Meet a Fellow Heartlander: John Bealle
By Carol Reed
You may have met John Bealle at Heartland meetings, read his articles, heard him present at a chapter meeting or an ASI conference, or noticed that he hosts our Heartland website. John has been actively involved in the Heartland Chapter of ASI for the last eleven years.
Like a lot of indexers, John’s path to indexing was a bit circuitous. He earned an engineering degree and spent three years in the Navy testing Honeywell computer software for Navy programs. “I had figured out by then I was in the wrong field,” John says, so he left the Navy and enrolled in graduate school at Indiana University to study a slightly different field: folklore.
John’s fascination with folklore actually began while he was an engineering student in Alabama. “I was riding my bicycle and saw a sign for an office called the Center for Southern Regional Folk Life Studies,” John recalls. “A few weeks later I summoned the nerve to go in, and that was the beginning of a new life for me.”
Having grown up listening to the music of The Beatles and The Byrds, John’s musical curiosity met its match in folklorist and mentor Bicky McLain. McLain sent John to fiddlers’ contests, Sacred Harp singings, blues sessions, and bluegrass festivals. “I interviewed people who were once sharecroppers, who had worked in turpentine mills, who could narrate much of the Bible from memory, who knew every haunted place.” He tried almost every kind of music he encountered, but settled on fiddling—“I guess because it suited my personality.”
John finished his Ph.D. in folklore and taught for a few years, but found academic positions to be sparse. It was then that he ran across the infamous Money Magazine article in 1995 that profiled indexing as a lucrative work-at-home career and attracted a lot of interest to the field. John remembers thinking, “Hmmm. . . . I can work at home, reading books I love by writers I admire.“ And that is pretty much the way it has worked out. “I've only had a few books I didn't like. Most authors, having worked for years on the books, are just delighted at the end to encounter someone who understands and appreciates all the nuances of their labor.”
In his spare time, John has played folk music with various bands. John and his wife Eloise, who plays banjo, have played old-time string band music with the Queen City String Band since 1982. “[The band was] very ambitious at first,” he says, “but now we play fewer than a dozen times a year, always where our friends are around.” John is also involved with Sacred Harp singing, a choral style popular in small eighteenth and nineteenth century churches. So far, he has published two books, Old-Time Music and Dance: Community and Folk Revival, and Public Worship, Private Faith: Sacred Harp and American Folksong, as well as a guide to the film Sweet Is the Day: A Sacred Harp Family Portrait.
Now in his twelfth year as a freelance indexer, John looks back at his engineering days as another lifetime. However, his programming instincts make him unique as an indexer, whether he’s programming macros to make his indexing process more efficient or beta testing new SKY indexing software releases. “Indexers spend a whole lot of time with their indexing software,” he notes, “and every little wrinkle can make a world of difference over the long haul. So it's worthwhile to have it work as well as possible.”
Reflecting on the freelancer’s lifestyle, John believes it helps if you enjoy multitasking as he does. “I was the parent-in-chief when my daughter was young and took work to the playground and the pool. I learned where all the shady spots were. I will always treasure the time at home with my daughter. On vacations, if I had deadlines, I indexed then too. Again it was a mixed blessing: I missed vacation time but worked in some very exotic places—in the shadow of Pike's Peak, on the Trans Canada railroad, in some wonderful coffee shops.”
You can hear the Queen City String Band on their myspace page.
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