April 2015

What does "3 is coursing ahead of 4" mean?

During our quarter of Aardvark, I had occasion to say "3 is coursing ahead of 4". I was finding it difficult to see whether or not 3-4 were the right way round, so I was trying to delegate to Tina the task of checking that she hadn't swapped her pair over. It turned out afterwards that the instruction was unclear to begin with, but at the time I made it worse by adding what I thought was a clarification: "I mean, 3 is coursing ahead of 4 in terms of your place bells". After finishing the quarter we had quite a discussion about what on Earth I was trying to say.

I can now think of at least three interpretations of "3 is coursing ahead of 4".

  1. In the coursing order, 3 and 4 are adjacent (that is, 3-4 are in the coursing position) and 3 comes first. For example, the coursing order might be 56234 or 34256.
  2. At this moment in time, 3 and 4 are hunting in the same direction, ringing with one bell between them, and if they continued, 3 would reach the front or back before 4.
  3. Thinking about the line of the method, 3 is one place bell further ahead than 4. For example, in Bristol, 3 might be 8th place bell while 4 is 7th place bell.

What I actually meant was (1); (2) was not true at the time (in fact the opposite was true); (3) was suggested by a misinterpretation of my comment about place bells, and also wasn't true, although if we had been ringing Bristol instead of Aardvark it would have been true.

Confused? So was the band. Let me explain.

The point about (1) is that if you are ringing a coursing pair, your place bells are either 7-8, 5-7, 3-5, 2-3, 2-4, 4-6 or 6-8. The bell that is coursing ahead of the other, is the bell that would lead first if you were ringing Plain Bob. If your place bells are 6-8, 4-6 or 2-4, then the bell that is coursing ahead of the other, is the bell that is nearest the front. If your place bells are 2-3, 3-5, 5-7 or 7-8, then the bell that is coursing ahead of the other, is the bell that is nearest the back. What I meant by "3 is coursing ahead of 4" was "at the next lead end, if you become 5th and 7th place bells, make sure that 3 is nearest the back, and so on".

London: bells reaching the back in reverse coursing order (www.ringing.org)

When ringing Yorkshire, around the lead end, (2) is the same as (1). An adjacent pair in the coursing order is treble bob hunting in the coursing position. But in London and Aardvark, around the lead end, bells are reverse hunting. This means that if a coursing pair is heading towards the back, the bell that's ahead in the coursing order gets to the back last. This is what makes it harder to check whether a pair of bells is coursing the right way round. In the diagram, the bells get to the back in the order 235786, which is the reverse of the coursing order. So what I meant by "3 is coursing ahead of 4 in terms of your place bells" was that point (1) applied even though 3-4 were (reverse) hunting with 4 ahead of 3. 

Finally, point (3). In Bristol and London, a coursing pair of place bells occur consecutively in the place bell order: 7th place bell is followed by 8th place bell. And the bell that's coursing ahead of the other (8 in this case) is also ahead in the sequence of place bells; it is ahead on the line of the method. However, in Aardvark (or Plain Bob), the situation is reversed: the bell that's behind in the coursing order is ahead in the sequence of place bells. In Yorkshire, consecutive place bells aren't in the coursing position, they are in the 3-4 position. Before our discussion, I hadn't thought about point (3) as an interpretation of "3 is coursing ahead of 4", and probably I will continue not to think about it that way. But it is true that in any method, there is a natural handbell pair that follows each other through the place bell order, so that one bell does the work that the other bell did in the previous lead, and this can be helpful.

Conducting Techniques 4: Static Use of Coursing Order

This post is the last in a series on conducting techniques for handbells. It covers the use of coursing order, but in a different way from the previous post. Last time I wrote about what I call "dynamic" use of the coursing order, which means using the coursing order to check how bells are moving through the work of the method. Now I am going to describe "static" use of the coursing order, which is sub-divided into two topics: (1) using the coursing order to work out particular changes that are going to come up, so that they can be checked; (2) using the coursing order to work out which place bells someone is ringing.

Predicting changes

The easiest cases are the course ends when 5-6 are in their home position. For example, if the coursing order is 54326 then the course end is 13425678. The bells in 2nds and 3rds place strike in the opposite order from their sequence in the coursing order. In Cambridge-above methods, in these coursing orders, I also like to check the change at the treble's backstroke snap after the tenor becomes 7ths place bell. In this case the front bells strike in exactly their coursing order. For example, if the coursing order is 52436 then the change at the treble's backstroke snap is 12435678.

