October 2015

Possibilities for structural ringing

I have commented before that one of my ringing ambitions is to be able to ring on handbells everything that I can ring on tower bells. Earlier this year I made this ambition much more difficult by ringing a peal (on tower bells) of cyclic spliced maximus. It included Ariel, Phobos and Zanussi, which are among the currently popular surprise maximus repertoire. If you look at the lines for these methods, they might not seem very easy, but the grids show a clear frontwork/backwork structure with a lot of regularity. The diagrams come from Martin Bright's method printer at boojum.org.uk.

It seems to me that the ideal way to ring these methods is to ring the frontwork and backwork by their structure - plain hunting, reverse hunting, treble bob hunting, points, fishtails - and learn the irregularities at the frontwork/backwork interface according to the position of the treble. This seems rather difficult, but there are simpler methods that have similar structural features. One such is Kenninghall, which exists at all stages from major upwards. Here is the grid for Kenninghall Maximus.

The backwork is Cornwall: treble bob hunting with a triple dodge (or far dodge near, in 5-6) at the beginning and end of the lead. The frontwork is wrong hunting on four. The "twiddly interface" is much simpler than in the methods above: just a fishtail on the front, and 3rd and 4th place made immediately below the treble.

Ringing this kind of thing on 12 is still a little beyond us, but we could start with major. Here is how the line works out, with a diagram from Don Morrison's web site at www.ringing.org.

What do I mean by ringing this method structurally? In the frontwork, the idea would be to ring without thinking about how many times I have been to 4th place and back. In the backwork, the idea would be to treble bob hunt until the treble reaches 3-4 down, and then do a triple dodge. Identifying when to make 3rd place or 4th place below the treble should be done by following the position of the treble. In practice this would be supplemented by thinking about which place bell to become. For major I think it's a little artificial to avoid counting the hunting cycles, but for royal and maximus it would be much better not to count. Anyway, clearly the key skill is wrong hunting on the front with one bell while treble bob hunting on the back with the other bell, which also comes up in London No. 3 Royal and its extension Newgate Maximus.

I've been trying this with Abel, and it's a little tricky. The wrong hunting / treble bob hunting is fine, but noticing when the treble arrives takes concentration.

After Kenninghall, a slightly harder method in a similar style is Selborne. Here is the line for royal. It has a 2nd place lead end; a direct comparison with Kenninghall would be the version with a 10th place lead end, which is called Yiewsley on 8 but hasn't been named on 10. 

Quarters of Plain Bob Major for handbells

Iain Scott asked about handbell-friendly quarter peal compositions of Plain Bob Major, to be called from 5-6 with an inexperienced ringer on 3-4.

I think the answer depends on exactly what each ringer would find easy or difficult. I usually call wrong home wrong, which feels similar to calling a 720 of Bob Minor; the 5th makes the bob and runs out twice, while the 6th is in 7-8 down at the wrong and 5-6 down at the home. This calling doesn't have any particular handbell-ish qualities in terms of which positions each pair gets into, but it's unlikely to be miscalled.

1344 Plain Bob Major

W  H  23456
-  -  45236
-  *  34256
6 part, calling s at * in parts 3 and 6. 

Another possibility is to keep 3-4 in the 3-4 course throughout, at the expense of slightly more complicated work for 5-6.

1344 Plain Bob Major

W M H  23456
s s    63425
s s    53462
  s *  23465
4 part, calling s at * in parts 2 and 4.
For handbells: 3-4 are in the 3-4 course throughout.

In the first course, the 5th makes 4ths at both singles. Then the 6th makes 3rds at the next single, and then the 5th makes 3rds. Finally the 5th makes 4ths, and then in alternate parts there is a single home when 5-6 dodge together in 5-6.

It is often assumed that a handbell-friendly composition means that one pair spends as much time as possible in the coursing position. We can keep 3-4 coursing but the calling becomes more complicated and it would not be particularly easy to call from 5-6.

1344 Plain Bob Major

W M H  23456
    -  42356
  s    62354
6 s -  34256
s      54236
s 3 -  23456
For handbells: 3-4 are coursing for all except the first course.

Interestingly, the peal of Cambridge Royal that I described in a previous article is a combination of the ideas in the above two quarters of Bob Major.

Conducting from the easier pair can be a good idea.

The idea from Andrew Hudson's peal composition can be used for a quarter peal with 5-6 coursing for most of the time. This one is slightly different from the one suggested by Hayden Charles in his comment on that article.

1360 Plain Bob Major

W B M H  23456
  - -    25463
s     s  64523
    s    34526
    - -  65423
-   3    26453
s     s  54623
    s    34625
    - -  56423
-   -    45362
-   - -  23456
For handbells: 5-6 course from the before onwards.

