So, yesterday I started a dream job…and by that I mean a dream job that I actually never dreamed of having. But after my first 2 1/2 hours, it is like a dream come true!
I’m already a lifeguard and a plasma donor, but yesterday I got a part-time job as a bellsmith. I know, that is not even a word, but it will be now because someone has to coin it sooner or later. I am now one of the few people in the world to repair handbells!
CBR Handbell Repair is one of only a handfull of handbell repair shops in the world, and it is located right here in Ankeny, Iowa. It is a humble little shop, set back in the woods on the outskirts of Ankeny. This first picture is just one of the many exciting sights in the shop…just look at the potential! This is part of my world now, and my love for handbells just grew a lot more.
Before coming to Faith, I only recall seeing a handbell ensemble once, and it was at my church in the spring of 2009 when the Faith ensemble was at my home church. I was instantly amazed by the beautiful sound of them, but I never considered the possibility of actually handling them.
In 2009 I came to FBBC, joined the orchestra, and for two years I traveled with the handbell ensemble, listening to them play but never playing them myself. I never fully appreciated them, and sometimes I battled to stay awake when they played.
Then in the fall of 2011, I decided to try out for a spot in the group, and I joined! Since then, I have played in our three-octave ensemble here at school and absolutely loved it. In four semesters I have played three different positions in the full ensemble and in two positions in a handbell quartet.
I also attended a fantastic handbell concert in the spring of 2012, and my love for handbells just keeps growing and growing and growing. Now I even want to own my own set someday so my family and/or church can play them. We’ll see if I get that opportunity.
Anyway, a couple weeks ago, there was an announcement at school that some guy wanted help in his bell repair shop, so I immediately called the number and set up an interview. On Monday I went to the shop and talked to Mr. Cowan, learning several things about his musical history and his philosophy of life. It was a very enjoyable meeting, and I’ll share more about it later. You may or may not have heard about him and his wife in recent years!
So I went there yesterday for the first time on the payroll, and I got right to work, learning the first few steps of refurbishing handbells. I used pliers, a utility knife, a ball peen hammer, a punch, an anvil, a file, an electric sander, and steel wool to disassemble and clean the clappers on the bells. Those are just a few of the many tools that are used in the shop, and I tried to take a picture of what the tool collection looks like.
Yesterday I got to work on disassembling Whitechapel Handbells. I didn’t even know about the existence of these bells until Monday. As Mr. Cowan said, they are the “Cadillac of handbells.” They are produced in England and are the highest quality handbells in the world. In fact, the producer of these handbells also made the famous Liberty Bell, so there is an indication of the longevity and experience of this foundry.
After ringing American-made Schulmerich handbells for two years with their plastic handles and rubber clappers, I reverently picked up these Whitechapel bells with their leather handles and leather clappers. Such high quality- and I get to handle them! I thought handbells were already expensive enough (well, they are), but I can only dream about ever getting to play in an ensemble with these bells. But hey, if I can ring them in the shop, I have no reason to complain!
So, in the picture above, I lined up 16 bells to begin. Those will be my first bells to work on from start to finish. I then removed the clappers, separated the clapper stems from the restraining springs by poking out the axle pegs, removed the spring pads, cleaned the axles and springs and staples, and sanded any remaining residue. It took me about 2 1/2 hours to do that for those 16 handbells, and when I return I’ll work on the next step of polishing all the clappers.
While we worked, I listened to Irish music, and some of the songs were so funny I couldn’t help but smile. It is so fun to work in the shop, doing meticulous work on expensive equipment, and it makes me wonder if the family shops of days long gone were similar to this. This bell repair shop has been a family hobby in some respects. But here I am in the 21st century, in small-town Iowa, fixing beautiful instruments in a small little shop, listening to Irish music, and making a little money on the side.
There are so many more stories to be told, but I’ll save them for later. I have said enough already, and I believe that this is only the beginning of many more fun-filled days of work to come.
Here’s me on my first day as a bellsmith! 16 Whitechapel handbells disassembled and awaiting a polishing. If only I could take one bell home at the end of each week of work, I would be SO happy! But alas, that’s not how it works.
But still, who could even think of having a dream like this, let alone having it fulfilled? Wow…
Can you tell yet that I’m excited?
To God be the glory!