With both hands clenched in fists and held at shoulder height, the Jackson Jinglers quietly begin to count.
They are getting the rhythm of the next song in their minds before striking the first note.
When they reach a certain beat, one student, followed by another, extends an arm and softly rings the handchimes they hold.
The sound is not like the brassy ring of a bell, but a more delicate chiming as the padded mallet or clapper head strikes the metal tine.
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To stop or dampen the sound, the students touch the instruments to the front of their shoulders.
Some of the handchimes are big, producing a low timbre. Others are small and register the high notes on the musical scale. Some students play just one chime, while others put their musical skills to the test by playing two at the same time.
And that’s when things can get interesting and complicated, said Katie Deppen, a fifth-grader.
This is her second year playing in the Jackson Jinglers, the only handchime choir in Seymour Community Schools Corp.
The group is made up of 14 fourth- and fifth-grade boys and girls at Seymour-Jackson Elementary School and is under the direction of music teacher Samantha Franklin with assistance from fourth-grade teacher Cecily Noelker and special needs teacher Barb Schuley.
Franklin said the group reformed in early 2013, when she began teaching music at Jackson.
A handchime ensemble had existed years ago but stopped as the school experienced changes in administration and teachers. When it first started, it was funded through the school’s Parent Teacher Organization, which bought a 3-octave set of handchimes for the group to use.
The instruments retail for around $1,600 to $1,800, Franklin said.
Students had to audition at the beginning of the year and were chosen to be in the group based on their willingness and enthusiasm to learn how to play. They rehearse once a week and sometimes more to prepare for public performances throughout the school year.
The purpose of the group is two-fold, Franklin said.
“We hope the students are developing a deeper love and appreciation for music,” she said. “We also hope this group serves as a catalyst for their participation in other music groups as they progress throughout their education.”
Deppen said she had no real musical background before joining but is now learning to play the piano because of the experience.
“It pretty much just sounded fun, so I gave it a try, and I loved it,” Deppen said. “I wasn’t in choir and didn’t really do any instruments before Jackson Jinglers.”
Last week, the group performed a live concert for residents at Lutheran Community Home in Seymour and that same evening did another performance at the school board meeting.
They’ve also played at Covered Bridge Health Campus and have upcoming performances scheduled at Jackson’s annual Cultural Night event, kindergarten graduation and at Seymour Schools’ Celebration of the Arts at Shops at Seymour this coming Saturday.
Fifth-grader Ben Berkhouse said he got to see the Jackson Jinglers perform “The Star-Spangled Banner” last year during a Spell Bowl competition he was in, and that convinced him to try out.
Last summer, he began taking drum lessons, so he already had a working knowledge of how to read music, he said.
“It’s fun,” Berkhouse said of being in the group.
But it’s not always easy, he added.
“When I started out, I was slow. But I’ve learned how to move my hands faster because sometimes, I have to play one chime on one part and another chime on another part, and I have to do that three or four times in a row,” he said.
Sometimes, it can lead to frustration because everyone has to work together to make the songs sound good, Berkhouse said.
Although she has grown up around music in her church, fourth-grader Claire Wisler said the handchime choir has helped her learn how to read music better.
Being in the Jackson Jinglers has helped her improve and get faster, she said. But it can still be difficult at times, especially when they are learning new songs, she added.
“Sometimes, when I have to play almost every note in a song because I have two chimes, I have to follow along with the music and make sure that I’m playing the right bell at the right time,” she said.
Franklin said the handchime choir not only increases students’ musical knowledge, but also instills in them other important skills and lessons.
“Like hard work, dedication, team work and responsibility,” she said.
Wisler said although performing in front of people can be nerve-racking, it also helps boost her confidence.
At the nursing homes, the residents and staff really seemed to enjoy the show, even recording it on cellphones, she added.
“They clapped a lot,” she said. “It made me feel really good.”
Fourth-grader Kelsey Clayton said she has always loved music and decided the Jackson Jinglers sounded like fun after Deppen told her about it.
“I was kind of nervous, but I was very interested in doing something like this,” Clayton said of trying out.
She said she likes playing the bigger chime but gets confused when she has to play two at the same time.
Deppen said of all the songs they play, her favorite is a Japanese song called “Sakura” because of its soft and calming sound.
One of Berkhouse’s favorites is “Simple Gifts” because it has some difficult parts that make it a challenge to play.
The group can learn a new piece in as little time as one practice session, they said.
Wisler likes playing “Surprise Symphony” because of its varied note pattern.
“You start with whole notes and then go into half notes,” she said. “I think the hardest part is I always want to go fast.”
Noelker said she is glad to teach at a school that values the arts so much and allows the students to participate in activities such as the Jackson Jinglers.
“Each school has unique opportunities, like Brown School has their Bouncing Bears jump rope team,” she said. “Happily, we had a principal and music teacher committed to the arts. They believed choir chimes would give our students the opportunity to expand their musical horizons and enrich their lives.”
And they have, she added.