I was contacted today by the people who loaned me the set of chimes I have been using. They say it’s time to give them to the next recipient, and want a wrap up report. I have already written much about my chime choir experience, but I wrote it all together for this letter, before I realized that it said a “one page” letter. Whoops. Time to edit. But I’ll put it all up here first, just in case I want to find it again.
With no money, no budget, no music, and no experience, I set out to start a hand chime choir. Thankfully, the principal was on board, and willing to let me try. When I found out I had gotten the Area 11 chime loan, I knew I could get going for at least one year.
I was all excited to go to back to school night, set out some chimes, and get kids to sign up and come play in my new chime choir! Since our school already has an established band and orchestra program, I thought we could just add to that and everyone would be excited. I quickly discovered that I would have to do some convincing, and enthusiasm alone are not enough to get a program going. The band teacher was downright rude and discouraging when I approached her about a new chime choir. “We already use the stage every single morning, so I don’t see how that would work.” But I persevered, send home a note asking for kids to sign up, and figured out with the principal an alternate location for our rehearsals.
I read the beginning books (provided with the loan of the chimes), and decided upon a lesson plan for our first couple rehearsals, and dragged the two heavy boxes of chimes to school for our first 7 am rehearsal. I had brought my two kids that attend that school, my 6th grader Jenna and 3rd grader John, and they were it. Not one other student. The three of us set up a table and put out the chimes and I showed them how to ring, and what the notes meant while we waited for the others to come. There were no others. At 8:00, my kids went to class, and I waited to see if anyone from the 2nd track would come. Only one other student came. One. I had known that he had signed up, but he was the only one. One real student. I could do even less with him than with Jenna and John, but again, I showed him how the notes go in order, how to ring, how to dampen, and we played a few chords. He seemed happy to ring, even if he was the only one. Maybe he felt special that he was receiving a “private lesson.”
The next day, it was the same story. Jenna and John and I made some little posters advertising our choir, and stuck them up around the school. And in my 8:00 class, I had two students come. I was SO excited that I had two actual students! Still not much I can do when I’ve got two kids in each group, but at least I had four, if you counted my own kids. I went and talked to the principal and asked what he thought I should do. Since the school schedules are staggered, I had to offer the class to both groups. He suggested I try an after school time for the early kids. While at first I wasn’t thrilled about coming in to the school before school AND after school two days a week, I decided to give it a try.
Our numbers SLOWLY grew as more kids signed up. By the end of November, I finally had 12 kids signed up, which is enough to play all the notes. Of course, half of the kids came in the morning before school and half came after school, so they never really could hear how the song was supposed to be played until the last week when we all had to come early in the morning for rehearsal.
Before we knew it, it was time for the Christmas concert.
There was a bit of confusion with the band teacher, and I won’t go into the whole thing, but I really had to assert myself and go to bat for my little choir so that we wouldn’t be totally hidden on the floor during the concert.
There were two performances during the school day, and one at night for the parents. Even though one of my students couldn’t be there for the evening performance, we covered things pretty well. I think they did SO great! I think people were impressed that they could recognize the songs we played, and that it even sounded good. We played Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star, Jingle Bells, and Jolly Old St. Nicholas. Little did I know that the band and orchestra would be playing those Christmas songs as well. But since we went first, people weren’t tired of the songs YET. My husband said he was surprised at how well they sounded. (Amazed is more like it.)
I got this message from one of the moms today,
Paige – Thank you so much for teaching M— chimes. I was so impressed tonight at the concert. Talk about a proud Mom moment. I didn’t realize how amazing chimes were, how beautiful they sound, how fun they are to watch and how much they have all learned in such a short time. I was beaming.
Thanks for all your hard work!
Love – M’s Mom
That brought tears to my eyes! This is why I am doing this! To bring the love of music and handbells to kids and parents.
The whole concert went quite well. The band teacher talked about how important music programs are, and plugged her band and orchestra program, telling the parents all about when to sign up and what they would be doing next semester, and she didn’t mention a word about the chime program. But maybe next time I will take the mic and do my own announcing, I thought. I was hopeful that enough kids would have thought it was cool to sign up in January, to have enough kids to ring all the notes in BOTH the am and the pm groups.
Besides finding music and teaching this little group, I worked really hard trying to get a grant. In fact, applied for many grants. Some for $500, and some for $5000. All of them have turned me down. It’s discouraging, especially when two of my handbell friends received grants to buy thier handchime sets from a certain company, and that company turned me down.
