July 2015

Handbell Compositions: two peals of Bristol Major

The first composition is one I learnt from Roger Bailey and have called a couple of times. It's based on blocks of five befores, in coursing orders with both 3-4 and 5-6 coursing. For example, starting from the coursing order 54326, a block of five befores generates the coursing orders 65432, 26543, 32654 and 43265. In these five courses, 3-4 and 5-6 each ring four courses of coursing and one course in the 5-6 position.

The composition has four of these blocks, based on the coursing orders 54326, 42563, 45623 and 52436. It's easy to remember: the pattern "wrong, two homes, middle" is used twice to link blocks, which is neat. The overall effect is similar to a composition of Stedman Caters, with four blocks linked by turning courses. The only drawback of this style of composition is that after 3-4 or 5-6 have rung a few courses of coursing, it feels a little shocking to be thrown into the 5-6 position. 

5152 Bristol Surprise Major
Roger Bailey

M B W H  23456
--------------
1     1  64352
1 5 1 2  32546
1 5   1  65243
  5 1 2  62453
1 5   2  23456
--------------

The second composition has been published on BellBoard many times, with peals conducted by its composer, David Maynard. I had noticed it, and thought that it looked more complicated than Roger Bailey's, although it has slightly better properties for handbell ringing. Earlier this year I rang a peal of Bristol with David Maynard's band, and he called this composition; afterwards he explained its construction and I have subsequently called it myself. Once the construction is understood, it's straightforward to call, and the turning courses don't put 3-4 and 5-6 simultaneously into the 5-6 position, which makes life easier.

The composition is also based on blocks of five befores, but in a less obvious way because some of them are nested inside each other. The opening course, two wrongs and home, produces the coursing order 23456, which has 3-4 and 5-6 coursing ready for a block of befores. However, only four befores are called, producing the coursing order 34562. Next, calling wrong and home swaps both 3-4 and 5-6 over, into 43652. Then comes a block of five befores in the usual way, and then another wrong and home to go back to 34562, followed by the fifth before of the first block, returning to 23456.

The next call is a wrong, producing 34256, which is another coursing order with 3-4 and 5-6 coursing. Calling two befores produces 56342, and now the same idea of calling wrong and home to swap 5-6 and 3-4 can be used, giving 65432. After five befores from this coursing order, another wrong and home return to 56342. Now the previous block of befores continues, but with only two bobs, giving 42563. From this point, calling two middles and a single wrong brings it round at the backstroke snap. The full description of the composition on BellBoard explains exactly how much coursing there is for 3-4 and 5-6.

5154 Bristol Surprise Major
David G Maynard

M B W H  23456
--------------
    2 1  43526
  4 1 1  63542
  5 1 1  54632
  - 1    24536
  2 1 1  45362
  5 1 1  36452
  2      52643
2   s   (42536)
--------------

David has another composition based on the same ideas, which is a lead longer at 5186. It can also be found on BellBoard.

We're back!

Last week we were back at home after a holiday in the USA, and we managed to get back to our handbell project by ringing a quarter of Preston on Monday; just before going away, we had scored a quarter of spliced Wembley, Yorkshire, Jersey, Lincolnshire, Glasgow and Belfast. The next step in the 23-spliced training programme is a quarter of spliced Preston, Ashtead, Uxbridge, Cray, Rutland and Bristol. We attempted it on Saturday morning while we were in Inveraray for the annual ringing festival, but after five parts it became clear that there had been a swap. Never mind - it was good practice and we'll probably get it next time.

It's interesting to see what we find difficult about each method on handbells, so here is a brief review. All the grids come from Martin Bright's method printer.

Preston (here is a link to the line)

Preston is Glasgow above the treble, with 2nds place at the lead end. We've rung a lot of Glasgow now, so the backwork has become manageable, although I sometimes forget that 5ths place bell starts by going in. What we are all finding tricky is the way that the double dodges in 1-2 and 3-4 overlap. This happens in the 7-8 course, when ringing 2nd and 3rd place bells or 3rd and 5th place bells, and in the 3-4 course when ringing 2nd and 5th place bells. One way to get it right is to remember that the place notation is 34 when the treble dodges in 5-6, and 12 when the treble dodges in 7-8. This naturally emerged as an effective structural conducting comment for Preston.

One thing I didn't expect is that Preston has Plain Bob half leads, which means that all the bells are hunting in the correct coursing order at the half lead. So far I have not been able to make as much use of this fact as I do in Yorkshire, although the appearance of reverse rounds at a half lead is a reassuring landmark.

Cray (here is a link to the line)

Cray has a certain notoriety because of the 11-pull dodging across the lead end, which is considered boring on tower bells. The method is hardly ever rung except in 23-spliced, where there is only one lead at a time, so you only actually ring a 6-pull dodge at the back and a 5-pull dodge on the front. On handbells, far from being boring, this becomes a stabilising feature. The only question is when to stop dodging, which ideally should be determined by following the position of the treble but can also be done by careful counting. Like Preston, there is the possibility of overlapping dodges, this time on the front and back. Jonathan commented that the long dodges at the front and back overlap by 3 dodges, which he found helpful.

The structure of Cray is essentially the same as Double Norwich. This becomes more obvious if the 2nds place at the lead end is replaced by 8ths place, which produces a method called Norfolk. This is a double method, and if you look at the line you can see it as a kind of slowed down Double Norwich. Because it's a double method, it has Plain Bob half leads (for reasons that I haven't completely understood, this is a general rule), and so Cray also has Plain Bob half leads. (The other way to make Cray into a double method is to ring 7ths place at the half lead, producing a method called Derwent, which is even more static).

