Two celebrations

Yesterday we rang my 600th peal - not one of the conventional high-profile landmarks, I know, but according to the PealBase crystal ball I'll be 77 by the time I get to 1000, so in the meantime I'll celebrate whatever I can.

At some point I came up with the idea of ringing 5600, so then the question was what to ring. It's the full length of Middleton's classic composition of Cambridge, which we could alternatively have rung to a different method such as Yorkshire or London. It's also the length of 25-Spliced Surprise Major all-the-work, for example Jonathan Porter and Roger Baldwin's extension of Norman Smith's composition, which adds Belfast and Hereford. That seemed a bit too difficult, although it could be a good project for another time, because as far as I can tell it has only been rung on handbells twice, in 1988 and 1990.

A good middle ground seemed to be this composition of spliced Cambridge, Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and Rutland by Robert Brown.

5,600 (5,152, 5,056) Spliced Surprise Major (4 methods)
Robert D S Brown

23456    M   W   H   Methods
43652    -           CNC.YNNN
56234    -   -       NCN.C.YCC
23564        -   -   YYYY.CYY.
52364            -   CNNNNYC.
35264            -   RRRRRRR. 
5 part.

Contains 1600 Lincolnshire (N), 1440 Cambridge, Yorkshire, 1120 Rutland, with 62 combination rollups, 89 changes of method, all the work. For 5152, omit 3H and associated leads in one part. For 5056, call Before for MMWW and omit associated leads in one part.

It's the calling of Middleton's, and would usually be shortened in the same way as Middleton's, but we rang it in full. I wouldn't be surprised if ours was the first full-length performance of the composition.

We did well - the last three parts especially were really good. Compared with our first peal of these methods, in 2011, it's satisfying to see how far we have come. Also it was satisfying to score at the first attempt, so that it didn't become a project.

After we had finished, imagine my surprise when Angela said "Don't put the bells away - we have to ring a quarter now!". It seems that she, Jonathan and Tina had discussed ringing a quarter for the birth of Matt and Jessie Hetherington's daughter, but they hadn't got around to telling me. They wanted to ring Glasgow (and we are doing the same again this evening in the tower - Matt and Jess are former members of the Glasgow band). We haven't rung Glasgow for ages, and after a short false start we decided that we would have to ring a little slower and very carefully. We did that, and rang an excellent quarter, although I don't think it was much quicker than we will ring it in the tower (and for those who don't know, Glasgow are 32cwt).

And yet another landmark: recently, Emma Southerington and Bill Croft simultaneously rang their 1000th handbell peals. According to PealBase, only 19 people have reached that total. Emma has conducted 562 handbell peals and Bill has conducted 626, which must put both of them high up the leader board for handbell conducting. That can be a topic for a future blog.

London calling

We rang a peal of London Major on Monday, which was a satisfying achievement. It's not at all easy, and everyone did well. Conducting from a pair other than the tenors was a challenge for me, and afterwards I realised that it completed the Standard 8 as conductor on working pairs.

The composition was one I've called before, by Henry Dains. It's wrong home wrong, padded out with a block of 5 befores in every course.

5760 (5024) London Surprise Major
Henry Dains

23456    B  W  H   
45236    5  -  -  
34256    5  -   
3 part.  
72 crus.
For 5024 omit one block of 5.

In the first block of 5 befores, the coursing orders are 53246, 65324, 46532, 24653, 46532. So 5-6 are coursing for 4 of these 5 courses. This is the case in the first block of each part: 5-6 course for 4 courses. In the second and third parts, the coursing orders are rotations of 54326 and 52436, so 3-4 are also coursing for 4 of the 5 courses in each case.

In the second block of the part, the coursing orders are rotations of 35426, 45236 and 25346. In these blocks, 5-6 are never coursing, but in the third part, 3-4 are coursing for 4 of the 5 courses in the block.

To maximise the amount of coursing for 3-4 and 5-6, it's best to omit the second block of befores in either the first or the second part. However, this time I omitted the very first block of befores. This was because it's only when the befores are omitted that the tenors ring 2nd and 4th place bells, and I decided to get that out of the way in the first course.

With these blocks of 5 befores, there is a complete contrast between the two possibilities: coursing for 4 out of 5 courses, and not coursing at all. The former is easy except for the one course in the 5-6 position. The latter is a long stretch of ringing without any rest periods in the coursing position.

