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Featured Group: The Raleigh Ringers
25 years, 6 CDs, 2 DVDs, 39 states, 2 countries, and countless audience members awed and inspired; this is the math behind The Raleigh Ringers. They have become quite mythic over their 25 years of performing. From humble beginnings they arose to become one of the preeminent community handbell choirs.
The list of their instruments alone would take pages to write (trust me, I did it). They aren't lying when they stake the claim of “performing with the largest set of handbell and handbell-like instruments in the world.” They have your typical Malmarks and Whitechapels, but also some very cool stuff you don't see everyday, like Petit and Fritsen bells, MelodyWave instruments, Cymbells, Shaker chimes and more. For a complete list, click here.
While they have some exciting adventures on the horizon, let's take a second to go back to the very beginning of The Raleigh Ringers' foundation. The year was 1990, Dave Harris had been directing handbells at Hudson Memorial Presbyterian Church for a few years, and had ended up with an eclectic group of ringers from different area churches. They slowly branched out from playing just at worship services and performed outside of church and began adding more secular music to their repertoire. As their following grew, Dave recognized the need to break away from the church and create a true community handbell group, a rather novel concept at the time.
Initial auditions drew sixteen ringers. One hopeful was frightened off and the remaining fifteen became the founding members of The Raleigh Ringers. With 5 octaves of handbells on loan from Malmark and borrowed space at Abbotswood Retirement Community, The Raleigh Ringers began practicing. Their audience began to grow as they were tapped to perform at an increasing number of local events.
In 1992, Dr. William Payn composed “Illumination”, the very first of a long line of commissions The Raleigh Ringers would sponsor over the years. 1995 saw the release of their first CD, “The Raleigh Ringers” and in 1996 they took off to France to perform at the American Church in Paris at Fred Gramann's invitation. In 2016, they will return to France to celebrate Fred Gramann's fortieth year at the American Church in Paris. The Raleigh Ringers' moved on from their relatively new home at Springmoor Life Care Center to their very own building in 2007, fondly called “Raleigh Ringer Central”. There they rehearse, store their oodles of instruments and equipment, and teach classes.
All told The Raleigh Ringers ring in about thirty concerts a year. They are famous for their signature rock and roll style. “Stairway to Heaven” was their first foray into the genre, though many more, including “Rock You Like a Hurricane” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” and the slightly less rock and roll but no less cool, “Flight of the Bumblebee” and “Dueling Banjos,” have followed in recent years. They have performed with the Virginia Symphony, at the Piccolo Spoleto festival in Charleston, SC, and at many different Handbell Musicians of America events.
They also work hard at the Capital Area Handbell Festival, held every November, and the Capital Area Young Ringers Festival, held every February. More recently, between tours they host the Virtuoso Event. In partnership with Dr. William Payn, The Raleigh Ringers audition ringers from all over the United States for the chance to attend this prestigious annual event. For one weekend the Virtuoso participants come together to practice and perform a final concert. Mark your calendars; this year’s Virtuoso concert will be held at Meymandi Concert Hall in Raleigh, NC on June 14, 2015. They are also touring the Midwest this summer, so keep your eyes peeled for concert dates. You can find those dates, their awesome tie dyed handbell gloves, and a lot more on their website, www.rr.org or visit their Facebook page.