Northside ISD schools have bells to signal a class change, but Carlos Coon Elementary School is the only NISD elementary school to have handbells.
On Monday afternoons, the newly-formed Koala Bells can be heard rehearsing in the music room with teacher Doug Boldt.
“Instruments up,” Boldt tells his students. In response, students pick up the one or two handbells they have been assigned. They have expanded their repertoire to two songs – “Morning Song” and “Silent Night” – and run through each song measure by measure, with Boldt conducting and clapping along. The group has been practicing since September but will make their public debut at the school’s holiday performance.
Boldt discovered the cases of handbells in the music room closet after he was hired at the school last summer. They hadn’t been played in at least a decade and he decided to revive the tradition and recruited interested fourth and fifth graders to form the Koala Bells.
Handbells are sometimes associated only with Christmas or church music, but Boldt says that’s not the case. And though it may look easy, learning to play the bells has been a lesson in precision, concentration, and teamwork for the students and teacher.
“It’s a new experience for me teaching bells,” says Boldt. “It’s harder than I thought it was going to be but the students are trying so hard. They’re really improving. The key is concentration and feeling the beat.”
The question looms large on the classroom wall – how do you get to Carnegie Hall? The answer is practice, something the Koala Bells can attest to as they are accustomed to repeating measures until they are all on the same page.
“It’s really hard work and it hurts your hands,” says fourth grader Katherine Nguyen. “You have to hold the bell really tight to make the right sound. We all have to be playing right for it to work.”
Fifth grader, Brian Trouple agrees, “If one person messes up, the others have to help. We have to trust each other. We’re solid – we all stick together.”
Boldt hopes the students will have mastered four or five songs by the end of the year but for now the measuring stick for success is slightly different. He asks students, “Do you feel like we’re going to walk out of here better than we walked in?”
They answer with an emphatic “Yes!”
That’s music to his ears.