What we're finding tricky about Cray is the long places in 5-6 and 3-4, especially when ringing both of them simultaneously, which happens in the 7-8 course when ringing 3rd and 5th place bells or 7th and 8th place bells. Like in Preston, this is another place where structural ringing is useful. I tried ringing explicitly by place notation, and it works, although it takes concentration not to skip anything. The place notation of Cray is rather regular, which helps.

Ashtead (here is a link to the line)

Ashtead is another double method, so again the half leads are the same as Plain Bob. The place bell order is unfamiliar; I think of it as "alternate Cambridge". The four-pull dodges are a stabilising feature; ideally one should develop the skill of starting and finishing them according to the position of the treble, rather than by counting. Like Cray, there is an overlap of three dodges between the front and the back. The long places extend from the lead end or half lead to a dodge with the treble. Overall, we have found it easier than Cray.

Uxbridge (here is a link to the line)

We are not finding Uxbridge too difficult. On tower bells, two points that need attention are (1) getting the 4ths and dodge the right way round in 2nd and 4th place bells; (2) getting the single and double dodges on the front the right way round. The first point is helped by noting that the place notation is 34 when the treble is in 5-6. For the second point, remember that the double dodge is closest to the half lead. The work at the half lead feels different from many of the methods we ring, because it's possible to be hunting with one bell and dodging wit the other bell.

Handbell Compositions: 5056 Plain Bob Major by Andrew Hudson

I've written before about handbell-friendly compositions, but now I'm going to start an occasional series about compositions that I like for particular methods. First up is Plain Bob Major, which is the most common eight-bell method for handbell peals and a natural choice for a band starting out on peal-ringing. The composition I'm going to describe is by Andrew Hudson; I've called it a few times and I think it deserves to be better known. At the time of writing, it isn't in the composition collection at www.ringing.org or in the collection of handbell-friendly compositions at www.ringing.info.

I came across this composition back in 1990 when I was an undergraduate in Cambridge and we decided to go for a peal of Bob Major with, as I recall, Rachel Pusey, Giles Hudson and Philip Agg. Giles said that he thought his father, Andrew, had a good handbell composition, so he phoned him from the pub, relayed the composition to me and I wrote it down. We rang it at the first attempt and since then it has been my first choice of composition for Bob Major.

The idea of the composition is to keep 5-6 coursing as much as possible. So either the conductor can ring 5-6 and let someone else ring 7-8 as an easy pair, or the conductor can ring 7-8 and give someone an easy ride on 5-6. Or the conductor could ring a different pair and let two of the band have the easy coursing option... anyway, keeping another pair, besides the tenors, coursing as much as possible is a common theme in handbell compositions.

Suppose that the coursing order is 65324, so 5-6 are coursing at the front of the coursing order. The basic block of the composition consists of two sequences of calls. First: single wrong, single home, single middle. This has the effect of leapfrogging 5 and 6 over each other, keeping them coursing, until they reach the end of the coursing order. Here's how it works:

65324 sW 35624 sH 32654 sM 32456

The second sequence is middle, home, wrong. This brings 5-6 to the front of the composition again, keeping them coursing throughout. Here's how it works:

32456  M 32564  H 35624  W 56324

This is the A block in the composition. Notice that 5-6 are at the front of the coursing order again, still coursing, but the other way around from when they started. Here it is written out in standard notation:

35264  W M H
------------
62534  s   s
42536    s
65234    - -
36254  -
------------

What do 5-6 do during this block of 4 courses? At the singles, one bell makes 4ths and the other makes 2nds. The effect is to avoid the split leads of the coursing position. There's no free lunch though: at the bobs, 5-6 run in and out, which prolongs the split position. The three bobs are at consecutive leads, so 5-6 ring the split position 4 times in a row. Overall we have a block of 4 courses that keeps 5-6 coursing and has the effect of swapping 5-6 over. Ringing the A block twice gives an 8 course "round block", which ends in the original coursing order.

The next idea is to repeatedly ring the block 2A, interspersed with calls at middle to affect 2,3,4. The composition will have 6 middles, called BBSBBS, with 2A between each pair of calls. Here it is, without the first bob at middle; that will appear in a moment. The calling below doesn't start from rounds; the course ends are what they will be in the final composition.

35264  W B M H
--------------
62534  s     s  |
42536      s    |A
65234      - -  |
36254  -        |
25463    A -
35462   2A s
45263   2A -
25364   2A -
45362   2A s
--------------

To get from the plain course to a coursing order with 5-6 coursing, we can call a bob before; in the same course we will call the first middle of the block of 6. To get back to rounds at the end, the bob before can be undone by calling wrong and middle. This gives the following calling:

W B M H
-------
  - -
s     s  |
    s    |A
    - -  |
-        |
  A -
 2A s
 2A -
 2A -
 2A s
-   -
-------

We now have 42 courses, with 5-6 coursing for all except 10 leads. A peal length is 45 courses. The easiest way to add 3 courses is to call 4 homes at the end, BSBS. That's fine, but it puts an extra 3 courses at the end of the peal with 5-6 in their home position instead of coursing. It seems sensible to move those 3 courses to the beginning of the peal. This gives the final composition:

5056 Plain Bob Major
Andrew S Hudson

23456  W B M H
--------------
34256        3*
35264    - -
62534  s     s  |
42536      s    |A
65234      - -  |
36254  -        |
25463    A -
35462   2A s
45263   2A -
25364   2A -
45362   2A s
23456  -   - -
--------------
3* = s-s

Even though it looks a little complicated written out, it's easy to remember the underlying idea, and that forces the calling to be what it is. This is often the case with compositions that keep a pair coursing as much as possible.

There are many other compositions of Bob Major that are described as being suitable for handbells, so if anyone has their own favourites, please leave comments.