Graham John has suggested a couple of other compositions, in a response to Iain's comment (which is a comment on the handbell day article).

Glimpsing another way of conducting

In my previous article I mentioned that we were hoping to go for a peal of spliced Cambridge, Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Rutland and Bristol. Well, we did, and we rang it first time, which was satisfying. I was almost as pleased with it as I was with the 23-spliced, which might sound strange. The point is that whereas the 23-spliced was a project that took several attempts and felt like a superhuman effort of concentration, this peal of 5-spliced shows that we have reached a level where we can organise a peal of spliced in methods that we know well, with a straightforward composition, and turn up and ring a good peal just like we would in the tower. There were no panics, no emergencies, no shouting - just good ringing with a few small trips. Also, it's the first time that I've called a peal of spliced on a non-coursing pair and managed to follow the coursing orders.

Graham John was right: that composition by Philip Davies is a hidden handbell gem. In his comments on the previous article, Graham explained the structure of whole courses of each method, except for a few substitutions of odd leads. Because each method is linked to a particular position of 5-6 in the coursing order, I was able to make use of those connections as a supplement to religiously following the sequence of methods that I had memorised. At times, I found myself thinking along the lines of "after the next bob, it has to be a bobbed lead of Bristol in order to get 5-6 coursing again so that we can ring the rest of the course of Yorkshire".

This reminded me of the article that David Brown wrote in the Ringing World about the record length peal of Superlative Major. He said that normally he learns all the coursing orders in a composition, and that helps him to remember the calling, but the enormous number of calls in the Superlative made this impractical and he had to fall back on learning the calling explicitly. This was a surprise to me because I have always learnt the calling first, and then perhaps learnt a few coursing orders at strategic points; having said that, I can now see that my articles about handbell compositions of Plain Bob Major, Bristol Major and Cambridge Royal are rather oriented towards explaining the calling in terms of the coursing orders that are going to be included. After yesterday's peal I can see that similar ideas of conducting by structure can be extended to the more complicated domain of spliced.

Handbell Compositions: Spliced Surprise Major (5m) by Philip G. K. Davies

There is a possibility of going for a peal of spliced Cambridge, Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Rutland and Bristol in the near (or maybe distant) future. The idea is to take the easy four of the standard 8, and add Bristol as a step towards the full set. (We would be thinking of doing this with a slightly different band than usual, in case you are wondering why CYNRB would be a natural step after ringing 23-spliced).

What about a composition? Consulting Don Morrison's composition web site at www.ringing.org shows that there is not much choice for this combination of methods. The only one I saw is this one by Philip Davies.

5088 Spliced Surprise Major (5m)
Philip G. K. Davies

M W H                 12345678
  - 3   YYYY.R.B.B.   15243678
  2 -   RRRRRR.B.YYY. 14235678
2 -     R.B.C.CCC     15642378
  -     CYCN.NNC      12546378
-   2   CNY.NNNN.B.   15346278
    -   YYRYC.        14536278
-   -   NCN.BBBBBBB.  12356478
3 part.

1152 Bristol, Yorkshire, 960 Cambridge, Lincolnshire (N), 864 Rutland. 
74 com, all the work, 63 crus, Tittums.

It's a 3-part, so not too much to learn; all the work; most of the Bristol is in a whole course, so that should be nice and stable. It looks good, but notice the part end: 12356478. The 2nd and 3rd are in the same position in each part, while the 4th, 5th and 6th rotate positions among themselves. This is a common choice for 3-part compositions, because it helps to increase the number of CRUs (combination roll-ups): e.g. 5678s in one part become 6478s and 4578s in the other parts. For handbell ringing it's preferable to have either 3-4 or 5-6 fixed at the part end, so that the ringer of that pair does familiar work in the second and third parts. Can we do anything about this?

It's always possible to start a composition in a different place, and it will still be true. We want to keep the tenors together, so we can look for a better course end to start from. Notice that the third course end is 15642378, which will be 16452378 in the second part and 14562378 in the third part. If we start from this point, we get a rearrangement of the composition in which the first part end is 13425678.

If we were designing the composition for handbell ringing, it would also be nice for 5-6 to be coursing in the whole course of Bristol. Looking at the rearranged composition, below, we see that the third course end is 14263578, which has the coursing order 32465. The next course has a bob at middle, giving coursing order 32654, and then the block of Bristol starts. So, indeed, 5-6 are coursing in the Bristol.

