(Due to an ice storm that closed local schools, the Churubusco Chimers will not perform in Fort Wayne today.)
The 22 members of the Churubusco Chimers just can’t seem to squeeze enough school and community performances into the school year.
“There are never enough performances in their minds,” founder and conductor Sue Lough said of the fourth- and fifth-graders. “They love performing.”
The student musicians will take their music to still another audience in January, when they ring for an IMEA conference in Fort Wayne. The choir will ring at 2:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 12, at First Presbyterian Church, 300 W. Wayne St. Admission is free and the public is invited and encouraged to attend. “It’s a great performing space,” Lough said of the church. “It always sounds quite wonderful there.”
Lough secured the invitation by submitting an audition tape to the Indiana Music Education Association. In all, more than two dozen elementary to college bands and choirs will perform over two days of the IMEA’s Professional Development Conference.
The Churubusco Chimers gave yet another hometown show Dec. 2, at a holiday bazaar at the high school. About 80 parents and grandparents gathered about the ensemble, as five phones recorded the mix of holiday and folk songs. “They like the songs that have some great effects in them,” Lough told the audience. She demonstrated the tower bell sweep, with its fading found. She demonstrated the muffling effect of the table damp.
Fourth-grader Emmanuel Serrano, of Avilla, held a chime in each hand as he followed the sheet music and watched for his notes. His father, Ricco Serrano, said Emmanuel has embraced the introduction to music. “I just heard that he was happy that he made the chimers and the next thing I knew he was performing already,” the father said. Ricco said his son is learning to read music and to be a team player. “I can tell that he’s influenced by music. That’s all that he does all day; he sings and dances to music all day,” Serrano said.
Student teacher Eric Smead stood in for Lough to direct several songs. Smead, a graduate of Carroll High School, worked with Lough for one semester before graduating from IPFW in December. Students rehearse in two separate groups, for one hour each week. “It was rewarding to see the kids grow and see how they developed each week,” Smead said.
Smead also filled in for an absent chimer.
He said he will attend the IMEA conference in January.
Lough said the chimes program is part of the high-ability program at the elementary school. The selection process begins with a standardized listening test for all third- and fourth-graders. “Students who score in the 80th percentile or higher are part of our talent pool and those students get an invitation to audition for the chimers,” Lough said. Eligible students test out on chimes and clap rhythms. They also explain, in writing, why they want to be part of the group. All that information is considered to determine the top 22 students.
“All of our third- and fourth-grade students do get to play chimes at some point, about two weeks of chimes lessons,” Lough said.
Lough launched the program in 1990 at the request of Principal Mary Chandler. “She asked me to develop some type of music arts program and we decided that handchimes would be a good model,” Lough said.
She said the chimes program is about kids finding their innate musical gifts. “So they are reading music, analyzing it and being able to apply it,” she told the Dec. 2 audience.
The chimers also have performed at TinCaps games, at factory Christmas parties, at the Statehouse in Indianapolis, for the Foundation for Arts and Music in Education, and for regional handbell audiences.
“We also perform for service groups like the Rotary — they’re a big supporter of ours,” Lough said. She also credited the Lions Club with helping to get the program off the ground years ago.
“Our school has been extremely supportive,” she said.
“Several of our players have gone on to be music teachers or music performers, and some are still in the area,” she said. “I think what’s really fun is I actually have parents now who were in chimes. We just had an alumni concert for our parents. That’s one of our first things [each school year]. And a father who was in my very first chimes group now has a daughter in it.”
“At the end of the school year I have both the students and the parents fill out an evaluation and overall they talk about how much confidence their children gain from it,” Lough said. “They feel like their child is very proud of what they have accomplished and they feel they have benefited in ways that would not have been available in other classroom music.”
Sometimes high school students will step forward to fill in when a chimer is absent. “They are like ‘Can I step in for that?’ I think they fondly remember our time in chimes,” Lough said.
Unlike handbells with the clapper striking within the round bell, handchimes are rung with contact from the outside. “I describe them as a rectangular tube with a mallet on the outside,” Lough said. Her students ring up to four octaves.
Many chimers go on to ring handbells. “There’s a correlation,” Lough said. “If you’ve learned [chimes] you can adjust to handbells quite easily.”
“Bells are more expensive and chimes are uniquely set up for children,” Lough said. “They are very accessible. Some of the students have chimes at their own church and go on and play handbells, so now they have a background in it.”
Lough graduated from Taylor University and earned her master’s degree at IPFW. She teaches classroom music for grades K-5. “I was honored to receive the Indiana Elementary Music Educators Award in 2005. That was one of the things I am very honored to receive,” she said. She also received the Margaret Ann Keegan Award as outstanding arts educator from Arts United; “and that was because of the chimes,” she said.
Lough and her husband, Tom, live in the Dupont area of north Fort Wayne.