• Schoolhouse Radio... Time for Class!
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    I believe everybody has a gift. There is something in the world you do better than anybody else you know. You're the man. You're the woman. You're it. Whatever it is.
    You may not recognize your gift. But it's there. You may have given up your gift in search of something else that felt a little more comfortable and required a little less effort. Or time.
    Well... my gift isn't talking. It isn't cooking or space camp, although I'd love to attend culinary school and I'm going to Space Camp for Dads. It isn't painting or building, although I'm trying to talk my mother into taking an interactive art class at Forsyth Tech and I genuinely enjoy an unplanned adventure through Lowes Home Improvement with my son.
    It is - handbells. Say what? That's right. Handbells. Jeffrey can be funny. Jeffrey used to to sing but not so much these days. Jeffrey can write. And my Christmas trees are epic. But handbells are the thing.
    Thanks, mom! Thank you Harold Lominac. I must have been a whopping four or five when my mother insisted I learn how to count and ring in a funkily-shaped room at Memorial United Methodist Church in Thomasville, North Carolina. We continued playing at Maple Springs United Methodist Church in Winston-Salem and Harold Lominac was my we-can-play-as-many-bells-as-we-want-and-we-can-always-play-faster-this-is-our-octave-partner-in-crime for twenty-some years and my goodness, the man could play.
    So, I learned. Esther Lou and Jack were always nearby and bell practice was my Tuesday night highlight. My mother continued to make me count. In the car. At home. During dinner. At school. And so, I did.
    I played big bells. Little bells. Medium bells. I can pluck. I can use mallets. Shakes and tower swings are always fun. I helped invent berries. THE Berry's (I took their daughter to the prom. Great family.) donated tone chimes and thus began another musical chapter. We hosted handbell workshops. We taught classes. Four-in-hand. Bell trees. We created "the weave." Pick 'em up and put 'em down. Four octaves. Three octaves. Two octaves. Quartets. Trios. Duets. (My mother and I had to go to therapy after extended rehearsal sessions with Virginia at the piano, but that's another story for another day.) Even solos. Dude... What's left? Oh - we even played with brass and percussion, choirs and the congregation. And the organ. It was loud. It was fun. It was everything music should be.
    Not to mention the cleaning and the repairs and the tables and the foam and the folders and the gloves and the travel! Concerts. Worship services. Weddings. Funerals. Most of it was way cool. I never liked the gloves. Or the funerals. But anyway.
    Eventually, I began teaching. Kathryn and Hope. The three of us would gather together every Sunday afternoon and talk about life and laugh and then, we would play. Actually, they would play. I would count. And correct. And suggest. And encourage. And stomp my foot. They got to be pretty good. They played for our wedding. I miss Kathryn and Hope.
    Then it was the little kids. The babies. Everybody except my mother said they were too young. Too little. Too easily distracted.
    My mother said "get us a concert at Biltmore during Christmas. That would be neat." Biltmore said "no." That made me mad. Then Margaret suggested the Vatican. For protestant children from the South, I thought that was a reach. Even for us. So I suggested with the White House. I called. They said "send us a demo CD." OK. Sure. Why not. We called the kids and met in Craven Hall one Saturday morning in June. "Alright. We have to learn Christmas music and record a CD. Today." The kids thought that was a great idea. So we did.
    An official White House letter arrived in September asking us to perform in the Blue Room during the Christmas holidays. The youngest kid was three. Then oldest kid was seven. Off we went. Matching outfits. Concerts at the Smithsonian, Union Station, Mount Vernon and, yes, the White House.
    Biltmore called once they heard about the White House appearance. We said "no."
    Margaret let me have the adult handbell choir. She wanted to start a senior citizen handbell choir. It happened. LIFE LESSON - Always. Always, let the old folks play. It will mean more to them than anybody else and they bring gifts. Harold wouldn't join the senior citizen choir because he was 90, not old. Jack kept playing. Everybody wore glasses.
    The music was still loud. It was still fun. It was still everything music should be.
    The kids are graduated from college and living their own adventures now. Harold and Jack are playing with the Big Bottom Boys in the Heavenly All-Star Band. And me? Well - Mama retired from church. Our family has joined another congregation and I am just a person. No more leading. No more directing. No more playing.
    It's time for a change. WE NEED HANDBELLS. It's not scheduled to be a formal course offering next year. But we've got kids. Smart kids. Musical kids. We've got adults. Smart adults. (Kind of.) Musical adults. We've got a community full of children and grown-ups and old folks waiting to be invited to be a part of something wonderful and magical.
    Handbells, I think, is it. We'll practice during lunch. We'll practice after school. We'll practice at night. We'll count. We'll play. We'll learn - the music, the adventures and the stories of Harold and Jack and Esther Lou (whom I think ran off with a fellow in the Navy.)
    Music is good for the soul. Music is good for our community. Music is good for our school.
    I believe Winston-Salem should and can be home to one of the world's finest handbell choirs. HAPPY THOUGHTS was one of the first pieces of bell music I learned to play forty-some years ago. It's time to spread some happy thoughts around town.
    It will be loud. It will be fun. It will be everything music should be.