Using failure to progress

For the first time ever, we failed to complete a single quarter peal at a Scottish Handbell Day.  And yet, it was a very successful event.  How are both of those statements true? 

We have been spreading the conducting load around a little lately, in an effort to develop our local Albany Quadrant band into more rounded handbell ringers.  But I am still an unconfident conductor, and can just about put the calls in and keep myself straight.  And that with a confidant band.  When I have been  putting the bobs in with a less than confident band, really it has been a disaster from the first call, and has just been an unhappy stressful experience for everyone.  On those occasions I have handed over the calling to someone else just to get something round.

So, my first session involved calling a quarter of Plain Bob Minor, and it started as you might expect.  And it went on in the same way as ever - which was me miscalling it over and over again, or getting tied in knots trying to put someone back on track.  Each time, we stopped, we discussed what happened and started to work out strategies for getting past that particular sticking point. 

Much of our supportive discussion centred on resilience, and encouraging each other to just stick to the lines, and not to worry too much about what the other people were doing.  And I tried not to get too wound up about the extent to which I couldn't put anyone right. 

Then we did the time-honoured tactic of throwing ourselves at the project over and over again, and a nervous learner saved us once by saying where she thought she was instead of assuming she was the one that was wrong (she wasn't).  And I missed a bob again, but kept going anyway and put it back on track with a bit of improvisation.  And it still never came round.  But the ringing, for a time, was much more confident. 

Our nervous learner confessed that she felt she had a much better understanding of what was happening in the method and in the calls than the previous times when she had been successfully talked through a quarter.  And it did feel like real progress was being made, once we threw out the feeling that we HAD to score.  After a cup of tea, we probably would have scored a quarter, but time was moving on our little band was scattered into the next session.  Where very similar things happened.  And so on.


The unexpected significance of rope guides for handbell ringing

There is currently no ringing at St Mary's Cathedral, Edinburgh, while the rope guides are being repaired after a freak accident in which a wayward rope damaged the structure. As well as occasional visits to other practices, Ian and Barbara Bell have been running a weekly handbell practice at their house. They have introduced several people to handbell ringing for the first time, and some of them are showing good potential.

It won't be too long before tower bell ringing resumes, but it will be good if some of the Edinburgh ringers develop a taste for handbells and manage to keep it up.

London Royal: Part 3

We had another attempt for our peal, which started very well, but we didn't manage to keep it up and we stopped at half way again. After a couple of courses, the rate of making trips increased to the point of being a significant distraction, and eventually we found that although we could get ourselves right at the lead ends, the ringing immediately deteriorated again when entering the next lead. That was time to stop.

It's just a sign that we need more practice - what happens is that the effort of concentration becomes unsustainable, which means that we need to get to a point where ringing the method takes less concentration.

We'll get there, but for the moment, that's it for this year. We'll restart the project in 2018.

Apart from that, we are making good progress with quarters of Surprise Major, with Angela inside and Jonathan and Tina conducting. We rang Lincolnshire this week, so next week might be Rutland. After the quarter we rang a course of London, which was a good achievement for Angela's first attempt at it on 3-4. Maybe the London Royal is doing us some good.

London Royal: Part 2

We went for our peal of London Royal on Sunday, but didn't succeed. We had two good attempts though: the first lasted four courses and the second time we made it to half way. So that was a total of eleven courses, which must have been good practice. We feel we're nearly there, and we're going to have another attempt on Monday.

While preparing for the peal, I noticed a few things about London that I don't remember spotting before. According to PealBase, I've only called one peal of London Royal (on tower bells, of course), and that was 20 years ago. So it's not surprising that I'm not very well up on the details of how you work with other bells in relation to the coursing order.

The first point is about keeping track of the wrong hunting on the front. I have always thought of 2nds and 4ths place bells going to 4ths and back twice, and 3rds and 6ths place bells going to 4ths and back just once. However, on Sunday I suddenly realised that all four place bells lead twice each, which is a more uniform way of looking at it. I told the rest of the band about it - they have all rung plenty of London Royal before, but no-one said "Well, of course, didn't you know that?". After we had finished ringing, Julia said she had found it useful.

The next point is the order in which bells lead, during the wrong hunting on the front four. In London Major, after 7th place bell leads, the sequence is 3, 2, 4, 6, and then the 7th returns to lead. So that's a sequence of four bells in coursing order, which I sometimes manage to observe as a check on the ringing. In Royal, after the 7th leads, the sequence is 3, 2, 4, 6, 3, 2, 4, 6, and then the 10th appears. This is actually what made me spot that every bell leads twice. I haven't been able to observe this sequence yet, but the potential is there.

If both your bells are in the frontwork, they can be either coursing or in the 2-3 position. Pairs of bells that are in the coursing position (3-2, 2-4, 4-6) are coursing in the frontwork. Pairs of bells that are in the 3-4 position (3-4, 2-6) are in the 2-3 position in the frontwork. Pairs of bells that are in the 7-8 position (3-6) are also coursing in the frontwork - more about that later.

