March 2019

What do I look for in a handbell composition?

After our peals of Lessness and Cornwall, the next thing we're going to try with Julia and Nick is Turramurra. It isn't a Pickled Egg method, although I think it featured in the initial discussions about which methods to include; maybe it was even in the "also try" list. It's an easy alternative to Lincolnshire and Yorkshire. I will write more about the method when we have actually rung it, but here are the main features:

  • Cambridge place bell order.
  • Cambridge above the treble.
  • Five dodges in 1-2 across the half lead.
  • Three dodges in 3-4 across the half lead.
  • Far-dodge-near in 5-6 across the half lead.

Probably it can be reconstructed, or very nearly, from that information.

Having decided on a peal of Turramurra, I started having a look for compositions. This is not so straightforward. Turramurra has BDO falseness, and without investigating the technical details (I confess that I don't have the falseness groups and their consequences at my fingertips), this seems to be quite a lot of falseness and enough to significantly restrict the availability of easy and/or handbell-friendly compositions.

So, this is an opportunity to write about what kind of composition I would like to be able to choose, for a single straightforward Surprise Major method.

You might ask why I want to look for easy compositions, given that I've conducted Horton's Four and Graham John's one-part composition of the Nottingham Eight, which are good achievements even on tower bells. Well, Horton's Four took a long time and a lot of practice, and the Nottingham Eight also required a lot of thorough learning and huge concentration by all the band on the day. For a more "ordinary" peal, especially if I'm not going to ring the tenors, I want a tenors-together composition that's not too complicated to call. The less I have to concentrate on the composition, the more I can concentrate on ringing my bells accurately, which helps with the overall stability. I like compositions with one or both of the following features.

  1. A high proportion of coursing for 3-4 or 5-6 or, ideally, both.
  2. A multi-part composition with part-ends that I like.

What do I like in a multi-part composition?

  • Five-part compositions can be good because the part is fairly short, so there's less to learn. My favourite part end group is the one generated by 13526478, so that the part ends are the lead ends of Plain Bob Minor with the tenors added at the back. I like this because the part ends are easy to check, and the coursing orders are cyclic rotations of the plain course (65324, and so on) which I find easy to remember. The second choice of part end group would be cyclic rotations of rounds on the front six, i.e. 13456278, 14562378 and so on. This makes the part ends easy to check, although the corresponding coursing orders are nothing special. However, five-part compositions tend not to produce large amounts of coursing for 3-4 or 5-6. Usually I would think of five-parts for spliced, rather than for single methods.
  • Three-part compositions are good, especially if one of the handbell pairs does the same work in every part. So I would look for either 13425678 and 14235678 as the part ends, or 16342578 and 15346278. It's possible for compositions on these plans to have a reasonable amount of coursing for the fixed pair. Sometimes, three-part compositions with a different part end (12356478 is traditionally popular because it's good for generating CRUs) can be started in a different place so that either 3-4 or 5-6 are fixed - an example is the William Barton composition of Lincolnshire.
  • Two-part compositions can sometimes be favourable for handbells. If the part end is 12436578 then 3-4 and 5-6 each do the same work in both halves of the peal - which might also include a reasonable amount of coursing. If the part end is 12563478 or 12654378 then 3-4 and 5-6 swap their work between the two halves of the peal, which could be seen as introducing an element of fairness (either equal easiness or equal pain, depending on the other aspects of the composition).

Sometimes, starting at the snap is good for handbells, if this means that either 3-4 or 5-6 is coursing from the beginning. In Cambridge-above methods, the coursing order at the snap is 52346, with 3-4 coursing. In Bristol, it's 32456, with 5-6 coursing. It's possible to have multi-part compositions with a snap start and finish - for example the Roger Bailey composition of Yorkshire, mentioned in this article about compositions of Rutland.