The coursing orders that are cyclic rotations of the plain course - 32465, 24653, 46532, 65324 - produce course ends in which bells 1 to 6 ring a lead end of Plain Bob Minor. For example, if the coursing order is 65324 (this might be produced by a bob at Before in the plain course, which happens in the first course of Horton's 4) then the course end is 13526478. If you have memorised all the lead ends of Plain Bob Minor, typically by ringing it several hundred times with learners, then it's fairly easy to check that these changes come up correctly. It's a little more difficult to pinpoint what's wrong if the expected change doesn't come up.

The coursing orders that produce runs of consecutive bells at the back, are also useful in this respect. For example, coursing orders containing 2453 (i.e. 24536 and 62453) produce changes of the form xxxx2345, certainly at the course end and perhaps elsewhere, depending on the backwork of the method. The coursing order 24653 produces the distinctive lead end 17823456. Spot checks of this kind provide reassurance that everything is going smoothly and there are no swapped pairs.

Working out place bells

The second sub-topic is the one that I find most difficult of all: using the coursing order to work out which place bells someone should be at a particular lead end. On paper this is easy, working from the positions of the tenors. For example, suppose the coursing order is ABCDE and the tenors are 2nds and 4ths place bells. Then bell A is 6ths place bell, bell B is 8ths place bell, bell C is 7ths place bell, bell D is 5ths place bell, and bell E is 3rds place bell. In practice I find it rather difficult, even on tower bells.

A particular case is working out who is affected by a bob. For example at a bob Wrong, Middle or Home, three bells in the coursing order change their relative order from ABC to BCA. Bell B runs out, bell C runs in, and bell A makes the bob. At a bob Before, the coursing order changes from ABCDE to EABCD. Bell E makes the bob, bell A is 6ths place bell, bell B is 8ths place bell, bell C is 7ths place bell and bell D is 5ths place bell.

When ringing handbells, the complication is that I don't think it's useful to tell someone what just one of his or her bells is doing. What I want to do is tell someone what both bells are doing. For example, if there is a bob Before and the new coursing order is 64523, then I want to be able to say "Jonathan 4 and 8, Tina 6 and 5, Angela 7" (usually Jonathan is ringing 5-6, Tina is ringing 3-4 and Angela is ringing 1-2). I'm not sure why, but I find this much easier at the Before than at the other calling positions. Maybe it's because we have been ringing compositions with a lot of Befores in them.

There is a system that I have tried to practise, to make it easier to work out people's place bells relative to what I am doing. The idea is to take the coursing order and notice which relative position each person's bells are in. For example, if the coursing order is 65432 then Jonathan (5-6) and Tina (3-4) are both coursing; Jonathan is coursing after me (I am ringing 7-8) and Tina is coursing after him. So if I am 2nd and 4th place bells, then Jonathan is 6 and 8, and Tina is 7 and 5.

If the coursing order is 64523 then Jonathan is in the 3-4 position immediately after me, and Tina is in the 5-6 position with her first bell coursing between Jonathan's bells. The next part of this system is to know all the pairs of place bells in each position. In the 3-4 position they are 3&4, 2&6, 4&8, 6&7, 8&5, 7&3, 5&2. In the 5-6 position they are 6&5, 8&3, 7&2, 5&4, 3&6, 2&8, 4&7. In both cases I think of the pairs in consistent order: always 7&3, not 3&7. Knowing all this, suppose that the coursing order is 64523 and I am 3rd and 5th place bells. Then Jonathan's first bell is coursing after me and is therefore 2nd place bell; as Jonathan is in the 3-4 position, his other bell is 6th place bell. Tina's first bell is coursing between Jonathan's bells, so it is 4th place bell, and because she is in the 5-6 position, her other bell is 7th place bell.

This sounds quite complicated but I have managed to use this system in some of our peals, although it takes a lot of concentration. The problem with all of this is that it's only necessary to try to work out place bells when the ringing is going badly, and that's exactly when it is most difficult to think about anything beyond what my own bells are doing. 

