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No schlepping needed

No schlepping needed

By:  Jeni Jonett

Schlep: Haul or carry (something heavy or awkward) 

Schlepping handbells, their tables and all the “toys” that we use to make different sounds with the bells can take its toll.  As Ensemble member Kate Graber wryly put it, “I am stronger after hauling all that equipment around,” in response to a question of how her world has been enhanced by handbells. 

Which is why many of the ringers look back fondly on our tour to Puerto Rico.  We did minimal equipment schlepping – 5 tiny handchimes, a handful of small bells, music binders and many mallets.  For all of our workshops and performances, we borrowed bells from groups already established on the island.  It saved us a lot of money, time and sweat. Can you imagine hauling 10 tables in 89 degree Puerto Rican humidity and sunshine?

Borrowing bells is always an interesting experience – you never know what quality you’re going to get.  It’s hard for groups with limited budgets to spend money on bell cleaning or maintenance, especially when the cost of all the equipment is so high.  

Our first workshop was at a Montessori School in San Juan where they were blessed to own a complete 6-octave set of bells, plus chimes. These bells were well-loved by the ringers – students in middle school and high school grades, who traveled by foot, bus and pickup from the teacher to ring bells.  We learned many of the students upon graduation come back to help the younger students. The mallets had seen better days, but that didn’t keep the students from playing from the heart.


Our second workshop was at Coro de Ninos de San Juan, (Children’s Choir of San Juan) where we worked with both teachers and students.  We had a 4-octave set of bells to work with, and used that to share some lessons using “Pink Horizon” (Ambeisa Boswell/From the Top Music.  The students were enthusiastic about performing that piece down the road. 



The third workshop and first concert was in Arecibo, with the University of Puerto Rico/Arecibo choir.  We had a full 6 octaves of bells and chimes to work with, and had a great time figuring out how to ring in a sort-of U shape.  Our sight-lines were sometimes nonexistent, so we quickly developed Matrix maneuvers to help ringers see who was leading the music direction at different times during the concert.  While we prefer our traditional curve shape of tables, many commented that it was fun to be ring face to face and actually see how different ringers perform. 

After this concert, we helped tear down the tables and bells, and load several cases into Carlos Rivera's car and our tour bus.  That was so they could be transported back to San Juan for the next day’s concert.  Since it was the third day of bells during our tour, we didn’t mind this little bit of schlepping. 

Our final workshop was at a Morman church. Here we had access to 5 octaves plus the borrowed bells from Carlos.  This church also had new mallets, which caught us by surprise!  The children were ages 7 to high school, and were such good performers, Twin Cities Bronze's Artistic and Music Director Amy Maakestad told them she expected to see them auditioning for Twin Cities Bronze in 2030.  After this performance we again participated in the take down, and again had to move bells out to Carlos’ vehicle so he could get them back to the Conservatory.  But with the help of the kids choir, the tear down was quick and painless! 

Sunday morning was our last day on tour and our last bell event.  We were the guest musicians at Second Union Church of San Juan, an English-speaking church that went all out in celebrating Father’s Day.  We only had access to 3 octaves of bells, so our ringers rotated in and out of positions to give everyone a chance to ring.  We had rehearsed the 3 octave version beforehand, knowing we’d have a limited set of bells. 


Compared to other tours where a trailer had to be unloaded, unpacked, set up, taken down, packed and reloaded for every concert, this trip was a breeze.  Plus, ringers learned how to be versatile with the bells we had at hand.  It was a good learning experience!