One-part compositions can be attractive if they have other handbell-friendly features. The main examples of this are the various compositions of Bristol and Cornwall that I have written about, with blocks of five befores that keep both 3-4 and 5-6 coursing for four of the five courses.

Now, back to Turramurra. Looking for compositions in the usual places ( and didn't produce anything attractive. To make sure, I did some computer searching, and there aren't any tenors-together compositions on any of the multi-part plans that I described above. This leaves two options: accept some split tenors, or consider a one-part composition that isn't too complicated.

For the first option, I removed the tenors-together requirement from my computer search, and found some five-part compositions with two courses of split tenors per part. There are several variations, but good examples are this one with three bobs at fifths:

5120 Turramurra Surprise Major
Simon J Gay

V  M  B  H  23456
         -  42356
3     -  -  42563
   -     -  35264
5 part.

or this one with in/out/fourths:

5120 Turramurra Surprise Major
Simon J Gay

M  B  I/O/4  H  23456
             -  42356
   -         -  42563
-       x    -  35264
5 part.

These are the same composition, just with the two split tenors courses inserted in a different way. I prefer the first one because the tenor is unaffected. We might ring it if I can either ring the tenors myself or persuade whoever does ring them that the split sections are not too bad. As a point of interest, moving the first home to the end of the part changes the part end to 13456278.

As an alternative, I used CompLib to search for compositions published for other methods that are true to Turramurra. The most interesting result was this composition by Albert Pitman. It's listed with a couple of different starting points, but here I'll show the simplest form.

5056 Turramurra Surprise Major
Albert J Pitman

M  B  W  H  23456
      -     52436 |
   -        23564 | A
-        2  34562 |

    3A      62345

    A*      42356

   2     -  25634 | B

    3B      64523

    B*      23456
A* = A omitting 2H
B* = B omitting H

This is two five-part compositions joined together. Ringing the A block five times returns to rounds (and has the cyclic part ends mentioned earlier), and ringing the B block five times (starting from rounds) also returns to rounds (with unremarkable part ends).

Joining the two blocks together is achieved by omitting the two homes at the end of the last A block, so that the final coursing order is 52436. This means that the second section of five B blocks would return to 52436, but omitting the final home stops it in the plain course, to come round.

This structure means that the composition can be called without counting the parts - reducing the need to count is always a good strategy. Simply call A blocks until reaching the coursing order 52436, and then call B blocks until returning to the plain course.

I think it's better to ring the A section first, for two reasons. First, because the B section has a before in every course, so the tenors are skipping three leads every time, and I wouldn't want to ring ten (short) courses of an unfamiliar method and then suddenly give the tenors a new pair of place bells. Second, because ringing the A section first gives it the nice part ends of 13456278 and so on.

So I've got a choice of two reasonable compositions, and we can negotiate nearer the time about which one to go for.

Success with Cornwall

On Monday we had another go at Cornwall with Julia and Nick, and succeeded with a good peal. I decided that ringing the tenors would give us a better chance, so we changed the band around a little. I found that it still takes some concentration to keep the treble bob hunting on the front and the back out of step in the right way. At one point I found myself double dodging on the front when it should have been a single, which threatened to desynchronise us, but I managed to recover at the half lead. Another time I forced the bells at the back into an incorrect dodge, then realised that the bells at the front had dodged at the same time - not right! Again, we were able to recover around the half lead, with the help of the trebles.

I called the composition by James Smith, which I like even more now. Here it is again, with some commentary.

