If you think handbells are only for Christmas, then you haven't heard Handbell Solo Artist Michèle Sharik (pronunciation: share-ick). Internationally renowned for her graceful and flowing style, Sharik is an emerging artist in the growing genre of English handbell performance; an art that began as a popular pub activity some 400 years ago and from this humble beginning has developed into a concert performance instrument. In Chimera (pronunciation: ky-MEER-uh), her first solo CD, Sharik takes the listener on a journey from the Royal Courts of Baroque London to Avant-Garde America, and all points in between. In classical mythology, the chimera was a monster that had the head of a lion, the body of a goat, and the tail of a dragon or serpent, and like the mythical chimera, this album is comprised of various parts. The CD features varying styles of classical, modern, and traditional music played by solo handbells combined with instruments such as harp, organ, timpani, harpsichord, cello, vibraphone, piano, and string trio. Figuratively, a chimera is a creation of the imagination, especially a wild creation. This Chimera pushes the limits of solo handbells into styles and combinations that previously have not been attempted. Originally, English handbells were cast by the bell foundries in tuned sets for 'change ringing', the practice of ringing a set of bells in every possible unrepeated sequence, to duplicate the heavy tower bells on a smaller scale. Tower ringers could practice change ringing on handbells in the warmth and comfort of a pub without disturbing the neighbors. In time, ringers began to play tunes on the bells, and it became a widespread musical art in Britain. The two world wars of the 20th century devastated the mostly-male British teams, but in the meantime handbells had spread to America, where the art survived and grew from a curiosity to the expressive and uniquely musical instrument it is today. In a handbell ensemble, nine to thirteen musicians perform on three to five octaves of bells; as a soloist, Sharik performs alone on three and a half octaves of American-cast Malmark handbells. A visual as well as musical performer, a handbell soloist must combine the fluid grace of a dancer, the musicality of a virtuoso, and the precision of an athlete to perform on this demanding instrument. Along with a new class of gifted musicians, Michèle is dedicated to presenting solo handbells as a concert instrument on a par with flute, harp, or piano.