Editor’s Note: This post is by friend of the blog Jay Carter who lives in New Bern, North Carolina. I had the fortune of ringing with Jay at Distinctly Bronze West in 2016 and hanging with him at the event. These are Jay’s thoughts shortly after being accepted to perform with the Raleigh Ringers. We’ll follow up with him later this year and see how the experience has been going! You can read the original version on his blog.
So this happened last night…
I have, for reasons that are still only moderately clear to me, become a member of the Raleigh Ringers. This is truly absurd in a way that I cannot describe, but I’m going to try.
<I’m not going to edit this now because of time so buckle up for my semi-filtered thoughts>
Why am I unclear? I play handbells well…but not that damn well. This group is one of the best handbell groups in the country if not the world (Flight of the Bumblebee is in their repertoire…on handbells…like really?!). I am not that good – kind of objectively. I learn quickly but I’m not on that level. I have some confidence that I can put the work in to avoid being a complete anchor, but I’m not nearly that good right now. I’m in grad school. I have no idea where I’m going to get this time…
But I’m going to make it work.
I was in Dave Harris’s office last night and teared up when he said, “You’re in!” I have played handbells since I was 10 and listened to the Raleigh Ringers probably since I was 12. In the last few years, I’ve started traveling to more handbell events – or “traveling” in the case of Distinctly Bronze East, which is held in New Bern – to get experience and exposure to higher levels of play on this instrument. I was just trying to figure out what’s possible and what level I could get to with some work. I played in church handbell choirs my whole life (really just the 1 at Centenary UMC). Jan (director at Centenary) has been on me to do this for 10 years but I wasn’t ready. We played decent music but it was the epitome of “You can’t get there from here”.
I met some of the clinicians at the Capital Area Festival. Two of them were so instrumental. Sandy Eithun and Tim Waugh stuck their necks out writing recommendations for me for Virtuoso after seeing me ring in a massed setting for something short of 6 hours. I think Tim personally twisted arms to get me into my 1st DB East. Sandy wrote me on more than one occasion: with encouragement when I had a bad audition 2 years ago (if I’m honest, the audition was a fair reflection of my skill level) and when I got into Virtuoso to celebrate with me. Tim has spent many an hour talking me through things while we both were driving. I couldn’t figure out how I’d ever get there but Jan, Sandy, Tim, Dave (and maybe most of all my wife) all thought I could so I’m going see if they’re right.
I probably “believed” I could get good enough for the first time last Spring when I went to DB West. Between interacting with some of the West Coast handbell folks I hadn’t met before (find some music from Sonos some time, they’re unbelievable), working under Mr. Yoshida and seeing his choir (also unbelievable), and really watching and studying other people’s technique I thought I could improve a lot – and quickly. I turned on the sports part of my background and I literally studied film. I watched the Virtuoso DVDs over again. I worked YouTube half to death finding me Kinjo Gakuin clips. Japanese girls can play the lower 5th octave accurately and musically; let’s find out how. I found videos of Sonos and Bells of the Sound and Philadelphia Handbell Ensemble and…and..and… I went looking for churches to sub for to improve my sight reading. F5/G5? No problem, I’ll be there. C6/D6/7? I’ll practice my 4ih on my own. I won’t be as comfortable or confident as slinging the C3-B3 around but I’ll be there (and please never ask me to do that again – I almost threw the D7 into the crowd a few times). It sounds silly but I got back in the gym. The Raleigh Ringers have the F2 in bronze – that damn thing is 15 lbs! Wait, so the plan is to stick a handle on the end of a 15 lb dumbbell and then swing it around musically for a few hours? Better get these weights in!
Maybe it’s my personality or maybe it’s my ridiculously talented friends but I don’t think of myself as good enough to do things like this. I’m in graduate school. The point of grad school is for me to become a world expert on something. That statement looks preposterous on my screen. Being in the Raleigh Ringers is probably one level below that level of absurdity. Maybe it’s more absurd: I’m good at learning stuff but I’m an average minus musician.
I still believe the coolest thing I’ve ever done in my life was in 2015 when I got on the stage with the Raleigh Ringers at Meymandi Concert Hall with Virtuoso. There were 29 of us there for the weekend to work with Dr. Payn. If I was in the top 25 ringers in that room, then 4 people had stepped outside! I’m having a tough time wrapping my head around doing this for real but here goes
I dug up an old email from 2010 I sent to Dave Harris. It starts, “It remains my long-term ambition to be good enough to play with the Raleigh Ringers…”
It still remains my ambition to be good enough to play with the Raleigh Ringers but I gotta shorten up this whole “long-term” bit: We’re recording in 5 hours.