Behind the bells

The Capital Ringers' tech crew

Jim Simms prepares visuals for the Capital Ringers’ Christmas show.

What began as PowerPoint slides for a handbell tribute to 9-11 has evolved into sophisticated multimedia support for The Capital Ringers. Video, lights and images vividly bring the handbell ensemble’s pieces to life, thanks to Jim Simms and his tech crew.

Actually, Jim’s audiovisual roots date to the mid-1970s when he was technical director at the Barn Playhouse in Norristown, Pa. While in the Air Force, he produced shows such as “Pride in Uniform;” later, he developed training videos while working as a mental health counselor for the Department of Correction.

Those skills were married up – literally – with handbells in 1990 when Jim attended Presbyterian Church of Dover on his birthday. Linda Wright was handbell director. “For half a year, I actually rang in church,” he recalled. They will be married 28 years in January.

He views his crew’s role as “stagecraft to enhance what Linda and the Capital Ringers are doing, to alter the emotional chemistry of the room.

“The bells are the actors; the ringers are the puppeteers,” Jim said.

Jim’s technical contributions began in earnest in 2010. Knowing that Michael Helman’s “Prayer for Peace,” a tribute to the victims and heroes of 9-11, would be performed at the regional Handbell Musicians of America Festival in Ocean City, Md., the couple assembled several hundred images for a supporting PowerPoint presentation.

More than 600 ringers performed the piece, and Michael Helman was there. “He was touched by what Linda did, and by what I did, to put this piece together,” Jim recalled.

Beyond PowerPoint

Tech support for the Capital Ringers has come a long way since then. Jim uses presentation software used by churches for worship, as well as Adobe Creative Suite products such as Premiere and After Effects. All performances are captured in 4K video.

Tech crew member Gary Casadei added lighting expertise that can shift the mood of each piece performed by the ensemble. He was recruited during a Capital Ringers orientation session in 2018.

Jim Simms and Gary Casadei during a performance.

“After Jim’s presentation it seemed as though my experience with lighting could be an asset to the group,” Gary recalled. “I have been doing Christmas lighting at my home that is synchronized to music for over 12 years. I enjoy being able to use my experience with lighting to add another level of enjoyment to the Capital Ringers show.”

Randy Peterson and Mimi Dupont round out the Capital Ringers technical crew. Jim compared the camaraderie with the crew and the collaboration with Linda to the comic writers on the classic sitcom, “The Dick Van Dyke Show.”

“This brings out the creative side of me . . . (and) I enjoy the creative side of working with Linda,” Jim responded when asked why he volunteers so much time. “There are several different layers of why I do this. I do this first for Linda.”

“Jim recognizes the impact our shows have on people, and he is passionate about that,” Linda Simms said. The visuals support the music and reinforce the ensemble’s mission not only to entertain, but to educate, she added.

The connection to people during a show is revealed in the applause. “As soon as it’s over, I will hear someone say, ‘Bravo!'” Jim said. “This is art. The world needs art. We need more of this.”

— by Lee Ann Walling

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