Pickled Eggs: getting ahead

Instead of waiting to comment on each instalment of Simon Linford's analysis of Surprise Major methods as candidates for a new standard repertoire, I'm going to get ahead by discussing some candidates of my own - from a handbell perspective, of course.

One way to come up with candidate methods is to look at classic compositions of spliced, on the assumption that their composers gave some thought to the choice of methods.

Pitman's Four

This ever-popular composition of London, Bristol, Cambridge and Superlative has been around since 1947, with a second version in 1968. Tina and I rang it on handbells in 1998. I thought about learning it for our peal with Julia next Monday, but instead decided to focus on learning Graham John's one-part composition of the Nottingham Eight; so we are going for Bristol on Monday.

Simon Linford has already decided that Cambridge is in the selection. There seems to be discussion of Superlative on Facebook at the moment. Let's have a look at each method.

Bristol

I don't think Simon will manage to exclude Bristol from any credible proposal for a set of standard methods. Apart from being a much-loved method on 8, it leads to Bristol Royal and especially Bristol Maximus, which is the touchstone for measuring progress as a 12-bell ringer, at least on tower bells. From the handbell point of view, Bristol is good for developing a structural approach to ringing, with its synchronised points at the front or back four times during a lead, and its blocks of four-bell forward and backward hunting. There's a huge range of musical compositions, as well as several easy compositions for handbells (for example, the ones I discussed here).

London

I think London is also hard to exclude because of its classic status. It's a real challenge on handbells, and certainly the hardest of the Standard Eight. However, it has good structural features: whereas Bristol is anchored by the points, in London it's all about the fishtails. There is also some good coursing order around the lead end (albeit reversed) and the half lead, which helps with conducting. On higher numbers, the fishtails involve more bells, which helps stability. If we think about the extension route to London No.3 Royal and then Newgate Maximus, the backwork gets filled in with treble bob hunting and the frontwork consists of longer periods of wrong hunting on four. Although Newgate isn't much in vogue these days, it does have a similar frontwork/backwork structure to Phobos and Zanussi, so it can be seen as a pathway towards the modern Standard Eight maximus. My vote is for London to be in the repertoire, but there is scope for discussion of which methods should precede it as gentler introductions to wrong-place work.

Superlative

Despite its presence in Pitman's Four, I don't think Superlative has enough merit to be included. Its inclusion in the Nottingham Eight is perhaps as a legacy from Pitman's Four. It does have a clear regular structure, as the place notation within each half lead consists only of 36, 14 and 58. This is good for those who like to ring by place notation. Indeed, even after I had given up ringing purely by place notation, I found it so awkward to ring 3-4 places and 5-6 places simultaneously in Superlative that when I found myself ringing, for example, 4th and 5th place bells, I would step carefully through the place notation for half a lead and then pick up the lines again afterwards.

One of Simon Linford's criteria is to have a progression of methods that introduce new concepts or new skills. I don't think Superlative does that. Like Cambridge and Yorkshire, it's right-place; it has the same place bell order; it's a double method, but that's also true of Bristol, and in any case the double structure is not always helpful when learning methods. Another argument against Superlative is that its extensions aren't popular. There are two versions of Superlative Royal: Superlative No.2 is usually preferred to Superlative No.1 in compositions of the Standard Eight Royal, but both of them seem peculiar, and Superlative Maximus is hardly ever rung (although it has occasionally been used in the National 12-Bell Striking Contest).

In conclusion, for my preference, London and Bristol are in, but Superlative is out.

London and Double Norwich

First item: we rang a quarter of London yesterday, with Angela on the tenors instead of the trebles. It took us a few attempts to get this one (but I must confess that last week's attempt was going really well until I skipped a lead and systematically put everyone else wrong). Jonathan called it from 5-6, with a not particularly handbell-specific composition, which was a good achievement.

After that, we rang a course of Double Norwich with the specific idea of thinking about how we rang it. In the tower, it's not rung as much as Surprise Major, but everyone seems to have the idea that Surprise Major ringers should be able to ring it. There are several approaches. One is to simply treat it like any other method, and learn the line by place bells. Another is to ring it by where you pass the treble: double dodge at the front and back unless the treble is there; move from a double dodge to far places or from no dodge to near places. Yet another is to rely on a half-remembered mnemonic: near, full, far, first, treble bob, last. This usually requires some discussion of what the mnemonic means.

