Handbell Gatherings

Handbells, and why more people don't ring them, has been a subject on the Change Ringers mailing list over the last couple of days.  The debate has been fairly lively, not yet very conclusive, and so probably far from over.

In the midst of this, Lester Yeo, from the Guild of Devonshire Ringers, asked if other Guilds and Associations have specific handbell events (like their Handbells for All event described below).  Surprisingly few answers have appeared as yet, but this post is giving those that we know of some oxygen, in the hope to promote more of them happening.

The biggest and oldest (so far as we know) is the Oxford Diocesan Guild Handbell Bash, which has been going since at least 1987, and now has grown to six simultaneous bands/attempts during each of six sessions over a day, and includes a huge number of ringers and quarters ranging from Plain Bob to scary things on twelve.  This year's Bash is happening tomorrow, so more news on that front.

Another one is Handbells For All at Okehampton, which is being held on Sunday 29th April.  Unlike the Oxford event, this one appears to be arranged around practising and 'have a go' sessions.  If any handbell ringers are in the area, they would be most welcome - just drop the organisers a line.

As you may or may not know, we have been hosting Scottish Handbell Days twice a year for a couple of years, and we started doing them so we could ring more together than as disparate groups across the country.  Also, we hoped to encourage more handbell ringing across the board.

Having a gathering like this is one of the most effective ways to kickstart participation in handbell ringing.  It helps to flush out dormant handbell ringers (we discovered many more handbell ringers in Scotland than we suspected), introduces ringers to each other, and gives some impetus for carrying on ringing in between times.  Plus, it is a lot of fun.  Go for it, and then let us know how it went.



Ideally we need three sorts of gathering. 'Have a go' days, like the Devon one, and like we used to have as evening options on the Easthampstead course, are good for people to dip a toe in the water. Annual events like the ODG Handbell Day, which are mainly aimed at quarter peals are good for those who can benefit from the injection of an extra opportunity. But an in-between layer is also needed for people to progress from one to the other. The only way to make progress is weekly (or similar) practices, and the best way to do that is to introduce novices into a group of more capable ringers. That's how tower bell practices work, and we need more of them for handbells if handbell ringing is not to remain a minority activity. I ring regularly with the group based around Reading, and I and others have made far more progress over the last few years than would have been possible otherwise. But what we have seems to be the exception rather than the rule. One wonders where all the expert (peal ringing) handbell ringers came from. I suspect many either came from families who rang handbells or they got through the critical stages at university. How can we get more groups established?

My experience of open handbell practices is the following. 1. When I was an undergraduate in Cambridge, there was a weekly handbell session after one of the tower bell practices, combined with coffee and biscuits in someone's room (people took turns to host it). These sessions were very informal and some venues were much less suitable than others - I remember having to ring in the bathroom on at least one occasion. I don't remember people being taught to ring handbells from scratch in any systematic way. As far as I remember, most of the people who got involved were already able to ring Plain Bob. 2. When I was a graduate student at Imperial College London, I joined Roger Bailey's handbell group. We used to ring three times a week, at lunchtime, and then there were peal attempts on top of that (often two evenings per week). So that was very intensive. The lunchtime practices were much more like tower bell practices. There was a core band who all worked at the College, and various students and former students. Sometimes other ringers who worked within range of the College would turn up, and sometimes visitors would drop in. Undoubtedly it was a very effective structure. How are we doing things in Glasgow at the moment? We have a regular 8-bell band which tries to ring once per week, and with that band we ring quarters and occasional peals. We like ringing quarters because it's more difficult than ringing plain courses or short touches, and therefore gives a better measure of progress and a greater sense of achievement. We've made a lot of progress by having a series of quarter peal goals and working systematically towards each one. We don't always ring on the same evening every week; if one of us is not available on the usual evening, we try to rearrange it rather than miss a week. We have also been teaching another ringer on a second evening each week. I would say that the goal is to work up to ringing regular quarters with her too; as she gets more competent we will surely combine the two bands sometimes. If anyone else asked us to teach them to ring handbells then we would happily do so, and that could turn into a more mixed-ability regular practice session. We have a couple of tower bell learners at the moment, so we are thinking about introducing them to handbells too. I think a lot of people probably do learn to ring handbells at university, but of course that doesn't cater for learners who are not at university. I think handbell ringing will always be a minority activity, for at least the following reasons: (1) it's much more difficult; (2) most ringers learn tower bells first, and if they are enthusiastic then their time often becomes fully committed with tower bell ringing.

Submitted by simon on Mon, 09/04/2012 - 17:06