Conducting Techniques 3: Dynamic Use of Coursing Order

This is the third post in a series on conducting techniques for handbells. In this post and the next one, I will describe ways of using the coursing order to check or correct the ringing.

Plain Bob Major: bells leading in coursing order (www.ringing.org)

The simplest explanation of coursing order is that it is the order in which the bells hunt to the front, or to the back, when ringing Plain Bob. That is, 8753246, or a cyclic rotation of this order, with the treble inserted somewhere according to which lead of the course is being rung. For me, conducting in the full sense includes knowing the coursing order, transposing it at bobs and singles, and using it to check the correctness of the ringing and to correct mistakes. A particular danger in handbell ringing is that one ringer swaps her bells over, and knowledge of the coursing order is the main way of detecting when this has happened. If I don't know the coursing order, I feel helpless; there seems to be too much risk of getting to the end and finding that it's wrong.

I still find it difficult to remember the coursing order while ringing handbells, especially in the harder methods. But assuming that it is possible to remember the coursing order, how can it be used? What I mean by "dynamic" use of the coursing order is checking that the bells are getting to the front or back in the right order, independently of thinking about which place bells they might be. The simplest case is Plain Bob, as the bells are all plain hunting within each lead. If everyone keeps ringing, it's possible to sort out mistakes by telling the bells to lead in the right order (but don't forget to let the treble lead from time to time!). I find it easier to see the order of bells going to the front, rather than the order of bells going to the back. Kent is similar, except that the treble replaces the slow bell in the coursing order during each lead.

In other methods, it's a question of knowing where in the lead the coursing order can be seen. In Cambridge-above methods, bells are treble-bob hunting in coursing order above the treble, which can be used to check the ringing. I find it easiest to see them coming down from the back in coursing order, during the second half of the lead. Thirds place bell passes several bells in coursing order on its way to the back, and again when it comes down from the back. On handbells you ring 3rds place bell twice as often as on tower bells, so that helps.

Yorkshire Major: coursing order at the half lead (www.ringing.org)

In Yorkshire and Bristol, the half lead changes are the same as the half lead changes in Plain Bob, which means that at that moment, the bells are in coursing order: if they were to plain hunt from that point on, they would be hunting in coursing order, and if they had arrived at the half lead by plain hunting, they would have been hunting in coursing order. Of course, Yorkshire and Bristol are not Plain Bob, so the bells don't arrive at the half lead by plain hunting and then continue to plain hunt afterwards. However, in both cases, there is plain hunting on the front four before and after the half lead. So some of the bells do hunt in coursing order during a small section of the lead, and this can be used to check that they have not swapped. To check all of the bells in this way, you have to watch what's happening at the half lead during several consecutive leads.

London is more difficult because it has wrong hunting above the treble, so what you see is the reverse of the coursing order. But below the treble, despite also being wrong hunting, four bells lead in coursing order in between the two times that 7ths place bell leads. It takes practice to be able to observe this while also ringing London on two bells.

My final comment is that if I suspect a swap, it's worth taking the time to be sure that I really have observed bells hunting in the wrong order. Sometimes this means waiting another lead to have another look at the coursing order. An alternative is to tell the ringer which way round he should be - this is easiest if he is coursing - and leave him to work out whether or not he is right.

The fortnight of many handbells

We always view Holy Week as an opportunity to take a break from the bell tower, and do some more handbell ringing instead.  This year, we packed in so much extra handbell ringing, that it has extended into an intensive fortnight of handbell ringing.  This year we were very indulgent and spread our ringing net to a few new people, giving us several enjoyable sessions along the way

We started off with our regular band, and met to attempt another of Simon's practice quarters of Horton's 4.  Sometimes we are on and sometimes we are off.  This time we were a bit off, but it is all useful practice.  The weak points are now easier to identify, and we know what we need to work on for next time.

The next evening we invited a new handbell ringer Phil Baiocchi for an intensive practice session.  Phil is a graduate student at St Andrews, where there is a growing number of people interested in handbells.  He had rung some Plain Bob before, so we practised that, and tried a short touch, and practised the plain course on a different pair.  It was a pleasantly social evening, as all handbell evenings should be.

Easter Weekend found us without many plans, so we invited one of our own ringers round for some handbell ringing.  After a recent SACR training day that featured a lot of handbell ringing, Iain Milne expressed an interest in doing more.  Another pleasant afternoon spent ringing plain hunt and explaining the different pairs and patterns. 