When conducting from a working pair, there's a question of how to work out where to call the bobs. Options include:

  • Keeping track of which place bells the tenors are, in each lead.
  • Spotting when the tenor is ringing the place bell before the next bob.
  • Working out what my bells will do at the next bob, and waiting for the appropriate lead.

I find it's best to use a combination of techniques, to reduce the risk of failing to spot something crucial. For example, working out what I will do at each bob relies on remembering and transposing the coursing orders, and there's always the possibility of losing track of the coursing order.

My main technique was based on the coursing order and the work of my bells, but I also tried to check the position of the tenors at the lead end before a bob was due. Most of the bobs in this composition are befores, which come at the end of leads when the tenor is 4th place bell. After a while I realised that at the beginning of this lead, the tenors do a fishtail together at the back, which is easy to spot because I am always aware of when the fishtails are taking place (when the treble is in 3-4). I also found it easy to spot the tenor making 2nds at the end of the lead.

The bobs that aren't befores all follow the pattern of wrong home wrong: in each part, the 5th makes the bob and runs out twice. That was helpful for calling those bobs.

Finally, I was pleased to be able to check the coursing order by seeing the sequence of four bells leading in coursing order between the two times that 7th place bell leads.

Looking back and looking ahead

We're a little way into the New Year now, so we can review progress over the last year and see what's coming up.

The highlight, of course, was our peal of Horton's Four. We also rang peals of Cambridge, Yorkshire and Lincolnshire Royal with Julia, and Pudsey with Mike and Ian. Continuing the Surprise Royal project, we had three unsuccessful attempts at a peal of London Royal, which we have now decided to shelve for now.

We rang 6 quarters at Albany Quadrant and 4 at Angela's house. That's the lowest total since 2009. This is partly explained by only having one handbell day, and not scoring any quarters on the handbell day that we did have. However, we have made good progress working our way through the standard Surprise Major methods with Angela inside. We are getting close to 200 quarters at Albany Quadrant, so there will be a retrospective blog when we get there.

We have plans for the next two Mondays: a quarter of London Major with Angela inside, and then a peal of London Major with Julia; after that she wants to ring Bristol away from the tenors. Last Monday we had a productive eight and ten bell practice with Jenny and Marcus, while Tina was away. That gives us a potential twelve bell band if we can get everyone together again in the future.

Last autumn we also had a Surprise Minor practice with Robin; we have talked about launching another 41 Surprise Minor project, but as always it's a question of finding enough evenings to ring with all these different combinations of people. 

Now for another sense of looking ahead.

When we were practising last Monday, we rang Cambridge Royal several times. Everyone can ring the method, but often the rhythm is choppy and I get a sense that there is too much deciding at the last moment which place to ring in. Going back to Nick's principle of letting the handstrokes ring themselves, I have been analysing my thought processes and I believe that at each backstroke, at the latest, I have a clear idea of where I will be at the next backstroke. On tower bells we know that we have to think ahead in order to get the right amount of pull, especially on heavier bells, but I am now realising that this is also essential for handbell ringing. To get nice smooth rhythmical ringing, we have to have a plan that looks at least a whole pull ahead. Like previous comments on handbell ringing style, it's another example of handbell ringing and tower bell ringing being more similar than we might assume.

For another sense of looking back, this time as something we shouldn't do: I often remind the band not to dwell on mistakes after they have happened; what's gone is gone, and it's important to maintain focus on the ringing ahead. I find that this takes a conscious effort, but it's important.

Handbell Compositions: 5040 London No.3 Surprise Royal by Donald F Morrison

We've arranged another attempt for our peal of London Royal for the Saturday after Christmas. I've decided to try a different composition, which is this one.

5040 London No.3 Surprise Royal
Donald F Morrison (no. 1705)

23456  M  W  H
46352  -     s
32654  s     -
34256  2     -
53246     -
46325  -  s  s
24365     -   

When I first looked at it, I thought it looked a little complicated; it didn't have the memorable pattern on the page that I saw in Richard Pearce's composition. Also it has singles, which Richard's composition doesn't. But I've studied it more, and it's another example of a handbell-friendly composition in which knowing that a certain pair (3-4 in this case) stays coursing is a big help in remembering the calling.

