Branching out with Bristol

Today we gave our refurbished Taylor bells a longer tryout with a good peal of Bristol, arranged at the last minute. It was fairly lucky that we managed to get the band together, as Alex had train problems coming from Dunblane and Julia was nearly flooded off the M74.

So far, I have always called handbell-friendly compositions of Bristol, with blocks of five Befores keeping both 3-4 and 5-6 coursing as much as possible. This time I decided to try something different: a popular composition by Mark Davies with lots of music. I started looking at it because last week the Edinburgh band rang Mark's composition of spliced Bristol and Deva, which uses the same calling as this peal of Bristol. Mark's range of Bristol and spliced compositions are described on his website, which is well worth a look.

Here is the composition. I have divided it into three blocks in order to discuss the structure.

5056 Bristol Surprise Major
Mark B. Davies (5056 No. 1)

M  B  W  H  23456
         -  42356
      -     54326
   -     -  54263
-  5     -  32465
   -        26354
-        -  43652
   -     -  43526
      -     24536
   -        43265
2        -  45362
-     -     63254
-     -     52436
-     -     34625
-     -     26543
-     2     64352
-        -  23456

I might easily have dismissed this composition as too complicated, especially for handbells, but it's much easier than it looks. The key to remembering it is to understand how it moves between musical coursing orders. In fact, for most of the composition I would not be able to confidently recite the bobs without also working through the coursing order transpositions.

The composition has what Mark calls the "no duffers" property. Between the Middle and Wrong positions, i.e. during the main part of each course, there is never a "duff" (non-musical) coursing order. The nice thing is that the musical coursing orders are easy to remember, either because they have simple structures such as 5-6 coursing at one end or the other, or because they are cyclic rotations of the plain course or 64235, or simply because they occur in many compositions and are therefore familiar.

If we write out the coursing orders we can see how it works. First, the first block.

Start in 53246.

  M      B      W      H
       62453         64523
64235  56423
       64235         62345

The idea is to ring the coursing orders 24536 and 62453, which generate xxxx2345 roll-ups at handstroke, then get to 64235 and call five Befores. All the courses in the block of Befores are musical: 56423 and 42356 have xxxx5678 roll-ups; 64235 has xxxx6578 roll-ups; 35642 and 23564 have xxxx3456 roll-ups at handstroke. In each case there are also the corresponding reverse roll-ups on the front. At the end of this block, 62345 gives a 6578 course end.

The second block, excluding the final course, is what Mark calls the "super-efficient block". It moves through a sequence of musical coursing orders and is nicely palindromic.

Start in 62345.

  M      B      W      H
56342                53462
       25346         23456

This is followed by 2M H to give 65432. The third block is easy to remember because it's mostly repetitions of M W. An alternative way to think of it is that the first Middle produces 65324, which is a rotation of the plain course, and then every W M is like a Before in reverse. Anyway, the block includes each rotation of the plain course between the Middle and Wrong positions, including returning to the plain course about three quarters of the way through the peal. Finally, from 65432, an extra Wrong gives 54632 (another musical coursing order with xxxx7654 roll-ups at handstroke) and then M H brings it round.

Start in 65432.

  M      B      W      H
65324         53624
53246         32546
32465         24365
24653         46253
46532         65432
54326                53246

It turned out that it was Tina's 100th handbell peal and the 50th peal in the house. We finished off with a quarter of Stedman Triples. The bells were lovely. All in all, a satisfying day.