons but quickly became bored with it and soon discovered that he was much more interested in how musical pieces went together than actually playing them.

From there he made his own first attempts at writing music. Sherman and a high school friend in Maryland tried to write musical versions of “Robin Hood” and “Tom Sawyer.” They saw themselves as the next greatest things on Broadway in terms of writing shows. However, they did not finish anything and his friend moved away.

Also in high school, Sherman enjoyed going to a music store, picking through choral music, buying what he could afford and taking it home to pick it apart and decide why he liked it and what made it work.

While studying composition at Baylor University, Sherman had a number of writing projects. One of the first pieces he wrote was a cantata for a church choir.

Since Sherman did not have a car, a classmate offered a ride so Sherman could take his first church job as part-time choir director at St. John’s United Methodist Church in Rockdale while attending Baylor.

“The fact that I was going to have my own choir for the first time in my life and they were going to pay me was absolutely mind-boggling,” Sherman said. “I would have done it for nothing. I was thrilled beyond belief to be able to make music like that and to work with people.”

Despite having grown up as a Baptist, Sherman joined the Methodist Church. 

That led to Sherman serving as full-time music director for Methodist churches for the last 50 years in several places in Texas including Atlanta, Henderson and Tyler. Meanwhile, he is a music composer and arranger on the side.

Upon getting into church work, Sherman said, “I found where I needed to be.”

Sherman is in his second stint as director of music and the arts at Pollard United Methodist Church in Tyler. He first served the church from 1980 to 1995 and returned in 2009.

“He’s been dedicated for years to service and commitment, to serving the Lord through music and inspiring to the young, the youth and adults,” the Rev. Stephen Rhoads, lead pastor at Pollard said.

Rhoads said Sherman is also very dedicated to the theater ministry at the church, wanting to reach out to the community through family friendly theater programs that allow people to grow in their faith.

“It’s been a great pleasure getting to know him and spending the last few years growing our worship to meet the needs of Tyler,” Rhoads said.

Sherman also directed the now defunct East Texas Handbell Ensemble based in Tyler.

For the past eight years, Sherman has been involved with musicals at the Texas Shakespeare Festival in addition to working at Pollard.

“I love working with people,” he said. “I love giving them opportunities to express their faith and one way they can do that is through music. It’s great working with children and with youth and letting them find their voices and their talents and things they can give back to God. That really has always been a huge part of my life.”


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