DOVER – After forming Capital Ringers in 2004, artistic director Linda Simms left the group. But she’s quick to say that she and her husband Jim are retiring.
“My husband does the visuals for us. So he and I have a lot of projects in the pipeline. We’ll turn our attention to a few other things. He does promotional videos, things for churches, nonprofits, presentations, consulting, and I do (handbell) workshops and I teach piano almost full-time. So we just want to focus more on those things,” she said.
“We step back and we feel good about it because we feel like we left it in a good place and it’s been 18 years so it’s fine.”
The Capital Ringers, a community handbell ensemble dedicated to performing sophisticated sacred and secular music, will begin its final Christmas tour at the Milton Theater on Sunday at 7pm with Mrs Simms at the helm with a show called “Christmas Reflections”.
Also the seven-piece string comes to Lewes twice; Harington; Berlin, Maryland; Rehoboth Beach; and Seeford.
On April 25, 2004, Mrs. Simms of Dover met with handbell players from the Kent County church to see if there was any interest in starting an ensemble that would play all kinds of music. Soon after, Capital Ringers was formed, a handbell and handbell ringing ensemble.
Initially, Capital Ringers borrowed equipment from a local church until 2007 when the group began acquiring their own bells and chimes.
Capital Ringers currently owns the largest set of handbells and hand chimes on the Delmarva Peninsula. The ensemble plays handbells on six octaves (73 bells); five octaves (61 bells) of Whitechapel handbells made in London; and 5 1/2 octaves (67 chimes) of hand chimes.
“I wanted to start a church group because, even though I ministered in churches, I wanted to be able to do a variety of secular music because I knew that’s the average public figure,” Ms. Simms said early on of those days.
“So my goal was to play rock ‘n’ roll, play blues, play jazz and a variety of other genres. And it worked. The recipe for this turned out well.
“There are many other community handbell ensembles across the country. And some of them go that way and some don’t. But I prefer to take a secular path just to be different – to do what you can’t play in church. And you can’t play (Queens) ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ in church.”
Originally from Maryland, Ms. Simms received her Bachelor of Arts from what was then Salisbury State University and her Master of Music Education from West Chester University in Pennsylvania. She also completed postgraduate studies at Westminster Choir College in New Jersey, at Central Connecticut State University and at George Mason University in Virginia.
She has been involved with handbells since 1980 when she founded her first handbell choir. She is past Delaware State Chair, Delmarva State Chair, National Education Liaison, and Area 3 Chair of the Handbell Musicians of America.
Looking back over the years, some special times stand out.
“We had a really profound 9/11 10th Anniversary event that I organized at the Wyoming United Methodist Church that involved a survivor from one of the Twin Towers. The then president of Wesley (college) was the emcee,” she said.
“We had the Delaware Choral Society. We had dancers. We had Dover PD bagpipes, the (Dover Air Force) base honor guard. Apparently we rang the bell there. We did a variety show and raised money for the Red Cross. So that was a real highlight because we gave something to the community. There was no fee involved. We only accepted donations. So that was profound.
“We did a fundraiser for Haiti when they had the hurricane years ago. So things like that – community service – were important to me.”
Negotiating the pandemic years and all that came with it is also a point of pride for Ms. Simms and she’s happy to be able to perform in front of real audiences again.
“It was a challenge for us to rehearse. It was a challenge for us to put it together. Because if you think about it, handbells, for people who don’t get the whole concept, it’s an instrument that’s played by a lot of people, and there’s no other instrument quite like it. So it would be like gathering you and your friends around a piano. What if you came around a piano and played all two keys and you were trying to play a piece of music? It’s that challenging,” she said.
“That’s why people who start to understand how handbells play a piece of music get so excited about it. Because it’s quite a detailed rhythmic feat.”
She is looking forward to going on the “Christmas Reflections” tour and presenting the ensemble one last time.
“It will be great to conduct. Basically, I chose my favorite pieces. So we have the 10th Anniversary (9/11) piece that was commissioned, but the rest is all Christmas and the most powerful music I think we’ve ever made for the holiday season. So it’s not really going to be bittersweet. I’m looking forward to it,” she said.
Tickets for the Sunday show at the Milton Theater at 110 Union St. are available from the box office at MiltonTheatre.com or by calling 302-684-3038.
For tickets and details on the other shows visit CapitalRingers.org.