Now look at the long block of Rutland in the 6th course. This starts from the course end 13526478, which has coursing order 65324, so again 5-6 are coursing, which is another nice stabilising feature. Closer inspection shows that 5-6 are coursing for 29 of the 53 leads in each part, which is much more than we might expect by chance. All in all, this is an attractive composition for handbell ringing, and I hope we can organise an attempt for it at some point.

5088 Spliced Surprise Major (5m)
Philip G. K. Davies (rotated)

M W H                 12345678
  -     CYCN.NNC      15243678
-   2   CNY.NNNN.B.   12643578
    -   YYRYC.        14263578
-   -   NCN.BBBBBBB.  15623478
  - 3   YYYY.R.B.B.   13526478
  2 -   RRRRRR.B.YYY. 12563478
2 -     R.B.C.CCC     13425678
3 part.

1152 Bristol, Yorkshire, 960 Cambridge, Lincolnshire (N), 864 Rutland. 
75 com, all the work.

We did it!

A week after the previous attempts, we got together again and succeeded.

Scottish Association
1 Albany Quadrant
Sunday, 11 October 2015 in 2h40 (15C)
5152 Spliced Surprise Major (23m)

224 each Ashtead, Bristol, Cambridge, Cassiobury, Cornwall, Cray, Double Dublin, Glasgow, Ipswich, Jersey, Lincolnshire, Lindum, London, Preston, Pudsey, Rutland, Superlative, Tavistock, Uxbridge, Watford, Wembley, Whalley, Yorkshire; 160 c.o.m.; a.t.w.
Composed by Norman Smith
1–2 Angela H Deakin
3–4 Tina R Stoecklin
5–6 Jonathan S Frye
7–8 Simon J Gay (C)
First of 23-spliced: 1-2.
First of 23-spliced in hand: 3-4, 5-6.
First of 23-spliced as conductor.
23rd peal in the house.
A belated (due to failure last weekend) celebration of the 30th anniversary of the first performance of this composition on handbells (2nd October 1985).

Perhaps propelled by the conglomeration of footnotes, the peal quickly went to the most-liked position on BellBoard - hurray!

So that's a completed project, and actually a very short one in comparison with 41 Spliced Surprise Minor, 8 Spliced Surprise Major, and Kent Maximus.

Some further thoughts:

  • It's very difficult!
  • It wasn't perfect, of course, but most of it was good accurate ringing. There were a couple of rough leads but enough of us always knew where we were and, crucially, where we were in the lead, to be able to help the others back into place.
  • Considering the difficulty we had in getting to grips with 8-spliced a couple of years ago, we have done well to learn all 23 methods to a high enough standard, just in the last few months. I hope this shows a general improvement in handbell ringing ability that will help with future projects.
  • It seems impossible to explain why mistakes occur. A momentary lapse in concentration, or a hesitation somewhere, can mean that suddenly we have missed a dodge or drifted through a place, even in a place bell that has never previously been a problem.
  • I found it harder than the 41 Surprise Minor, even though the composition is much easier. I ring minor in a more structural way, pretty much by the place notation or grid, but I can't do that reliably for major.

One of the congratulatory comments on Tina's Facebook asked the inevitable "What's next?" Well, it's back to Horton's Four; we haven't rung the split tenors section yet, but I hope that our 23-spliced adventures have made me better at non-coursing positions. Probably we will try to ring a really good quarter of each method individually before we go back to practising spliced. Also we're going for 8-spliced royal in the tower in December, so we might need a break for method and composition revision for that.

But the immediate "what's next" is that we're not ringing handbells again this week; instead, Jonathan and Angela suggested going out for dinner to the children's choice of restaurant, to reward them for all their patience during our many attempts. You might think this would mean resigning ourselves to somewhere like McDonald's, but no - they have chosen a proper Italian restaurant that we went to last year for a friend's 50th birthday. So that should be a nice evening out for all of us.

The 14th Scottish Handbell day (bookended by peal attempts)

There were points during the previous weekend, especially on Sunday, when I thought we had bitten off rather too much - again. 

Our programme to ring a peal Norman Smith's 23-spliced coincided with our usual semi-annual handbell day.  Simon has already written about our first attempt on Friday evening, which went very well (until it didn't), and we were fizzing afterwards, full of the prospects of certain success.

In the meantime, however, there was a handbell day to get through.  Having now done it so many times, the organisation of the rooms, putting the house in order, and managing the catering is a well-known quantity.  What with practising methods, and actually attempting a peal the night before, we had to be considerably more organised in advance (which challenged our storage and refrigeration capabilities considerably).  The benefit of having two extra ringers on hand first thing in the morning overcame much of this difficulty, and 4 people made short work of completing the long list of final arrangements.

