Another piece of my early handbell ringing history has fallen away with the death of Edward W Martin last year on 18 November. As extensive tributes from the North America Guild of Change Ringers show (see www.nagcr.org), Eddie and his wife Ann were hugely influential in early years of the then new ring of bells at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC, and also of the newly formed North American Guild of Change Ringers.
He will possibly best be known for his theoretical and compositional work on various triples methods, and especially for Stedman, but he was a handbell ringer and conductor of great influence and ability.
His most active period of handbell ringing was during the 1970's whilst living in Washington, DC. However, for a few years in the 1980s, the Martins were 'stranded' in Indiana, with the distant prospect of occasional ringing in Chicago and a handful of keen students of handbells even further away in Kalamazoo.
I was present at a couple of intensive handbell weekends in Kalamazoo, where the Martins made the journey laden with small children and handbells, and a level of organised chaos which was bewildering and impressive to my relatively sheltered and selfish student-y existence at the time. Little would I have guessed that similar scenes would figure in my adult life with my own children......
To my very inexperienced eyes, Eddie as a handbell ringer and conductor seemed to know everything, and it was my first experience of really being talked through a quarter. He was an extremely expressive ringer - at least around ringers who needed lots of help. He was bear-like: big and bushy and growly, but somehow not at all scary. With more experience and in later years, I realised my first impressions were pretty well spot on.
I have a memory of being told about Stedman, and that the Martins were the ones to learn it from, as they had a special technique for being able to keep track of the slow work. They named each of the five sixes after days of the week. I barely understood what Stedman was but I remember hearing it being rung, with Ann Martin calmly telling a ringer to start 'Monday and Wednesday'.
Another vivid memory of some Stedman ringing I witnessed - this time on the grounds of Washington Cathedral. It was a touch of Stedman Caters, and the first time I had heard it being rung in hand, and being rung well. No need for 'expressive' ringing, Eddie was just putting in some calls, and the rest of the band was concentrating. They were all radiating satisfaction so strongly that I can remember it still - their expressions like happy frowns. I had never heard handbell ringing like it.
When I came to learn Stedman, I did learn it in the conventional way, with whole and half turns. Once I started to ring it in hand (which is tremendous good fun and highly recommended), I found that learning the slow work by sixes was much easier. One of the best tips ever, I think. Thanks, Eddie, for everything.
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