Let's think about the backwork for a moment. There's a fair bit of treble bob hunting, and after the fishtails near the beginning of the lead, the back bells stay in their natural coursing order for a while. As a result, 9ths place bell becomes rather like 3rds place bell in Cambridge, passing all the other bells in coursing order. The difference is that the pattern doesn't start until the fishtail has finished.

On the subject of passing bells in coursing order, let's look again at the frontwork. A bell in the frontwork is working with three other bells that are near it in the coursing order: for example, the 4th is working with 3, 2 and 6. So there is potential for a coursing order check while on the front, although I expect it will take more practice to be able to see it.

The place bells in the frontwork are 6, 4, 2, 3 (in the order in which they occur in the method). A coursing pair, for example 9-10, overlap in the frontwork for three leads: when they are 4th and 6th place bells, then 2nd and 4th place bells, then 3rd and 2nd place bells. The 3-4 pair overlap in the frontwork for two leads: when they are 6th and 2nd place bells, then 4th and 3rd place bells. The 7-8 pair overlap in the frontwork for only one lead, when they are 6th and 3rd place bells. Finally, the 5-6 pair are never in the frontwork together.

What this means is that 7-8 is the ideal pair for the conductor, in order to take advantage of the groups of four bells in the frontwork. For seven leads of the course, one or both of 7-8 are in the frontwork, giving maximum opportunity to check that the other bells are working correctly together on the front.

I'll write more about ringing London, and about the composition, after our next peal attempt.

London Royal

After our success with Cambridge, Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, we have decided to try London next. Other possibilities would have been Rutland, or spliced Cambridge, Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, or Bristol. I don't think Rutland would be very rewarding - we don't ring it in the tower, so we would probably just be hampered by lack of familiarity with the method. The band thought that spliced would be more difficult without any particular benefit in learning new skills. Probably we could get through it with a simple composition such as this one in whole courses, but I would expect trippiness on going into each new method. Of course you could argue that if there's anything we can't  do well then we should practise it until we get better, but life is busy and we have to prioritise.

I hope we can eventually progress to Bristol, as I would ultimately like to be able to ring Kippin's Four (Cambridge, Yorkshire, London, Bristol). However, I think London will be easier (contrary to our experience of Major, where we found London much harder to master than Bristol).

The composition we have been using for the Cambridge-above methods isn't true to London, so I have to find something different. I searched BellBoard for peals of London Royal on handbells for which the composition has been entered, and found several 2-parts (always a good start), with handbell-friendly features. Let's have a look at them, with the help of Graham John's Composition Library which can analyse the amount of each position rung by each handbell pair.

The first composition is by Richard Pearce. The part-end 26543 means that 3-4 and 5-6 do the same work as each other, with a majority of coursing. It starts with the whole plain course, which is a good warm-up. 

5040 London No.3 Surprise Royal
Richard A Pearce

23456  M   W   H
42356          -
54326      -   
64235  -   2   -
35642  2   -
26543  -       -
2 part.
Both 3-4 and 5-6 do 65% coursing, 15% 3-4 position & 20% 5-6 position.

Next is a composition by Graham John, which gives more coursing to 3-4 and keeps them out of the 5-6 and 7-8 positions. 5-6 have a few leads of the 3-4 and 7-8 positions, but mostly coursing and 5-6.

5040 London No. 3 Surprise Royal
Graham A C John

23456  M   W   H
45326      s   -
26354  s   -  
52364  3   -  
24365  -       2
2 part.
Handbell-friendly for 3-4 (71% coursing; 29% 3-4 position) and 5-6 (54% coursing; 40% 5-6 position).

Finally, there is a composition by Don Morrison, in which 3-4 have 95% coursing and 5% in the 3-4 position. 5-6 have a more balanced diet.

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     -   

I also put one together myself, inspired by David Maynard's compositions of Bristol Major in which the idea is to use blocks of 5 befores, with bobs at wrong and home to connect coursing orders in which both 3-4 and 5-6 are coursing. To apply this idea to London Royal, I used 6th place bobs. The result is that 3-4 ring 78% coursing and 19% 5-6, and 5-6 ring 73% coursing and 20% 5-6. The befores can be replaced by in-and-fifths, which replaces some of the coursing by the 7-8 position and splits the tenors for two leads per course. A drawback of having either a before in every course or in-and-fifths in every course is that the tenors don't ring all the work.

5120 London No.3 Surprise Royal
Simon J Gay

23456   M   B   W   H
42356   –   -   –   –
34256       5       –
36452       -   –   –
45362       5   –   –
23456       4       –
Bobs at B are place notation 16.

I'm inclined towards Richard Pearce's composition, but I will give it some more thought before the attempt. We've agreed to go for the peal the day after the next handbell day at the beginning of October. We should be able to fit in some practice during the handbell day. I think the main hazard is failing to turn round in 4th place during 2nd and 3rd place bells. I hope we can develop a way of doing this based on the position of the treble. 


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