I love Christmas traditions. More specifically, I love our family’s Christmas traditions—a lovely blend of Dahle and Fillmore traditions, a bit heavy on the Fillmore. It’s not just ‘cause I’m the pushy one, my family really did have some pretty awesome Christmas traditions growing up. Many years ago, I don’t really remember when, my Uncle Steve sent our family pretty much the best Christmas present ever—a set of homemade chimes. 18 pieces of metal pipe cut to just the right lengths to become a musical instrument. Everyone comes together on Christmas Eve, grabs a butter knife and a chime, and follows along to turn the cryptic number sequences into Christmas carols. Aaron first experienced it Christmas 2004 and has loved it as much as I do ever since. It’s just simple good times. Chime time. This year, we would be off on our own for the Christmas celebrations. Away from my family, away from the chimes. So back in November, I left Aaron a rather non-subtle note on his pillow, with printed directions on chime-making from Uncle Steve himself and a note that said, “Hint, hint: This is all I want for Christmas this year.” (I found earlier in our marriage that subtlety doesn’t work very well on my dear husband.) For Aaron and me, the whole project of making Chime time happen turned out to be one of the highlights of Christmas Season 2011. We had been hoping not to have to make a run to Fairbanks for supplies in the winter, but getting the materials for chime-making was a good enough reason to make the trek, so we headed up one Saturday. Home we came with very sturdy steel electrical conduit, a pipe-cutter, and hundreds of dollars of Sam’s Club and Walmart stock-up stuff to make the trip even more worth it.
Aaron was so excited that he got to work that very night, despite the long day in Fairbanks and the long drive home. Per Uncle Steve’s wonderfully specific instructions, he cut that first pipe to 13 and 19/32 inches, drilled a hole in it, strung a string through, and hit that baby with a butter knife. It was supposed to be an A. But using our keyboard and our untrained ears, we determined that it was about a B. For experimental purposes, he cut what was supposed to be Chime Number 2, an A#, and it came out as something close to a C. Both chimes sounded a touch off, but with our untrained ears, we couldn’t quite tell if it was slightly sharp or slightly flat. We knew just enough to know that we were going to need some help with tuning and calculating new lengths since Uncle Steve’s electrical conduit must have been a bit different than the kind we found up here in Alaska. We surfed around a bit and came across two excellent websites. We couldn’t have completed the chimes project without them! On the first, I found a beautiful formula for calculating chime length based on one reference note and a table of note frequencies. I simply copied the frequencies table into Excel, put in the formula just like Milan taught me, and POOF, I had the lengths we needed for our specific pipe type. Being the math nerd that I am, it was SO SO fun for me to take the square root of the reference frequency times the squared reference length divided by the desired frequency and find the desired length in millimeters which are so much easier to measure than 29/32nds of an inch. Aaron found an online tuner, which could determine the frequency of sounds it received through our computer’s microphone (on our webcam, thanks again, Milan!). It told you exactly how many “cents” sharp or flat you were of the note, which allowed Aaron to grind that B, which had gratefully been slightly flat, into near perfection. Aaron cut the next chime based on our calculations and we celebrated when the online tuner showed that the formula worked! We went to bed tired and very happy with our first night of chime production.
Aaron spent the next 3 weeks measuring and cutting and grinding and fine-tuning in whatever spare time he could find. When he wasn’t on call or at Church meetings or taking Xander to hockey, he was my chime factory. I love that guy!!
It was definitely a labor of love, and I felt the love! Our excitement built as we saw the chime sets grow. We were having so much fun with the project that we decided to make a set for Milan and Rachael since we had their family for Christmas this year. Aaron was so overflowing with excitement about the chimes project that he couldn’t help but show it off when we Skyped with my family one Sunday. I was afraid that would ruin the surprise, but Aaron thought it would just increase their anticipation and excitement wondering, what if they make one for us? At least it did confirm our suspicions that Milan would like a set, since he admitted that he is a chimes fan himself.
Every time I saw Aaron slaving over those chimes, his face covered in metal shards, I just got that holiday feelin’.
Besides the calculations, tuning support, and eye protection purchasing, my main job was to sew the chimes case. I was having no luck with finding durable Christmasy fabric around here, so I dropped the Christmasy requirement and just went with durable. And free! I was excited when I found this random thing in my material bin. It was the fabric from a broken patio table umbrella that Aaron had scavenged years ago. Not the most attractive shade, but sturdy.
What a sense of accomplishment we both felt looking at the finished product!
We painted some packing paper to turn it into wrapping paper and packaged it all up to ship it on down to Colorado. I was doubly happy when I got it to fit in a flat rate box, making it less than $15 to ship the 17-pound package instead of $48! I left the post office with a smile on my face and a great feeling of DONE! We were happy to hear that a little over a week later, the package had arrived at its destination. We set up a time for them to open it via Skype so we could see their reaction. And we wanted to see the condition of the package because they told us there was a note on it that said it had been retaped in Denver. Hmmm. That was the first red flag. The second was when we were skyping happily and saw Milan lift up the package so easily. We commented on how heavy it was—17 pounds—and Milan said it didn’t feel heavy at all. Uh oh. So as Milan was taking out the plethora of pictures and cards and notes and pipe cleaner creations that the kids had made for their beloved Uncle Milan and Aunt Rachael, Aaron was sweating bullets wondering if the chimes he slaved over had made the journey safely. Then Milan pulled out the remnants of the wrapping paper, in which the chimes had formerly been wrapped. Oh no. Milan, What else is in the box? Just some broken shards of toffee, scattered around the bottom. No big heavy bag of chimes that looks kinda like this?
He moved the webcam to show us the pathetic contents of the box. One set of chimes MIA. Aaron freaked out internally a bit before reminding us of what President Uchtdorf had said in the recent Christmas devotional—that when you think Christmas is ruined, remember, Christmas is not that fragile. Apparently, if there’s one thing the Grinch hates, it’s all that noise, noise, noise, NOISE from those blasted chimes! So we sang Dabudore and began hoping and praying for a Christmas miracle. Oh post office, please find those missing chimes!
As for us here in Alaska, we had a wonderful time with our chimes. The Christmas Eve program was complete! I was impressed that both Xander and Elodie can chime without assistance this year! I was so proud when neither of them wanted to stop chiming after we had done every song in our new huge chimes book, which was at least 8 songs! May the Chime Time tradition continue through generations to come! Aaron, thanks for the best Christmas present ever!
Note: If anyone would like the specific instructions on how to make your own set of chimes, let me know and I’ll email them to you, including the Excel spreadsheet! We added our tips to Uncle Steve’s wonderful directions so they should work for anyone!