5024 Cornwall Surprise Major
James A Smith

M  B  W  H  23456
-     -  3  54632
   2     -  43265
   5     2  32465
   -  -  -  35264
   4     -  42356
   5     -  34256
   5     -  23456
For handbells: 62% coursing for 3-4 and 80% coursing for 5-6.
  • Starting with middle and wrong leads to the coursing order 34562 - a memorable one with 3-4 and 5-6 coursing.
  • The three homes are just padding, and throw 3-4 and 5-6 around a bit.
  • Two befores keep 3-4 coursing and produce the coursing order 62345, which introduces the motif of 65 course ends. There are three homes in this position, and calling the first one gives 63425.
  • We are still in a coursing order where five befores will keep 3-4 and 5-6 coursing for four of the five courses, and indeed we call the whole block of five.
  • Back at 63425, call the remaining two homes to get the other 65 course ends and return to 62345.
  • One before gives 56234. Now comes what I think is a clever manoeuvre. The idea of calling wrong and home, used in the David Maynard composition of Bristol, swaps each of the first two pairs in the coursing order, giving 65324. In David's composition, this is used to move between two coursing orders that have 3-4 and 5-6 coursing. Here, however, it takes us to a coursing order that's in a block of five befores from the plain course.
  • From this point on it's easy. Call fours befores to return to the plain course, then finish with three homes, padding them out with blocks of five befores. In these last two blocks of befores, the base coursing orders are 52436 and 54326, so we get 3-4 and 5-6 coursing in four out of the five courses each time.

Incidentally, I met James Smith in a handbell peal in which David Maynard called his 5154 of Bristol. The fourth ringer was Peter Blight, who I rang with many times in the Imperial College days.

Methods of the Month: Lancashire

We started March with a quarter of Lancashire, which was the first one in the BellBoard list for the method of the month. I expected us to find it more difficult than some of the new methods we have rung, so I put together a composition with a snap start and 5-6 coursing throughout.

1344 Lancashire Surprise Major

W  M  H  (36254)
s     s   52634
   s      42635
3  s  s   56234
s        (36254)
Snap start.

After reading the Ringing World (it often doesn't arrive in Glasgow until Tuesday), I realised I had missed a trick - just calling six middles (bob, bob, single, bob, bob, single) is true, and an easier way to keep 5-6 coursing after the snap start.

It took us a little while to get to grips with the method, despite our practice the previous week. There were at least five false starts, one of which lasted for a whole course, but we did get into it eventually and rang a good quarter. I hadn't really digested the fact that the last three singles are at consecutive leads, but I realised what was going to happen just before calling the first one, and it didn't cause a problem.

What about the method? It starts like Whalley, although it's so long since we rang 23-spliced that this feature isn't very helpful. The points at the back are one place further from the lead end than they are in Bristol, which also means that they're at the opposite stroke. On the front, the points are further away from the half lead than they are in Bristol, which means that there's a longer period of 4-bell hunting when both of your bells are on the front. This contrasts with a problem I used to have in Bristol, of hunting for too long on the front and overshooting the points. Jonathan said that in Lancashire he was sometimes not hunting for long enough.

The next day we rang it in the tower at practice night, and the fact that four of us had been ringing it on handbells was a great help. The tower bell ringing went much better than I had expected - we rang half a course, twice, reasonably well.

Methods of the Month: Double Dublin

Last Monday we rang a quarter of February's method, Double Dublin. I enjoyed it much more than I expected to - my memory of ringing Double Dublin as part of 23-spliced was that it can be a bit trippy, because of having to remember to do every variation with respect to Bristol. However, we rang it well.

Jonathan called this composition, which has a lot of coursing for every pair - but only 70% coursing for the tenors. Also, 3-4 (which I rang) don't ring the 5-6 position, and 5-6 and 7-8 don't ring the 3-4 position.

1280 Bristol Surprise Major
Andrew J Rawlinson
2345678  B     V     M     F     W     H
34625    –     –   –s––s   –   –s––s	
2345678  –                           –s––s

We haven't rung this style of composition of Bristol before, with the long blocks of calls in the same position. These blocks can generate plenty of musical runs, but they are a little tedious for the bells ringing the repeating leads. Also, the other bells get stuck on the front for a long time.

Next week is March, so we're going to try a quarter of Lancashire. We practised it last week, learning it as we went along, and managed to get through a plain course. Let's see what we can do on Monday.