We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
Our friend Nathan, whose Aliyah Diary you may recall on this site and who now is based in Jerusalem, gets around. He sent this email note to us yesterday:
Who'da thunk that in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, the Region VII meeting of the American Guild of English Bell Ringers would meet today? Sioux Falls, ground out by the Sioux River well after the Permian-Triassic, has quartzite boulders that churn-up the river waters which were unable to wear them out 10,000 years ago. Pipestone, used for peace pipes, and cordovan-tinted quartzite remain here. You can go to the remains of the Falls just south of downtown to stroll and be sprayed by the Falls. Best to go when the wind is Southerly, as a Northerly summer wind will suffocate you with the stench of carcasses from one of the largest packing plants in the US. While levees are undermined or overflowed in bordering Iowa and Missouri, the quartzite here holds up to the tumultuous torrents.
But bell ringing? I slipped into the rehearsal last night around 830, after they had heard a performance by the group from England. The night before, the hotel manager revealed to me, the Brits had gathered for tea around 10 pm in the cafe at the base of the Hyatt-like atrium. Then, they burst into music, filling nearby empty wine glasses with carefully aliquoted water, then rim-ringing the glasses. A glass harmonica they transformed into. This high-pitch rose in the atrium and arose the other denizens of the Sioux Falls Sheraton, who generally dress cowpokey. The manager, a sliver-coiffed Mr. Russo, who dresses in stylish Italian silk and tassled loafers, quietly grumbled that he has had to toss rowdy drinkers from the atrium. But, tea-drinkers, Tea? Russo was incredulous.
Nevertheless, by Thursday night, the bellers were gathered in the nearby conference center, which, in fact, is an indoor sports stadium with signs for "Ticket Purchase" or Ticket Pick-up" and "No Outside Liquor Permitted" guarding the entrance. I was porting my J. Lohr Cabernet, which I could not finish at dinner and no one challenged me. But, there was no booze being served here. Perhaps tea later.
Instead, I arrived on time, but before the heavy metal set variety had arrived. I strolled along long tables, carefully padded, linen-lined, with myriads of bells atop; coppers, brass and tin varieties. Beautiful, almost sculptural. These were machined beauties, which I imagined could only have come from germany, possibly Czech Republic, but I would not be surprised if Yamaha was now ringing in on the business. Each seat had perhaps 6-8 bells, depending on the bell size. Almost each place had a mat of sorts to stand upon, as if to be sure to keep the herd in place; some were of the lock-in-block padded rubber mats used in gyms; others were colorful carpet scraps found in carpet warehouses. And gloves. Most settings had gloves -- most black, some white and a few tutti-fruttis.
The gongers arrived. Tags gave their first names (usually doubled: Mary Ann, Susie Lou, Linda Sue), in large BLOCK PRINT, a last name below in miniscule, and below that a town and two-letter abbreviations for origin -- They were from MN or IA or SD, some IL and KS. But, the numbers -- several hundred ringers, perhaps 5 or 6 hundred lined up.
Now, judging from the crowd, bell ringing here does not attract the beautiful people; perhaps there is something about the gonging that transforms appearances. About one-third were of massive girth. When I practiced medicine in Wisconsin, my colleagues called that latitude the "fat belt," much as one would describe a snow belt running laterally across several states. But, this was impressive avoirdipas; one chair would not do. Most were women and had this style of helmet hairdo, much like what Roman warriors would wear to protect not only noggin, but also nape of neck. And hair did not move; a frozen-in-place quality to these locks. I saw one woman use a conductor's wand to scratch into the depths of her "do." There seemed to be a few mother-daughter and at least one father-son pair: the family that rings together, well, rings together.
I had seen from the scores on the stands that these bell ringers, at least, perform mostly church music -- things like, "We ring to Thy Glory," or "Let Thine Glory Ring to the Heavens," and such.
There would be two conductors. I stayed only for the youngish/oldish woman. She was elfin, had slacks that were of some very loose jersey quality that hung to the back of her heels, rippled with each move. She had black curly hair that was somehow pinned up or back with a barrette that blended into the hair. She mounted a high reviewing stand, much like those seen at Macy's Day Parade for the Mayor and VIP's sit on to bless the paraders. This, so she could be better gandered by the crowd. First, as there were concerns last year that her conducting wand could not be seen in the back, she was awarded a long, LED-studded Star-Wars sized wand to conduct. Much applause was given as she lit-up. Then, before she could conduct, there had to be warm-ups culled from the "Healthy Bell-Ringer's Body," a book that could be had at the bookseller's table tomorrow. These consisted of something like Lift legs/walking in place; followed by hands to the side and rotate arms clockwise/counterclockwise; and elbow stretches. If you feel pain, stop. Even the woman in the wheel chair with the hearing aids and a headset was stretching.
Then, they began. And it was marvelous. Clear, sharp chimes which are then muted against the breast or the sides. Higher notes got more clanging opportunities than the lower, but the resonance of the lowers I could feel in my belly. Mostly the few men gonged the bases and baritones. The conductress was specific: ring from ear-level forward, or chest level. So many to make such a grand sound. They were focused on the magic, flashing wand on the stand and they rang well, distinctly, on time.
I meandered. From a discrete corner in front, just behind the grand stand, parking my Cabernet first, I wandered around the side to the back. Watched the big bongers in the back heft their metal, then to the left side, the sidled behind the grandstand and picked up my un-approved-of Cabernet to sip with the music.
Today, I drive 347 miles to the Black Hills to worship Wakantanka, the god of the Dakota/Lakota/Nakota Nation.
Lovely description, Bird Dog, of a somewhat obscure but beautiful way of making music. We have some church groups here, 'way down south in Houston, which practice bell-ringing as an art. As you point out, it's rather like a "glass piano" in its eerie qualities.
I've been to some Native American gatherings here in Michigan (Ann Arbor). The drums competition is a joy to behold. Twelve to fifteen groups of men performing traditional NA songs with drums, chants, and shuffles.