For most people, their exposure to handbells had been limited to church until the Capital Ringers came around.
The Dover-based Capital Ringers are celebrating their 10th year ringing in the holidays.
Linda Simms, artistic director of the community handbell ensemble started meeting with local ringers in the Dover-area in 2004. They tried to figure out if they could gather enough people and enough support to put on full concerts featuring handbells.
Within a few years, Simms said the Capital Ringers were not only putting on full concerts, but they were also able to start purchasing their own bells. The ensemble now has the largest set of handbells on the Delmarva Peninsula with six octaves or 73 bells, played by 15 ringers.
The group has gotten so big they have set up a second group called the Bay-to-Bay Ringers. This group acts as a proving ground for inexperienced ringers to get some experience playing and honing their music. They can then feed into the larger Capital Ringers when they are ready to make the leap to bigger concerts and audiences.
We caught up with the Capital Ringers at their recent holiday concert held at the Smyrna Opera House. They spent the afternoon playing a concert in Maryland, then packed up and drove to Smyrna. They arrived around 5 p.m. to set up for a concert that started at 7 p.m. the same night.
Simms described the day as a whirlwind of people running to and fro setting up their equipment, the bells, and all the tech they need for the show.
“It’s challenging to put together this number of people with this kind of instrument. When you have 15 people who have to work together so closely, and have to count and be so rhythmically accurate to be able to achieve that piece, its challenging,” said Simms, whose all-volunteer group does more than put on just a concert by adding multimedia elements and a few surprises to each performance.
So what keeps a group of dedicated volunteers lugging heavy cases of bells and other equipment across state lines, driving hours between shows coming back for more?
“The audience reaction is amazing. We all have to work rather hard, it’s the fun of putting it together and hearing at the end of a concert that kind of impulsive response; that is what really brings all of us back,” Simms said.
And the handbells aren’t just for the holidays. The group also performs a pop-themed concert during the summer.
You can find more information on the group and concert information on their website.