Last Saturday Simon and I took part in the Illinois Online Bell Bash, where we were invited by Tom Farthing to give a talk about handbell ringing and our new book. Usually this is an event that ringers travel to and ring together, but Tom and his crew managed to convert it into a online event instead, using invited speakers, Zoom and Ringing Room.
It was an excellent day out (day in?). The other presenters were Jonathan Agg, who demonstrated Muster (and there was an attempt an international rounds); Graham John, who talked about Handbell Stadium; and Leland Kusmer and Bryn Reinstadler to talk about how they came to create Ringing Room. Those were tough acts to follow.
Throughout the day, Tom organised groups for sessions in Ringing Room, and it was my first experience at what a mass meeting could look like in a virtual environment. The 'administration' (assigning rooms, assigning bells, getting everyone's bell to ring, etc) took more time than pointing to people and ropes. But I got to participate in someone's first go at Stedman with other ringers, someone first blows of Cambridge Major and someone's first effort at Cambridge Major two in hand.
That last was the same touch, because this is the North American Guild, where you can find handbell groups in the Towers list. All my Ringing Room events had a mix of people ringing one bell (as if in the tower) and two bells (what would be an adjacent handbell pair). The ringing started Up-Down-and-off. Everyone treated this as perfectly normal.
Simon and I talked about how our experiences ringing handbells informed our book, and we enjoyed a lively and interesting Q&A session afterwards. Some very good questions were asked, about recruiting, and how to organise a mixed handbell practice. I've been giving them some thought.
Chicago is very near where I learned to ring in Kalamazoo, and Tom and his wife Chris rang in my first peal (Kent, and I'm pretty sure they talked me through the places every course). Ordinarily, we'd never be able to get away in May to travel from Glasgow to Chicago to participate in this (much as I might like to). A virtual event made it possible for me to greet and ring with some very old friends, and meet some new ones too. I wasn't the only one to take advantage of that either.
We are making plans to connect again and do some more 'bells over the water', across the pond, Mid-Atlantic Guild ringing, and we are looking forward to it.