And it was very pleasant.  Many ringers assume that once you reach a certain level in ringing, that going back over those really basic steps and simple methods must be tedium personified.  I am not sure why it is thrown about so much.  I know very few ringers who have that attitude.  In fact, most of the ringers that I know are happy to join in and help out another ringer (as they were once helped).  It is especially rewarding when you can see definite progress being made, and better still when everyone is having a nice time as well. 

Now we are halfway through our second week and have worked into more complicated projects, and are hitting all the emotional highs and lows of handbell ringing.  On Easter Monday we had Julia Cater up and rang a nice peal of Bristol (although we took a false start to get properly warmed up).  Bouyed by this success, we then completely failed to ring a nice peal of Yorkshire last night.  After so many successful sessions, it was a bit of a downer, especially as the rest of the band rang well and deserved to get it. 

Our next session is on Friday, which is our wedding anniversary.  So our course we are having another attempt at Horton's 4.  Is there any other way to spend an anniversary?



Handbell roundup for March

Here's the latest, gathered from BellBoard. Some quarters:

The Middlesex Handbell Day included a first quarter of major in hand for Martin Clode and a first quarter of treble bob major for Rebecca Gingell.

A new band is pleased with progressing to Plain Bob Major:

We would love to know more about the bell ringing day at Seven Fields Primary School, Swindon, which included a quarter.

Now on to peals.

The featured performance this month is the Cambridge University Guild dinner touch. I believe that the tradition of the dinner touch started in the 1960s, when there was a band of students ringing peals of Stedman Caters and Cinques - the likes of Andrew Hudson, Clarke Walters and Hadley Hunter. The dinner touch was the so-called "Z course": 120 Stedman Cinques, called 1, 12, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19. As time went by, the same touch was always rung, although usually there wasn't a band who could naturally ring it; intensive practice was required throughout the academic year, and the result was a whole series of CUG members whose handbell repertoire was Plain Bob Minor and that particular touch of Stedman Cinques. I rang in it four times, from 1988 to 1991, which was a significant factor in developing what little twelve-bell ability I have. A few years ago there was a rather controversial break with tradition when the dinner touch was a three lead touch of Spliced Surprise Maximus (Phobos, Bristol, Phobos). This year they have again defied tradition by ringing some of the methods from David Pipe's celebrated "quark peal". I wasn't at the dinner but I'm sure it was a great performance.

Cambridge University Guild
Cambridge, Cambridgeshire
Lucy Cavendish College, Warburton Hall
Saturday, 14 March 2015 (17 in A)
172 Spliced Maximus (3 Methods)
96 Strange Differential, 48 Top, 28 Charm Differential; 7 changes of method
1-2 Imogen R Diver (Girton)
3-4 Rebecca C Harwin (Jesus)
5-6 James R A Dann (Corpus Christi)
7-8 Oliver P Bardsley (Pembroke)
9-10 Robert K Flockton (Queens') (C)
11-12 Max L D Drinkwater (Jesus)
The first public performance of quark methods on handbells.

Conducting Techniques 2: Local Conducting

This is the second post in a short series on conducting techniques that I find useful for handbell ringing.

What I mean by "local conducting" is seeing which piece of work a bell is doing, and using that information to remind its ringer of the next work, if he or she seems to be less than confident. This is independent of any overall knowledge of which place bells that ringer should be ringing; it's purely a local observation.

For example, imagine that you are ringing Cambridge Major and everything seems to be fine at a lead end. You notice 8ths place bell coming down to 5-6 (perhaps because you are ringing 3rds place bell), but then 8ths place bell doesn't dodge, or dodges but doesn't stay in 5-6. Clearly the ringer needs to be reminded to do 5-6 places. This would be followed up a few blows later by the comment "treble's 5-6 up", not aimed at the treble but for the purpose of anchoring the 5-6 places. In the tower we do this all the time, but it's more difficult on handbells. Sometimes it happens that a ringer is actually ringing in the correct places, but seems worried, giving the impression that he is in the right places by luck and could go wrong at any second. In this case a confirmation of the work can be useful; for example it might be obvious from the structure of the method that he is going to come together in 3-4, or cross in 6-7, or something of the kind. Sometimes this can be done without even thinking about which place bells he is ringing.

