Rim Country Middle School offers its sixth-grade students an opportunity to explore music with both hands.
The instruments are bells, specifically Chimettes, Malmark Tone chimes and bronze handbells. Each bell is tuned to a specific note on the scale. Students are assigned a bell for each hand.
"Kids that have issues with behavior control don't have any problem in here," teacher Karen Phylow said. "We keep them so occupied and moving that they are able to focus really well."
That focus is key when more than two dozen students have to follow music well enough to ring the bells in sequence.
According to Phylow, bell assignments don't change for the duration of the class because at the sixth-grade level, it would confuse the students. They learn one space and one line on the staff. Their individual notes always stay the same. There are spots for 30 students to play bells, but occasionally when interest outnumbers the instruments, students will have to share.
Phylow likens the sheet music students read to really complicated piano music for about eight hands.
"Out of the 10 lines and eight spaces, they only have to watch one space and one line. When a note comes into their space, they ring it," Phylow said.
Handbells have been around for centuries. The bronze handbells were sized down considerably from the huge bells rung in church and cathedral bell towers in the Middle Ages. Inclement weather was probably one of the factors leading to the creation of small bells that could be rung by hand, indoors. By the 1700s in England, there were about 45 bell foundries.
Tuning is a critical part of the manufacturing process. Students wear gloves when they play any of the bells. The gloves protect the bell from tarnish which over time will eventually change its pitch. The bells are polished daily before they are put away.
The clapper or striker mechanism attached to the outside of the chime or the inside of the bell has its movement restricted to one plane, backward and forward. The clapper assembly may be stationary or adjustable to change the timbre that distinguishes it from other bells of the same note.
The bell program at RCMS has been around since the late 1990s. This is Phylow's forth year of teaching it.
"It has been in various forms depending on the year and how many kids we have available." she said. "We have added to it over the years. We didn't have the bronze handbells originally, we just had the chimettes and the tone chimes. We raised money through Credit for Kids to get the bronze bells."
"This is not a performance based class," she said. "It is just a real quick introduction to them and then hopefully they are able to go longer if they wish."
Phylow offers an after-school handbell club for children who really like handbells. The club only has three students this quarter.
Phylow started ringing bells when she joined a handbell choir in college. She said she hopes Payson High School will offer a program next year.
"We have sent many good ringers on the way over there and then they have no where to go. the music teachers of the district are meeting Wednesday to see if we can offer even more to the district and that would be one of the possibilities."