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Lakewood Ranch resident found her passion with Ring Sarasota

Sweetwater's Suzi Regulski will perform with handbell ensemble Ring Sarasota at Sights and Sounds at Waterside Place on June 14.

The handbells and hand chimes are carefully placed along the table so musicians like Suzi Regulski can grab them when needed.
The handbells and hand chimes are carefully placed along the table so musicians like Suzi Regulski can grab them when needed.
Photo by Liz Ramos
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As the beat of "What a Feeling" from the 1983 movie "Flashdance" came to life, the energy in the choir room at Pine Shores Presbyterian Church became electric. 

Helping to put a charge into the music was Sweetwater's Suzi Regulski, who bounced on her toes as she played her notes on handbells. 

Next to her, East County's Libby Tyner Bispham was swaying as she played the instruments.

It was as if a dancing bug bounced from one member to the next of the 19-person ensemble. 

It wasn't long before every member of Ring Sarasota was dancing while playing during the ensemble's final rehearsal of the season June 10.

The rehearsal was in preparation for Ring Sarasota's final show — Sights and Sounds at Waterside Place June 14. 

Although handbells are more commonly known to be used in churches, especially around the holidays, Ring Sarasota has a knack for taking songs of various genres and showing they can be played on handbells.

Regulski, who has been playing handbells since 1995, said it's all about teamwork.

Suzi Reguslki, Libby Tyner Bispham and Katy Ellis use their mallets to clap along to the beat.
Photo by Liz Ramos

Unlike most instruments where the full scale of notes is at the player's fingertips, these "ringers," or handbell performers, have to depend on each person hitting the right note with just one bell at the right time.  

It's all about timing ... all the time, which Regulski said can be stressful. 

The focus and determination on her face during the rehearsal showed that stress. 

Although she was enjoying herself as songs like "America the Beautiful," "Popcorn" and "Sway" filled the room, she never lost sight of the fact if she didn't pick up a bell and ring it at the right moment, it would be like a hole in the music. 

Because handbells are expensive, Regulski said it's not often ringers have their own sets to practice with at home.

So she has to improvise. 

Regulski said she uses her wooden kitchen spoons and her dining room table to practice movements.

She will tap along to a recording — similar to someone pretending to play the air guitar — and go through the motions of ringing the bells to ensure she knows the music before rehearsal. 

Suzi Regulski is all smiles when hitting the last note of a song.
Photo by Liz Ramos

Although practicing with wooden spoons is helpful, there's nothing like having a bell in hand. Regulski said the bells are different sizes to produce different notes. A ringer needs to space out the bells on the table correctly to ensure they don't hit each other when picked up during a song. Teamwork is important as the ringers know if someone can't reach a particular bell in time, that someone else will grab it. 

Like many of Ring Sarasota's members, Regulski started playing handbells after the music director at her church, Northminster Presbyterian Church, asked her if she knew how to read music.

Regulski had been playing piano since she was 7 years old and knew how to read music well.

She was asked to join the church's handbell ensemble rehearsal, and she's been ringing ever since. 

Although she had never picked up a handbell before, Regulski said she was a quick study.

"When you get a compliment from the director that, 'Oh, yeah, you're a natural the way you pick it up and ring,' I was like, 'OK,'" Regulski said with a shrug and a smile. "I kept coming back. They needed me. Sometimes that's the only reason you go, because you feel needed and wanted."

As her comfort with the instruments grew, so did her skill level. Regulski started with the large bells that played the bass notes. 

She's made her way up to the treble clef, or the higher notes, which are made with smaller bells. 

Now Regulski is in her fifth season with Ring Sarasota.

Little did Regulski know she would go from performing Christmas songs to playing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" to "Build Me Up Buttercup" and other easily recognizable songs. 

Rebecca St. Pierre, Suzi Regulski and Paige Hunt rehearse with Ring Sarasota.
Photo by Liz Ramos

Ring Sarasota's show at Sights and Sounds at Waterside Place is titled "Radio Waves" as it includes songs of various genres that can be heard across radio stations. 

For many of the ringers in Ring Sarasota, the ensemble is a hobby. 

The ensemble's rehearsals and shows were something Regulski looked forward to after a long day working in insurance and employee benefits. 

It was fun and the Ring Sarasota members became a second family to her. 

Music always has been a part of her life as she played piano, violin and flute as a child. She always was a solo act though. It wasn't until she started ringing handbells that she was part of an ensemble, which she said was invigorating. 

But when people hear she plays handbells, the reaction usually is one of intrigue. Regulski said many people only associate handbells with the holidays. 

When Regulski and other members of Ring Sarasota attend handbell conferences, like the International Handbells Symposium in Nashville, Tennessee, where they learn they are not alone.

Regulski said she met ringers from Japan, England, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Puerto Rico and other countries. 

More than 300 ringers gathered to play together. 

"(Handbells) was much bigger than I thought," Regulski said of the instrument's popularity. "Initially I just thought, 'Oh, my church has handbells.'"

She said she enjoys performing with the 19-member Ring Sarasota and The Pops Orchestra together during Christmas concerts. 

"To have that 65-piece glorious orchestra behind you, it was really a 'wow' moment for a number of us to do that," Regulski said.  

Members of Ring Sarasota travel to participate. Some are from Fort Myers, Cape Coral, Seminole and Largo. 

Regulski said she's loved developing friendships with the other ringers. They spend time together outside of Ring Sarasota as well.

"It's nice to make music with this family ... It really is," said Rick Holdsworth, Ring Sarasota's principal conductor, as the rehearsal came to a close. 



Liz Ramos

Liz Ramos covers education and community for East County. Before moving to Florida, Liz was an education reporter for the Lynchburg News & Advance in Virginia for two years after graduating from the Missouri School of Journalism.

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