A few years ago we rang a peal of Double Norwich in the tower at Glasgow, and while practising for it, it seemed that the ringers relying on structure and mnemonics weren't ringing it as well as those who just learned the line. This led me to formulate the principle that if your bell is always in the right place, no-one will ever question your internal technique, but if your bell isn't in the right place, you can expect to be given advice about how to do better, whether you want it or not.

Double Norwich is rung even less on handbells than it is on tower bells. I remember ringing a quarter of it in the distant past, but I haven't rung a peal. BellBoard lists 771 tower bell peals and only 51 handbell peals. The grid shows a regular and simple structure of boxes around the treble, which invites a structural approach to ringing - and the mnemonics seem much less attractive for handbells, because of the need to apply them to two bells.

I decided to ring explicitly by place notation, stepping through the sequence: 14, 36, 58, 18, 58, 36, 14, 18 (there's no need to think about the X at every handstroke). I found that I could think ahead and predict the double dodges and sequences of hunting. Of course, it's impossible to ignore the prior knowledge of double dodges at the front and back, which helps.

The rest of the band reported similar approaches, with various blends of thinking about the place notation and thinking more visually in terms of the boxes around the treble. We rang a plain course very well. It must be admitted that after a quarter of London, almost anything else seems fairly straightforward in comparison.

It's often said that plain methods seem very fast-moving when one is more used to surprise. Several times during the course, I had to stop myself telling the treble to dodge. Hunting at the half lead and lead end also makes for rapid movement, although we should be accustomed to that from ringing Bristol.

It might be fun to ring a peal of Double Norwich one of these days. It does feel like a gap in the peal-ringing CV. So many potential projects! 

Pickled Eggs: Yorkshire and Cornwall

Last Friday, two Ringing Worlds arrived at once, catching up from the snow. So there were two instalments of Simon Linford's selection of methods for a new Surprise Major repertoire.

First was Yorkshire. We have written so much already about Yorkshire on handbells that I don't have anything to add at the moment. It's reassuring that it's made the cut for Simon's selection, because otherwise we would have a divergence between preferred methods for tower bells and handbells.

The next article considered Cornwall, and included it with great enthusiasm. I agree with the choice, and I recently used Cornwall as the basis for a Surprise Royal method-learning workshop on tower bells.

We've rung Cornwall on its own in the past, and it's part of Norman Smith's 23-spliced. Also it's part of the Nottingham 8, which we are planning to ring on handbells in April. So ringing some Cornwall now would be good practice.

There are several features that make Cornwall a good progression from Cambridge and Yorkshire.

  • A different place bell order. It's the reverse of Cambridge and Yorkshire, and the same as Little Bob, so it's not too difficult to remember.
  • Plain hunting at the lead end.
  • A regular structure based on treble bob hunting, but offset between the frontwork and the backwork. It requires repeatedly hunting with one bell and dodging with the other bell, when one bell is on the front and the other bell is at the back. The skill of ringing a frontwork/backwork method, in which the two parts are either not synchronised or have different structures, is good preparation for London Royal and (eventually) for many of the standard Surprise Maximus methods.

Simon Linford also noted that Cornwall can be used to introduce 6ths place bobs. That point might not have occurred to me, because I like ringing spliced and all the peals of spliced I have ever rung use 4ths place bobs throughout, in both 2nds place and 8ths place methods. (There are exceptions, such as John Leary's 23-spliced, but I haven't rung that one). However, Simon gave the "simplest possible quarter peal composition", which is 6 calls affecting 2,3,4. For Cornwall with 6ths place bobs, that's 6 calls at Out (bob, bob, single, bob, bob, single). Quoting its musical properties from Simon's article: "Contains all 24 each 5678s and 6578s, 12 each 5678s and 8765s off the front, 8 7468s and no 82s or 83s".

For handbell ringing I usually pick compositions for simplicity of calling and good amounts of coursing for each pair. When we rang a quarter of Cornwall, a long time ago, the composition (4ths place bobs) was 5 befores, 3 homes, which is 1280. Starting with 1 or 2 homes gives more coursing for 3-4.

We're ringing a quarter of London this evening, but maybe next time we should ring Cornwall, and perhaps try the 6 courses with 6ths place bobs.

