As I write, a chorus of cicadas hums outside, someones small dog (not mine!) yips excitedly, and my neighbors old riding mower grumbles as it rounds the yard. Yet to me, this seems like blissful silence. I just returned from spending the weekend ringing handbells with 13 women!
Yep, I got called into emergency service during the annual retreat weekend for Classical Bells, the community handbell group I played with from 1998-2002. Late last Thursday, my friend Barbara called and asked if I would substitute for a member who had suddenly become quite ill. (If you’re not familiar with handbells, you might not realize that the absence of one person in the group can be deadly. Handbells are like a giant piano keyboard being played by about a dozen people, so taking one person away is akin to playing a piano with a bunch of its keys missing.)
My friend Millie hosted the retreat at her home on Lake Huron. It’s a huge “cottage,” vintage 1940’s style, sitting high above the lake. We’ve had many retreats here, her living room becoming our rehearsal space, where we see the sun glistening off Huron’s blue water and catch a glimpse of the freighters and sail boats passing by on the horizon. After a long day’s rehearsal, we troop down to the deck built over the boathouse, armed with wine and junk food galore. The conversation gets louder and crazier as the night goes on and bottles are emptied, our laughter ringing across the lake in its own wild musical arrangement.
There are many things I love about being with this group of wild women (and now one young man, aged 27, who adds his own dimension of youthful craziness to this group). We share stories of our lives, our trials and tribulations with growing children and aging parents, and of course, the memories of our musical history together. The concert in Columbus when we processed onstage, took our places, and found a gaping hole in the formation where Julie had taken a last minute bathroom break and managed to miss last call. The 15th anniversary concert when Darlene, our director, literally tore an IV out of her arm, left the hospital emergency room where she was being treated for pneumonia, and played the entire concert dehydrated, with a fever of 103 degrees. Stories of tragedy, stories of triumph, stories funny, sad, poignant, exciting…the culmination of almost 25 years together, making music and sharing experiences.
I doubt that most people realize how much being a part of a musical ensemble is like being an athlete on a team. A group of people with a shared passion overcome their differences to work
together toward achieving a common goal~ winning the game, playing a great concert. In the process, they become this close knit group of individuals, closer in some ways than family. Since I left the group, this is the thing I miss most~and of course, the performances, the chance to “show off” all this musical ability and entertain people.
So, in spite of the noise and clamor of 13 adults (not to mention 81 handbells and 72 choir chimes!) sharing a relatively small space for the past three days, I quite enjoyed my unexpected weekend. I’ve been tempted several times over the past few years to rejoin the group. I miss being part of that level of musicianship, miss having the opportunity to improve my skills and make really good music. But, as much as I enjoyed myself, as much as I was reassured that I can still “keep up” with this group, I realize I really don’t have the time or energy being a full fledged member requires. It was a good reality check, and I need that every now and again.
As I’ve written this post, darkness has fallen, the cicadas have ended their performance and a few tired crickets have taken the stage. Ice crackles in the glass of iced green tea on the coaster beside me. I’m about to leave my desk, and join my husband to watch a movie on his new wide screened TV. Perhaps not as exciting as an evening on stage, but certainly carrying a magic of its own. Especially to someone who’s as rung out as me.