It feels like I’ve been working forever trying to get this chime choir going. Feels like that, even though it’s only been a few months. Sometimes I have a hard time not understanding why other people don’t catch my enthusiasm, and then get discouraged because things turn out to be so hard.
In May, I realized that I wanted to start a hand chime choir in the school. I have a few friends who are directing chime choirs, and they were very encouraging. Two of them even got grants for their schools from the same foundation. “Great!” I thought, “I’ll just write a grant, people will give me money to buy a set of chimes, and we will start a hand chime choir in the school. Jenna and John can be in it, and this will be SO MUCH FUN!” So I wrote and sent in a grant proposal. And another grant, and another grant. In fact, I spent many hours in the summer searching for grants that we would even qualify, and applying. No, we are not a title 1 school, and, no, we don’t have a certain percentage of free or reduced lunches, no, I do not have an established program, no, I am not a full time teacher, no, I’m not looking to update our technology. All I want is $5,000 to buy chimes, folders, music, and maybe one of those cool conducting batons. I am surrounded by wealthy people here in the Highland/Alpine area, why is it that I can’t find someone who would like to donate to my cause?
Soon after I started applying for grants, I started getting rejection letters from grant sites. Letters like,
“Dear Mrs. Erickson,
Thank you for your interest in (insert name).
Unfortunately, it is not possible for (insert company name) to provide support at this time. While we recognize the value of the program for which you are seeking funds, economic circumstances and the numerous requests we receive throughout the year limit the amount of resources we have to support worthwhile causes and organizations. ”
I started asking for smaller amounts of money. $2,000 instead of $5,000, And looking for different companies to request grant money. There were so many hoops to jump through, forms to find, numbers to get right, the process seemed endless.
At our first PTA meeting in August, the PTA president gave me a letter that had come to the school. It was from a certain company that I had sent in a grant request, the one that TWO of my chime choir directing friends had told me was the one where they got money for chimes. I opened the letter with excitement.
Thank you for your recent application for a —- grant. This letter is to notify you that we are unable to approve your grant application.
Blah, Blah, Blah.
The bright spot in this quest has been the set of loaner chimes I was able to get from the Guild of English Handbell Ringers. I actually met the ladies in charge of the chime grant back at the bell conference I attended in June, and she gave me hope at that time that I would be receiving the loaner 3 octave set. But then I didn’t hear anything all summer, and had to get really naggy in August and ask if I could indeed borrow the set or not. Well, my nagging paid off, and I was able to pick up the set of chimes from their storage place in Brigham City in August, right before school started.
But then when I dragged those chimes to Back to school night all prepared to set up my choir and get sign ups, the band teacher was kind of snippy with me and the principal said we’d have to work things out and go through the district music program. Sigh. So, I tried to get kids interested, even though I didn’t have the details, and wasn’t sure if I could even DO a choir. Well, eventually I got approval from the District to run the program, but one of the qualifications is that I have 20 kids in choir. I wrote up a letter to go home to all the parents to be sent via email. Sadly, I don’t know how many parents actually read their email, and when the Friday before we were to start, the office lady told me that there were two kids signed up. No worries, I told myself, maybe people will just come and bring their sign up sheet on Tuesday morning.
Since our school has two tracks, and you want the opportunities for extra-curriculars to be offered to everyone, the before school things are early and earlier. So the first session of band/orchestra and my bell choir were set up for 7 am. I got up early and hurried everyone along so we could be there before 7. Jenna and John were excited, and helped me carry in the cases of chimes, and we set up the tables. But no one came. Not a single kid. Trying to hide my disappointment, I told the kids that we might need some signs to point the way to the gym stage, since I hadn’t been clear on the email that went out. They were happy to make signs advertising the chime choir and go and hang those up. We did a bit of ringing with just the two of them, and then I let them go be with their friends before school started.
The 8:00 class looked a bit more promising. I had two kids make their way to the stage, and they were excited. I got their names and their phone numbers from their moms, and we waited a few minutes to see if any more kids were coming. These two kids were so excited; they could not wait to start. I had met them both at back to school night and they both have had music lessons. So, I got started with how to ring, how to dampen the sound, how to ring one and damp the other, some counting, and some chords, and that was about all we could do with only two kids.
After we were done and the chimes were put away (I taught them how to do that, too), I talked to the principal and asked him what he thought. Should I switch the 7:00 class to after school? Should I allow 3rd graders? Any suggestions? He said I should think about changing the earlier class to after school instead, and maybe send home another note. So, with my tail dragging, I went and made copies of my information/sign up sheet, and put them in the boxes of the 4th-6th grade teachers to send home, to try to get more kids interested. Then when I went home (tired, since I had to get up so early), I rewrote my letter to the parents and said I would allow 3rd graders IF their kids had previous piano lessons, and we would change the time to afternoon for the early group.
The next morning, I dragged the kids out of bed to get there by 7:00 AGAIN, with the same result. This time I had them help me put music in the bell folders (special folders that I purchased with my non existent budget) and we tried a few chords and even some scales, if we leap frog past each other. The same two kids came to the 8:00 class, too. We figured out Twinkle, Twinkle, and played as many notes as we could cover in one practice song.
Since I had said in the email that we would be holding class in the afternoon, I had to actually go back to the school and HOLD class. Although that was just wishful thinking on my part. Again.
Do you see how by now I’m starting to get really Discouraged? No grants, no money, and no students. Why was it that I thought I could do this?
I went to bells rehearsal that night, still discouraged and not really wanting to tell my friends about my failure, because they have been so supportive and so excited for me to start this thing. I had to admit my failure and tell them that I had tried to direct a choir of 2. My friend Janeen, who started her school choir a few years ago, said, “Do you have the ‘Ring and Sing’ books?” Well, no, I don’t really have anything. “Well, every year, I teach my kids how to use the easy ring and sing, and then we walk about to the other classes and play a song for them. It gets kids interested, and it’s more exposure for the chime choir.” She even told me I could borrow her ring and sing books.
The next day, I was reading my friend Tess’s blog, and she wrote something that really hit me. Even though she’s talking about a book, and I’m talking about a choir, the idea is the same. She said,
“I am so glad I didn’t give up! For all the times this story was rejected … for all the times my earlier work was rejected … for all the times I wondered if I could really have a book published on a national level — I am so glad I didn’t quit. Dreams take time. But here’s the thing, If you keep trying and learning and believing, they will come true.”
I could cry. In fact, I did.
Dreams take time. Yes, it seems like I’ve been working on this project forever, and it feels like it’s never going to get off the ground, but in reality, it’s only been since May that I’ve been trying to get this thing going. I have these chimes for a year, and hopefully by the end of this year, I can get funding to buy another set for next year. And hopefully I can get 20 kids interested enough in joining a chime choir that I can run this program. If I don’t? Well, maybe I can make it work with less kids. I don’t know.
I do know that this week has been difficult, but I haven’t given up. I will get creative, and I will keep on trying. There are more grants to apply for, and more children to reach.
Maybe for Christmas I’ll buy myself half a set of chimes. Maybe I will go door to door to seek donations. Maybe we’ll… well, I’m open to suggestions. But I am not ready to give up. Dreams take time, and I need to be patient.
I can do this.