Practicing at home gets creative

From left, Judy Peterson with crab mallets; Laura Crosby; Steve Hallsted; Nancy Yost’s setup

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Practicing handbell music at home often involves impromptu stand-ins for the bells: crab mallets, spoons, salad-dressing bottles and TV remotes.

The Capital Ringers, Delmarva’s community handbell ensemble, has begun rehearsing for three weekends of holiday concerts this November and December. Ringers have a variety of methods of practicing between weekly rehearsals.

“Practicing at home prior to our meeting again as a group is essential to using our two-hour practice time learning to be performers as opposed to beginning to understand what we’re playing,” said bass clef ringer Steve Hallsted of Millsboro. During the months leading to concert season, he spreads five large hand bells and five handchimes across his dining room table, props his music binder on a few coffee table books, listens to the MP3 recording, and practices ringing each piece – while trying not to hit the chandelier.

David Mangler of Lewes is ringing the lowest bells this season, G2-B2. The G2 weighs about 18 pounds and costs $5,100. “I don’t take them home,” he said. “I practice by reading, measure by measure, the music and using my mallets, either striking them onto a block of foam on a folding table I have set up if the notes are malleted, or by laying the mallets out on the table in the positions the bells would lay and picking them up and ‘ringing’ them.”

Artistic Director Kevin Chamberlain of Milford supplies ringers with recordings of the season’s repertoire so they can listen while reading the music and practicing with whatever they have available if they don’t have handbells at home.

Ringers have some unique substitutes. Nancy Yost of Dover said she listens to the recording while practicing with spoons. “Another way is I play my notes on the piano while listening to the music,” she said.

Judy Peterson’s collection of crab mallets.

Judy Peterson of Millsboro practices with crab mallets marked with the notes she’ll be playing. Spoons and crab mallets are unharmed if they bang on the table surface, but those who practice with handbells need cushions of some sort.

Carol Pillsbury of Lewes practices in her basement on an old dining table fitted with a long foam pad covered with a black sheet. She sets up her music on a riser, she said, “put in my Air Pods, connect to the playlist via Google Drive and voila . . .  that’s how I practice. The only distraction is from the dehumidifier.”

Clay Monroe of Lewes is a little more low-key: he uses his dog bed cushions when he borrows his church’s handbells.

Some bells are too large and heavy to take home every week. Heather Beauchamp of Harrington, who has been playing with Capital Ringers longer than anyone in the group, looks at her music at home and mark spots “where I need to pick up [or] put down bells and which hand to pick up with or if I need help with someone picking up a bell in a particular spot. I also listen to the recordings and follow along on my music,” she said.

Judy Moore of Rehoboth Beach also doesn’t take bells home because of their size. “I review the music with the recordings, marking bell change possibilities, then try them out at Sunday rehearsals. I enjoy finding solutions to difficult passages that require changing bells. Repetition is the key to rhythmic accuracy,” she said.

For more information on the Capital Ringers Ensemble and their upcoming holiday concerts, see the website at

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