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Ringing True: Musical Confessions of a Die-Hard Cubs Fan
Sometimes the passions in our lives never meet. Ringing handbells, a passion of mine, allows an ensemble to uniquely work independently and dependently to ring beautiful music of worship and praise. The Chicago Cubs baseball team, another love of mine, brings fond memories of family outings, hot dogs, and dreams of the World Series. The two really don’t mix, but for this handbell fan, they did, in a "major league" way!
To commemorate the 60th anniversary of Chicago Cub baseball on WGN-TV, a special “throwback” game was scheduled for June 12, 2008. The Cubs and Braves would be wearing replica 1948 uniforms, vendors would sell their goods at “throwback” prices while dressed in vintage garb, the game was set at Wrigley Field - a vintage 1914 ball-park, and TV coverage would be shown in black and white. Even the National Anthem would take on a traditional flair, proudly performed by a handbell choir!
Karen Gustafson, a life-long Cubs fan and my handbell director at Trinity Lutheran Church in Tinley Park, IL, was determined to help our handbell choir experience this unique opportunity. Many letters, emails, demo tapes, and phone calls later the Trinity handbell choir was chosen to play! Upon hearing of our upcoming adventure, the 15-member choir added the Star Spangled Banner (J. T. Bartsch Jr’s arr.) to our folder of hymns and praise songs. We rehearsed outside so we could get the feel of ringing in the great outdoors. “We set up in our church parking lot, careful to use the orange parking cones so no one would accidentally drive into our equipment,” laughed Karen. We arrived at Wrigley early that day, leaving the crowd of baseball fans behind, and ushered through the employee entrance, down narrow hallways, and up winding staircases to a group of tucked-away offices all decked out in Cubs memorabilia. An excited ringer, Amanda Szymanski, exclaimed, “Handbells might be seen as rather old fashioned or odd, but the truth is ringing handbells can give those who don’t otherwise play instruments the opportunity to participate in the music world.” Suddenly, we found ourselves with no opportunity to run through the song, no idea of whether we’d be able to hear each other over the crowd noise, and no idea of how it would feel to ring in front of such a large audience- not to mention being broadcast on live television across America! Having to play the biggest bells on the very end of the row, I was particularly nervous.
“Being such a die-hard Cubs fan, I was thrilled to be a part of a game, amazed that we’d be standing on the field right along with the players!” recalled Nadine Hoger about how she felt before taking the stage. We took our places on the well-manicured field, and the players were announced and lined up on the baselines behind us. The energy of the crowd, all 40,000+ looking at us curiously, practically lifted me off my feet – even with the weight of the G3, G# 3 and the A3 bells in hand! The crowd was asked to stand and join us in the singing of the National Anthem and we began to play. At first the people paused, amazed at how they could see the familiar tune played in action, like one would watch a music box play. Then they quietly joined us in song and cheered wildly as we ended - the B flat 6 shaking like it was the World Series itself!
The Chicago Cubs won that day, in the bottom of the 11th with a score of 3-2. We headed home, content with wonderful memories of passions that met, mingled and made for a beautiful song.