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Capital City Ringers celebrates 40 years of handbell concerts

Capital City Ringers director Mark Loring holds the group's smallest bell, while founder and ringer Jane Wright displays the largest. The ensemble is celebrating it's 40th anniversary with a pair of upcoming concerts.
Scott Pohl
/
WKAR/MSU
Capital City Ringers director Mark Loring holds the group's smallest bell, while founder and ringer Jane Wright displays the largest. The ensemble is celebrating it's 40th anniversary with a pair of upcoming concerts.

For 40 years, the handbell choir known as the Capital City Ringers has been entertaining fans across mid-Michigan. The group is celebrating its milestone achievement with a couple of upcoming concerts.

A group of 15 bell ringers gathered at Eastminster Presbyterian Church in East Lansing last week to rehearse one of their signature pieces, Elegy by composer William Payn.

Jane Wright founded the Capital City Ringers 40 years ago and still performs with the ensemble. Members call her “Ma Bell.” She says she started the group after noticing what she diplomatically describes as a “disparity of ringing ability” in her Lansing church’s handbell choir.

“We thought, well, I’m going to call the directors around town and find out if they have the same thing going on,” Wright explained. “And maybe they would be willing to rotate in and be ringers, and we could all experience the joy of being ringers, and those conductors who were in the group could help conduct.”

With that, the Capital City Ringers were born.

The Capital City Ringers at a recent rehearsal.
Scott Pohl
/
WKAR/MSU
The Capital City Ringers at a recent rehearsal.

Current director Mark Loring says handbell music can be arranged for pretty much anything, not just what you’d hear in a church.

“For this concert we’re doing an arrangement of We Are the Champions by Queen, and a little Rock Around the Clock, and it’s just really fun,” said Loring. “It’s not just a musical thing, it’s a visual thing. Handbells is very visual. Sometimes, ringers are holding two bells at once, or maybe even three.”

Loring says the ensemble plays some of the most challenging handbell music out there.

The choir works with bells covering seven octaves, from the tiniest, maybe the size of a golf ball, to the largest, about the size of a peach basket.

The sheet music is often based on piano, and Jane Wright says each ringer plays the corresponding notes. “Bells are basically a percussion instrument,” sh continued, “so we are all considered percussionists, but they are very melodious in that they ring melodies and they ring full piano scores.”

As a result, the ensemble is incomplete if even one person is absent. Wright compares that to a piano missing some keys.

“Ensemble ringers tend to be very responsible to find substitutes if they have to miss, but mostly they’re there,” Wright said. “They’re at rehearsal, because they know they’re important.”

The sound is sometimes fleshed out with other instruments, like chimes, bass and keyboards.

Mark Loring says the audience for performances usually includes a mix of longtime fans and newcomers.

“We have our usual groupies, but we also have people who come for the first time and go wow, that was just amazing, you know? It’s just the amount of versatility that the ringers have,” he said.

The Capital City Ringers have a couple of “40 Years and Counting” concerts coming up. On Saturday, April 20, they’re at Eastminster Presbyterian Church in East Lansing, and they’ll be at the Delta Presbyterian Church in Lansing on Monday, April 22. Both shows start at 7 p.m.

Scott Pohl is a general assignment news reporter and produces news features and interviews. He is also an alternate local host on NPR's "Morning Edition."
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