According to Graham John's CompLib, 3-4 have 95% coursing, and the rest in the 3-4 position. What that means is 6 leads of the 3-4 position, i.e. 3 leads in each half of the peal. Closer examination shows that 3-4 ring the first lead of the 3-4 course, i.e. 3rd and 4th place bells; the last lead of the 3-4 course, i.e. 2nd and 6th place bells (these occur in the first and last leads of the part, which can't be avoided); and 2nd and 6th place bells again, somewhere within the part. This is about as good as it could be, because these pairs of place bells are the reverses of each other, and contain some coursing within them even though they are not from the coursing position.

Let's work through the coursing orders to see how 3-4 are affected. Start in the plain course, 53246.

Call Coursing Order Comment
M 53462 The quickest way to get 3-4 coursing, which in London only takes 1 lead.
sH 56432 Keep 3-4 coursing. A Wrong would also do it, so we need to remember that it's sH.
sM 56234 Move 3-4 to the end of the coursing order, still coursing.
H 52364 This is where 3-4 ring 2nd and 6th place bells.
M 52643 3-4 back into coursing.
M 52436 A memorable coursing order. 3-4 run in and out.
H 54326 A nice 567890 course end. 3-4 run in and out again.
W 43526 3-4 run in and out again.
M 43265

Remember to affect 5-6 before moving 3-4 again.

sW 23465

The only way to keep 3-4 coursing.

sH 26435

Continue the theme of moving 3-4 towards the end of the coursing order.

W 64235

Into the coursing order for the part end. 3-4 ring 2nd and 6th place bells for the last lead of the course.

I found that after I had worked through the coursing orders in this way, noticing how the bells are affected, I just about knew the composition. I find it important to work through the coursing orders for the second half of the peal too, to get used to how it looks with 3-4 and 5-6 reversed.

When thinking about who should ring which pair, I find myself worrying that whoever I ask to ring the easy pair will be insulted by the insinuation that it's all they can manage. Alternatively, I suppose, whoever is ringing the difficult pair could be annoyed that they have a harder job.

I have developed the philosophy that if someone has an easier pair, then it's easier for that person to ring better, which makes all the ringing better, and that makes it easier for everyone to ring better. From that point of view, it doesn't matter who gets the easier pair. I think we have all accepted that. So I hope that this composition will work better than the Richard Pearce composition in which 3-4 and 5-6 ring exactly the same work as each other, when the whole peal is considered.

Let's see what happens next Saturday!

Practices, Quarters and Peals

Following up on Tina's article about losing quarters on the handbell day, I am thinking about the way we use practice sessions, quarter peals, and peals.

We have always rung a lot of quarters with our regular band, as well as on the handbell days. I like measurable achievements, and quarters have benefits that are more difficult to get in shorter touches. For example: ringing in a range of different positions; concentrating for longer periods; practising the determination to continue through mistakes; for the conductor, working with a range of callings and coursing orders.

However, going for quarters prematurely can lead to too many losses, which becomes demoralising; also, even if a quarter is scored, if there is too much intervention from the conductor, it can be unsatisfying for the band.

With our regular band, we have been working our way through the standard methods with Angela inside and Tina and Jonathan conducting. We also have an established pattern of ringing a quarter one week and then practising the next method, but we broke the pattern this time by ringing a quarter of Lincolnshire, practising London, then ringing a quarter of Rutland after a gap of six weeks and with no specific practice.

The Rutland started fairly shakily, but improved as we went on. I did quite a lot of conducting (although Tina was calling) and for me it was worthwhile practice at working with the coursing order and checking or correcting the ringing. However, it seems that I rather took over, and probably the band would have preferred to ring a better quarter another time, even if it meant giving up on this one.

Peals are another question, and here we have different systems with different bands. We worked our way through the right-place standard eight with Mike and Ian, always going for a peal. We had several losses, but all the lost peals were good practice, of course. Getting people to come all the way from Edinburgh for a practice or a quarter seems too much.

This applies even more to getting Julia to come from Penrith. We have had two unsuccessful attempts for a peal of London Royal, and in both cases we rang half way so presumably could have scored a quarter. But going for peals seems worthwhile as a challenging but realistic goal.

Talking of London Royal, we've arranged another attempt for the Saturday after Christmas. More about that later.


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