After a few days with what I might call a 'small but select' attendance, this handbell day was one of our biggest, expanded in part by our decision to open the morning sessions to new or very inexperienced handbell ringers.  We had four interested new ringers attend, and we put them with a strong band and set to teaching them the basic principles and practising plain hunt (and eventally, a little go a Plain Bob).

The remainder of the day was divided into practice and quarter peal sessions, most of them dedicated to a particular goal or request.  We left the decision about whether to practice or attempt a quarter more or less to each band, which made all the sessions reasonably relaxed.  We also kept many of the sessions quite simple  - which was a relief to some of us.

As a result, our success rate was quite high, and several very satisfactory quarter peals were scored, including a first of Treble Bob major for Peter Kirton (who is practising up for a peal attempt), and for Alex Frye, and a first on 8 for Moira Tregaskis.

Plus we had plenty of practice of Surprise ringing, and getting exposure to higher numbers.  We included some of our new ringers in these practices, and they coped very well with coursing a pair to plain hunt on 8 and 10, and it provided a good opportunity to illustrate how these patterns extend to any number of bells.

Ringing 22-in from the sharp end using mini and toy handbellsRinging 22-in from the back, using the Whitechapel 12.

Ringing 22-in using 3 sets of bells and every available seating surface

We ended the evening with our usual mass handbell attempt - and this time we had a go at 22-in, combining a Whitechapel 12 with a combination of mini and toy handbells.  After successful rounds, there was a 'method' consisting of plain hunting on the front 6, and each set of 4 following.   Our new learners coped very well.  We then did some more general ringing, on diminishing numbers as people left for home, or (in my case) simply ran out of brain power.

Back to 23-spliced

Promptly on Sunday morning, we had our second, and then our third, and fourth attempts at 23-spliced, none of them getting as far as our first attempt on Friday.  By the end of the afternoon, we threw in the towel, after reaching the point where we were capable of going wrong ringing rounds. 

Despite retiring early the night before, we were really too tired, and somehow not able to keep our concentration going.  For the sake of our local band efforts, we might have been better not having a big handbell day in between events.  Never mind, we have another attempt coming up, and are determined to see it through all seven parts.   And the handbell day itself was hard to fault.

Quarter peals

All quarters rung for the Scottish Association, at 1 Albany Quadrant Glasgow, on Saturday 3 October 2015:

1260 Plain Bob Minor
1–2 Peter Kirton
3–4 Monica Menis
5–6 Jonathan S Frye (C)

1344 Plain Bob Major
1–2 Colin P North
3–4 Peter Kirton
5–6 Nicholas W Jones (C)
7–8 Moira Tregaskis
First on 8 in hand: 7-8.

1312 Kent Treble Bob Major
1–2 Tina R Stoecklin
3–4 Robin R Churchill (C)
5–6 Colin P North
7–8 Peter Kirton
First Treble Bob Major in hand: 7-8.

1250 Yorkshire Surprise Major
1–2 Jennifer A Holden
3–4 Robin R Churchill
5–6 Jonathan S Frye
7–8 Tina R Stoecklin (C)

1312 Kent Treble Bob Major
1–2 Alex P Frye
3–4 Jennifer A Holden
5–6 Robin R Churchill (C)
7–8 Nicholas W Jones
First of Kent Major: 1-2.


Almost there...

On Friday evening we had our first attempt for the peal of 23-spliced. We didn't get it, but we got well into the 5th part, with mostly very good ringing. That's more of it than we have rung in one go before, so although it was disappointing not to reach the end, it was still a promising attempt. Friday evening is never ideal for ringing something difficult, but we're hoping that the next attempt on Sunday morning will find us more alert and with the methods still freshly in mind.

I have discovered a weakness in the way I ring symmetrical leads. What I mean by that is the pairs of place bells that are each other's reverses, such as 6th and 8th place bells in Yorkshire. During the peal attempt I had a problem with 4th and 6th place bells in Tavistock, although that particular mistake didn't cause the fire-up (which was my fault, but in Lindum later). I find myself ringing up to the half lead, where my pair dodges together (or in other methods it could be crossing at a plain hunting half lead), and then ringing the second half of the lead by reversing what I have just done, instead of by following the work of the method. The problem is that if I make a mistake, it's difficult to recover because I have lost track of the overall trajectory. So I need to adjust the way I think about ringing those leads.

Before the next peal attempt, we have the Scottish Handbell Day. This time we have changed the format slightly by planning to cater for beginners in the morning, before the usual mixture of practice sessions and quarters in the afternoon. We have 5 complete or near beginners coming, and 16 established ringers of various levels of experience. That gives us a good ratio for the introductory sessions, so we are hoping that the intensive practice will let us get the beginners through the plain hunting positions and perhaps onto Plain Bob Minor.