Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The first practice

I admit I was apprehensive.

I tend to assume that expertise in one area of a subfield doesn't necessarily carry over to others (in other words: "Good with animals, good with children" is  a lie). And also, I am really not that sure of my own abilities at the piano; my teacher seems encouraging and I know other people have told me stuff like "yeah, you might not think you're that good, but how many people can actually play with both hands and follow a written score?"

But I decided to give it a try. Several other people had said they would, and I figured it would be good to at least seem game. There were six of us plus the director: me, an older couple, a retired librarian, my retired colleague Judy, a woman originally from Germany. Two others have said they'll be a part but couldn't make this practice.

The director has a lot of experience; she's done handbell choirs before. I hope she wasn't just being encouraging when she said at the end it was the best beginner session she'd seen. And this was a diverse group of people, about 2/3 of whom said they could not read music (though I think if you've had a creditable education - especially in years past - you probably learned a little. I know we had enough music class in school to learn the basic rhythm of the different notes, and time signatures (at least the most common ones) and I remember learning the scales. I know the bass clef a lot better now from piano, but I think I knew the basics of it even then)

Anyway. First up was how to ring the bells and already I am afraid my left side may be a problem - I sometimes have a little weakness there because of that old injury to my collarbone. But I took the bell with fewer notes for my part in that hand and did OK.

First up after learning to actually get a sound out of the bells (and to ring them in an aesthetically appealing way; she said "It is not a hammer (and pantomimed), it is not a saw (and pantomimed)" and said it was basically an "egg shaped" motion. It's a little hard to visualize but I managed to get it.

Then she had us do a timing exercise. Because I'm used to playing music it was pretty familiar for me but it took a few run throughs for some of the people - but they all got it, too. And we don't do faster than eighth notes (the really fast notes on the piano are my bane, so I am happy for that). We did that a few times, then she handed out an arrangement she had written of "Jesus Loves Me" that would work for a small number of ringers.

It took us a few tries, but by the last one - yes, you could hear the tune. (This is with maybe 15 minutes of going through it).  It wasn't perfect but it was recognizable.

She remarked how well we did as we were putting away the bells. I confess, I was kind of concerned some people might get frustrated with it - I know I sometimes do if I try to do something and am not perfect at it at first - but everyone seemed really enthusiastic and they all signed up for future practices, so that's good. (I may miss one or two, being out of town these next couple weeks, but this is not one of those musical things where the director expects you to make the music your #1 priority in life before family, job, and everything else...)

We laughed a lot, and that felt good. And it felt good to be doing something as part of a group where I shared responsibility equally - all too often when I do things, it's a case where I have the lion's share of the responsibility, and so failure or success comes down to me, and that's sometimes tiring. It's nicer to be an equal part of a team.

I also think maybe - and I hope this happens - if the rehearsals continue this summer, this will help soothe a little bit of the loneliness and feeling-at-loose-ends I get in the summer: I do need to be a part of something, and if we have regular rehearsals that will do that.

As we put everything up and were leaving, she commented it was the best first rehearsal she had seen, which is kind of interesting - especially given the lack of experience with music many had, and the total lack of experience with bells. Maybe it's because none of us are the "diva" type, and we were able to laugh when we messed up and nobody felt the need to be a "star"?

She also remarked as we were leaving - and this is probably boilerplate bell-choir humor, but still: "Y'all are gonna be my favorite group of ding-a-lings!"

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