When Mary Moffet called to see if my little choir would like to play something for the Spring Ring, I was pretty sure that was out of the question. I didn’t know how many kids I would have winter semester, and had no idea if we could get something performance ready by March. Plus, I would be there with my own choir, and therefore couldn’t drive the kids all the way up to Kaysville. But when I asked the parents of my little group (I had 15 students by then), they were ALL excited about the opportunity, and only one said they couldn’t commit to bringing their child on a Saturday, so I told Mary we would do it, and we started to prepare.
It’s one thing to play in the band and orchestra concert where the only people who come are the parents who think whatever their kid does is great, and another thing entirely to play in front of a whole crowd of BELL PEOPLE. Not only bell people, but my peers. I told LeAnna Wilmore, the Bells on Temple Square director, what would be happening, just to make sure that was ok with her that I would leave our group for a bit to go and direct my little choir, and to ask her if I could borrow some chimes if we needed extras. She was nothing but supportive, telling me I could use whatever I needed, and that it would be no problem at all.
Then she announced it to the group that I would be bringing my little chime choir to this event. My bell choir peeps were SO supportive. I don’t know why I was surprised. We have been together for 8 years, some of us, and we really are like a family. One friend said, “What song are you playing? If you want, we can stand behind and ring just in case they mess up. I was really blown away by their kind comments. It made me feel encouraged. A little bit
We rehearsed the Star Spangled Banner in earnest, and even had some early morning rehearsals so that all of the kids could ring together. Normally half come before school and half come after school, which makes it a little difficult to hear the whole song together. All but one of my kids committed to come, so we didn’t even have to do any switching around.
But I was still nervous. This being our first “on the road” performance of any kind, I had a big mental checklist of things I had to remember. Two boxes of chimes, all the music folders, get covers for the tables, bring the old quilts we use as table pads, bring chocolate for the kids (I had promised them chocolate), as well as the stuff I usually have to schlep with me to an all day ringing event (water bottles, diet coke, slip, shoes and nylons to go with my uniform, snacks, advil, etc. I seriously had a TON of stuff. And since my husband was going to be bringing three of the chime kids up there, I didn’t want to drive another car, so I transferred the whole load into my carpool buddy’s car to take up to Davis High on Saturday.
I was so nervous about the chime thing that I really couldn’t concentrate on the music. So many things could go wrong, and I have trouble getting my brain to not focus on the worst case scenario. What if the kids don’t get there in time? What if some of them don’t come? What if they get nervous and fall apart? It wasn’t helping things when one of the parents texted me at about the time they should be leaving asking for the address of the school, and what time is it that they need to be there.
At around 4:15, the director dismissed us to go and get changed and get ready for the concert at 5:00. I knew that one of my kids was there, and I started to set things up, with a churning of stress and worry in my gut. I soon saw my husband arrive with three of the kids, and then another parent with three more of the kids, and I was so happy to have them there. The kids, however, were more interested in seeing the really big bells and chimes than in rehearsing. I had to get them to focus so we could play the song at least once, and I told them we could all see the big bells AFTER the concert. By 4:40, all of the kids were there.
We quickly ran through our song, then I got them seated in order, and went to go change.
I joined my choir and played two pieces with them, then slunk away when another group did their solo. When it was our turn, I stood up, got my kids up, and got them ready to play. Mary got up to introduce us and explained about the chime loan program, and that we were an elementary choir in our first year of rehearsing, etc. And then it was our turn. I whispered to them, “Don’t play on count TWO” and we started.
Because we were playing the Star Spangled Banner, people stood up. I kind of wish they hadn’t stood up, and my director mentioned that she hoped they would announce that the audience didn’t need to stand up, but they stood up anyway. Oh, well.
The kids did great. They played it just like we had in practice! I forgot to have them bow or anything (I’m new at this), but they got a lot of applause. Because they’re so cute, right?
After the concert, I took the kids to see the really big bells and chimes, and the parents all came up to me while we were putting things away. ‘How much money do we need to buy our OWN set so we can keep this going for next year?’ one parent asked. One of the other parents said maybe we need to do our own fundraiser, because we just HAD to continue this program. I felt SO much love and support, which I realize I may not have received, had we not gone to the Spring Ring so they could see what other bell choirs look and sound like. I was on cloud 9 on the drive home.
Still frustrated by the lack of approval I was getting on my Grants, and with the number of rejection letters climbing into double digits, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I ran a fundraiser through Kickstarter, where people can donate to the cause, and they receive certain rewards. I figured I would just beg my friends and family and the parents to donate, and hopefully we could reach our $2,000 goal to buy our own 3 octave set of chimes. Amazingly, we met our goal, and I purchased the 3 octaves. The principal agreed to buy the 4th octave for us, so we’ll be set for next year!
I have plans for next year. I want to play the National Anthem for a sporting event. I want to have both a morning and an afternoon choir, and I am so excited that I get to work on these things. Thank you for giving me this chance to start a chime choir.