This idea of local conducting becomes more systematic if it is explicitly linked to the structure of the method. In my own experience this happened when we were ringing spliced surprise minor, and I was constantly aware of the place notation of the methods. On 6, everything is more compact, more compressed, and everything follows more obviously from the position of the treble.

A little aardvark never hurt anyone

Angela wants to ring a quarter of Aardvark Surprise Major. To answer the obvious question, it's to do with the fact that her sister is getting married soon. It seems that there was a discussion of ringing something as a wedding compliment, and Angela's sister's fiancé, who is not a ringer, saw a list of methods and spotted Aardvark (evidently he started at the top...). Apparently aardvarks also have some personal significance for the couple (I didn't probe any further) and now the plan is to take a break from Horton's Four and ring a quarter of Aardvark. A couple of years ago we did something similar and rang a quarter of Bushey Surprise Major for a wedding that was taking place in Bushey. So, we always like a challenge - let's go for Aardvark.

A quick look at the line for Aardvark, reproduced here from Don Morrison's web site, shows that it might be a trickier proposition than Bushey, which is a right-place method with nice stable blocks of dodging and several familiar-looking structures.

How do we go about learning this method, to maximise the chance of success? We don't want to spend weeks practising it, and we don't want to ring it weeks after the wedding. It looks spiky and intimidating, but surely our experience with Glasgow and Belfast must count for something. Here are my observations about the line and structure.

  • It has Plain Bob place bell order, the same as Glasgow (but with 2nds place at the lead end instead of 8ths place).
  • 6th, 7th and 8th place bells start in the same way as  Whalley, by wrong hunting to a point. Eventually we will have to ring Whalley as part of Norman Smith's 23-spliced, so maybe ringing Aardvark now will help with that. In fact there's more: these place bells ring Whalley until they dodge with or pass the treble.
  • 3rd and 5th place bells start like Glasgow.
  • There are points in the back four places before and after the lead end, and in the front four places before and after the half lead, but they are one blow further away from the lead end / half lead than the points in Bristol, and are therefore at the opposite stroke. Nevertheless, if we can get used to the positions of the points, they should be good synchronising opportunities.
  • Across the half lead there is a double wrong dodge in 1-2, and wrong places in 3-4. This is the same as Beverley Surprise Minor, even to the extent of the Stedman whole turn next to the double dodge.
  • The triple dodge in 5-6 across the half lead should be a stabilising feature, especially with the 5ths place joining it onto the 5-6 dodge with the treble. However, simultaneously doing a double wrong dodge in 1-2 and a triple right dodge in 5-6 might be tricky; this will occur in both the 3-4 course and the 5-6 course. I think it will be useful to think of the double wrong dodge as a point blow, then a right dodge at the half lead, then a point blow.
  • 2nd place bell starts with something like Cambridge frontwork, but with the dodge and 2nds place the other way around. 3rds place bell fits in with it by doing dodge and lead after passing the treble in 2-3.
  •  There is a 1236 in the place notation, when the treble hunts between 4th and 5th place. This means that at certain points, someone can make 2nds and 3rds simultaneously, or lead and make 3rds simultaneously, or 2nds and 6ths, and so on. These manoeuvres don't occur in any of the methods we usually ring; doing them for the first time might make the ringer assume that he or she is making a mistake.

Having looked at the line for long enough to notice all these points, I'm sure I would be able to ring the method in the tower without difficulty. But before ringing it on handbells I will need to do some practice with Mabel, and I expect the others will too.

The next question is the composition. In this method, starting at the treble's backstroke snap gives an initial coursing order of 53426, so there is a possibility of getting a composition in which 3-4 course throughout. Here's one:

1344 Aardvark Surprise Major
Simon J Gay

W  M  H   (43256)
      s    42356
   s       62354
2  ss      25364
-  s  s    43256
Snap start. Rounds 194 changes after the last sH.

Sure, it's a little complicated, but I think it's worth it for the benefit of two of the band only having to practise the coursing position. In this style of composition, with one pair coursing throughout, if the conductor manages to remember the coursing order then usually that more or less forces the next call in order to keep the appropriate pair coursing.

We're planning to go for the quarter on 27th April, so we'll report back afterwards.