For reference, here are diagrams (from Martin Bright's Method Printer) for each handbell position in a course of Cornwall.

Pickled Eggs: Cambridge

Readers of the Ringing World know that Simon Linford has been writing a series of articles about developing a new Surprise Major repertoire, as an improvement on the Standard Eight. (Non-readers of the Ringing World should support it by not only reading it but taking out their own subscription).

The "pickled eggs" tag is based on an analogy between methods and the contents of the larder. Pickled eggs are items that seem to be there for mysterious reasons, but no-one really want to eat them. Probably Pudsey is a pickled egg in the Standard Eight.

Although the Nottingham Eight was proposed about 20 years ago as an alternative set of methods, it hasn't really caught on. Simon Linford's idea is to carefully justify the selection of methods, taking into account musical possibilities, the availability of compositions, and the need for a progression of difficulty and features so that working through the repertoire makes sense for instructional purposes.

Last week's article considered the pros and cons of Cambridge, and I expect that there will be similar articles in future about other candidate methods. We can also think about each method from the handbell-ringer's point of view, and we would like to try ringing the methods as they are announced.

The analysis of Cambridge came down in favour of including it. So what do we think of it for handbells?

We've rung two quarters of Cambridge Major at Albany Quadrant, one at Angela's house, and I seem to remember one or two in Tulloch. We've also rung three peals. That's not much in comparison with Yorkshire (23 quarters and 6 peals). Yorkshire is usually preferred as the first Surprise Major method on handbells, because it's easier for the tenors (especially the first and last leads of the course) and it's easier to conduct because the coursing order is preserved more below the treble, in particular at the half lead.

Among methods other than Yorkshire, we have always found Lincolnshire easier and more stable than Cambridge. This is partly because of the long dodging on the front in Lincolnshire, which is a good anchor as long as the right bells are doing it.

However, an argument for Cambridge is that it's easier than Yorkshire on higher numbers, so starting with Cambridge Major starts the pathway to Royal and Maximus. Cambridge Royal is my second leading method for handbell peals, after Yorkshire Major and equal with Plain Bob Major.

What about handbell compositions for Cambridge? An easy quarter by Steve Coleman, which is also true to several other standard methods, is 5 befores, single home, repeated. The tenors only ring the first two and last two leads of the course, and 5-6 are mostly coursing. Another quarter that I like is the one by Eric Brosius, which keeps 3-4 coursing most of the time, but it isn't true to Cambridge. Wrong home wrong is also not true to Cambridge. For a quarter in which the tenors ring the whole course, I would usually call wrong, home, three wrongs, two homes, single wrong, which is a well-known 1250. Alternatively, this one by David Beard looks straightforward.

When it comes to peals, I would call Middleton's by default, which is easy to remember but not particularly favourable for handbell pairs. I did once try to call Brian Price's classic 5090, but we didn't get it.

If the goal for a handbell composition is to keep a pair other than the tenors coursing as much as possible, then it's easier with Yorkshire (for example this one by Roger Bailey, and the ones after it on the page, get up to 18 courses of coursing for 3-4) or Superlative (for example compositions that I have written about here and here, with 5-6 coursing throughout). A very easy quarter peal composition of Superlative is 6 homes (bob bob single bob bob single), keeping 5-6 in the 5-6 position throughout and 3-4 with two thirds coursing; or by starting at the snap and calling 6 middles, 5-6 course throughout and 3-4 still have two thirds coursing.

One of Simon Linford's arguments in favour of Cambridge is that it follows on from Cambridge Minor, although he points out that  you can certainly question whether Cambridge is the best introduction to Surprise Minor. Tina commented that a good feature of Cambridge Minor for handbells is that the long pieces of work (the 3-4 places and the frontwork) start and finish at the lead ends and half leads, which means that all the bells move on from them simultaneously. That's not true in Cambridge Major, but in Superlative the 3-4 and 5-6 places last for half a lead and so the beginnings and ends are synchronised for everyone. Instead, in Cambridge Major, overlapping places appear (for example, in 4th and 8th place bells), which starts the progression towards the pattern of Royal and Maximus.

I don't know whether Yorkshire is going to make it into Simon Linford's selection as well as Cambridge. If we had to choose one or the other for handbells, then I think it would have to be Yorkshire. 

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.

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