Capital Ringers bid farewell to director with holiday tour

By Craig Horleman
Posted 11/17/22

DOVER — After starting the Capital Ringers in 2004, artistic director Linda Simms is moving on from the group. But she is quick to say she, nor her husband Jim, are retiring.

“My …

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Capital Ringers bid farewell to director with holiday tour

Posted

DOVER — After starting the Capital Ringers in 2004, artistic director Linda Simms is moving on from the group. But she is quick to say she, nor her husband Jim, are retiring.

“My husband does the visuals for us. So he and I have a lot of projects in the wings. We’re going to be turning our attention to some other things. He does promotional videos, things for churches, nonprofits, presentations, consulting, and I do (handbell) workshops and I teach piano pretty much full time. So we just want to put more focus on those things,” she said.

“We’re stepping away and we feel good about that because we feel like we left it in a good place and it’s been 18 years, so it’s OK.”

The Capital Ringers, a community handbell ensemble committed to performing challenging sacred and secular music, will start its final holiday tour with Ms. Simms at the helm Sunday at 7 p.m. at the Milton Theatre in a show called “Christmas Reflections.”

The seven-performance string will also come to Lewes twice; Harrington; Berlin, Maryland; Rehoboth Beach; and Seaford.

On April 25, 2004, Ms. Simms, of Dover, met with church handbell ringers in Kent County to determine if there was interest in establishing an ensemble that would play all kinds of music. Soon thereafter, Capital Ringers, an ensemble of handbell and handchime ringers, was formed.

Initially, Capital Ringers borrowed equipment from a local church, until 2007 when the group began acquiring its own bells and chimes.

Capital Ringers currently owns the largest set of handbells and handchimes on the Delmarva Peninsula. The ensemble performs on six octaves (73 bells) of handbells; five octaves (61 bells) of Whitechapel handbells, made in London; and 5 1/2 octaves (67 chimes) of handchimes.

“I wanted to start a community group because even though I was serving in churches, I wanted to be able to do a variety of secular music because I knew that is what the average public person was into,” Ms. Simms said of those early days.

“So, my purpose was playing rock ‘n’ roll and playing the blues and playing jazz and a variety of other kinds of genres. And it’s worked. The recipe for that has worked well.

“There are many other community handbell ensembles around the country. And some of them go that path and some of them don’t. But I prefer to go with a secular path, just to be different — doing what you can’t play in church. And you cannot play (Queen’s) ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ in church.”

Originally from Maryland, Ms. Simms earned her Bachelor of Arts from then-Salisbury State University and her Master’s of Music Education from West Chester University in Pennsylvania. In addition, she completed post-graduate studies at Westminster Choir College in New Jersey, Central Connecticut State University and George Mason University in Virginia.

She has been involved with handbells since 1980 when she started her first handbell choir. She is a former Delaware State chairwoman, Delmarva State chairwoman, national education liaison and Area 3 chairwoman of the Handbell Musicians of America.

Looking back over the years, some special times stand out.

“We had a really profound 10th anniversary of 9/11 event that I organized at Wyoming United Methodist Church that involved a survivor from one of the Twin Towers. The president of Wesley (College) at the time was the emcee,” she said.

“We had the Delaware Choral Society. We had dancers. We had Dover PD bagpipes, the honor guard from the (Dover Air Force) base. Obviously we rang in it. We did a variety show and raised money for the Red Cross. So that was a real highlight because we were giving to the community. There was no fee involved. We just took donations. So that was profound.

“We did a fundraiser for Haiti when they had the hurricane years ago. So those kinds of things — the community service — has been important to me.”

Negotiating the pandemic years and all that it entailed is also a point of pride for Ms. Simms and she’s glad to get back to performing for real-life audiences.

“It was challenging for us to rehearse. It was challenging for us to put it together. Because when you think about it, handbells, for people who don’t understand the whole concept, it’s one instrument played by many people, and there’s no other instrument that way. So, it would be like if you and your friends gathered around a piano. What if you got around one piano and everybody played two keys, and you’re trying to play a piece of music? That’s how challenging this is,” she said.

“So that’s why people just generally who start to understand the concept of how handbells play a piece of music are wowed by it. Because it’s quite a detailed rhythmic feat to be able to do.”

She is eager to get out on the “Christmas Reflections” tour and show off the ensemble one final time.

“It’s going to be great to conduct. Basically, I’ve picked my favorite pieces. So we have the (9/11) 10th anniversary piece that was commissioned but the rest is all Christmas and the most powerful music that I think we have ever done for the holiday season. So it won’t really be bittersweet. I’m looking forward to it,” she said.

For tickets to Sunday’s show at the Milton Theatre, 110 Union St., visit MiltonTheatre.com or call the box office at 302-684-3038.

For tickets and details on the other shows, visit CapitalRingers.org.

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