Living in a Body
Living in a Body
The Tone Chimers

The Tone Chimers

Episode 49 -- Reaching out to the Past

Hi. I’m Hal. Welcome to “Living in a Body.” Please click the Play button above to hear the podcast version of this publication. I hope you’ll share this episode with someone who might like it. Special thanks to my friend, Brad Bolton for the photos of the chime choir. Thank you!


A C3 Tone Chime

The Tone Chimers

It’s Thursday afternoon and I’ve been lying here in bed thinking about the past. I’m longing for a few of the things that I miss the most. The memories seem so close and so vivid that it feels like I could just reach out and touch them. But no matter how hard I try, the past stays right where it is and I just can’t get it to come back. It’s like there’s a brick wall separating me from the way things used to be. There’s no getting around it. I suppose this is a human experience that happens with aging, illness and change, but for me, it all seems so premature. I wasn’t done yet. I was right in the middle of it all and I was having such a good time. To be honest, I think I was just entering my prime. There was still so much more music to be made, so many more rehearsals to be had, so many more recordings to be recorded. Just to be clear, I’m tired of being in this house and I wanna get back to my life.

Then the people say, “but Hal, this is your life.” I know. Here I am in the great unfolding. I just hadn’t expected it to unfold quite like this. But, I appreciate the reminder. I’ve got two hands and ten fingers. I’ve got my sight and my taste and my touch. Last night, a few guy friends came over and we shared intimately with each other over candlelight. Today, I’ve had the strength to write for several hours. There’s food in the fridge, peace in the town and I live in a big mansion on a hill that keeps me warm on these cold February days. All day long, the winter sun has been shining through my south facing windows. And on top of all that, I’m blowing up on Instagram like never before right now. But still… I miss the way things used to be. I miss my tone chime family.

The Tone Chimers

One of the great joys in my working life was directing the tone chime choir at the UU Church of Kent. Throughout our years of making music together, we consistently had at least 15 solid members representing a wide range of ages. We called ourselves "The Tone Chimers." From the time we purchased the chimes in 2015 up until the pandemic, we rehearsed every Wednesday afternoon at 5 pm. With all that practicing, we became a top notch ensemble and we had a whole lot of fun along the way. Every Spring, we'd play at the annual “Fiesta of Bells” that happened at the First Christian Church in Stow. As far as I'm concerned, we were the best group there. Compared to the other bell choirs with their shiny handbells, their special handbell gloves and their coordinated handbell T-shirts, we were a ragtag bunch. We didn't have matching outfits, but we did have heart and soul. We had musicianship, originality and personality. On top of that, we had a wonderful sense of humor. It wasn't a competition, but I always joked with my choir that we got first place. I was so proud of that tone chime choir. Really, we were like a family. I miss it so much.

A tone chime is a metal rod with a rubber hammer that makes a warm and hollow sound when you strike it. For a church music program, purchasing chimes is the economical option when you can't afford real handbells. I actually prefer the sound of the chimes. Mellower than handbells, tone chimes sound a little bit like a vibraphone in a jazz ensemble. For the relatively small space of our sanctuary, tone chimes were ideal. We owned a full set of five octaves. I loved composing for chimes. Those were some good times sitting at my computer, high on herbal tea and turning my piano compositions into pieces for the Tone Chimers. Maybe after I finish writing this book, I’ll get back to composing for chime choirs.

Each member of a tone chime choir plays an equally essential role in the ensemble. From the warmth of the large, low-pitched chimes to the shimmer of the small high-pitched chimes, a tone chime choir comes together like a giant-sized music box. With at least one chime in each hand, each player is responsible for striking the sound exactly when their note comes along in the score. If a player misses their moment, the music doesn't stop. Like the rotating cylinder of a music box, time just keeps spinning along. In our rehearsals, I remember a gradual transformation from the clunkiest of jalopies to a well oiled machine. Playing in a chime choir is a great exercise in teamwork, concentration and pure joy. It's one of the funnest musical activities that I've ever participated in. After months of rehearsal, when it all came together, the sound of the Tone Chimers was a cooperative thing of real beauty.

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With all the effort we put into our chiming, I’m sorry to say that we never got around to making recordings of our work. I’m lying here just imagining all the great music that was lost in the passage of time. Today, I’ll share a very early rendition of a piece I wrote called, “Chronic Joy.” This video was shot soon after we purchased the chimes. I brought the whole set to our Summer Institute at Oberlin College and I pulled together a chime choir for the week. The video gives just a little taste of what a tone chime choir sounds like. If I could go back, while I was busy soaking it all in, I’d remember to get out my phone and record a few rehearsals. But alas, I’ll have to settle for the memories.

Thanks for being here everybody. Thank you for reading. Thank you for listening. I guess the moral of the story is to leave the past in the past and to live right here in this moment. We’ve got to hold these memories as a gift. Secondly, if you ever get a chance to be in a tone chime choir, be sure to sign up. Tell ‘em that Hal sent you. Have a great week. I love you and I miss you. Don’t forget to enjoy living in that body of yours. I’ll try to do the same. ❤️ Hal

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Living in a Body
Living in a Body
Hal Walker, Ohio musician and writer living with severe ME/CFS, weaves music, stories and community from his bed.
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