Handbell domination?

Last week I joked on Facebook that our 41 Minor would have been the featured performance on BellBoard, if it hadn't been for the those clever chaps in Cambridge ringing Chandler's in hand on the same weekend.  Yesterday we were first, for a while, before being beaten out by a handbell performance in a toilet.

Good joke we may think, but the list of top rated performances on BellBoard makes interesting reading:

Our featured performance

Northern Universities Association
Stretford, Greater Manchester
Ladies' Toilets, Stretford Church Hall
Sunday, 18 November 2012 in 26 minutes (8 in C)
1260 Plain Bob Minor
Composed by Alex Tatlow arr. Rambo Ramsbottom
1–2 Alice "Lilah" Longden
3–4 Adam Brady
5–6 Louis Suggett (C)
Commenced at 00.47 - the disabled toilet was occupied.

Other highly-rated performances

10 Nov 2012 Glasgow (1 Albany Quadrant) 5040 Spliced Surprise Minor (41m)
11 Nov 2012 Cambridge (16 Godesdone Road) 5152 Spliced Surprise Major (23m)
13 Nov 2012 Isleworth (All Saints) 5040 London (No 3) Surprise Royal
9 Nov 2012 Adelaide (Room 407, Oaks Horizon Hotel) 5024 Spliced Surprise Major (8m)

Four out of five of these performances are on handbells.  And they are pretty impressive - OK, OK, Plain Bob Minor in a toilet? Maybe not so impressive on the complexity scale, but another good contribution in the honourable tradition of drunken handbell ringing in unlikely locations. May they move on to lifts, triangulation points, classic cars, and other creatively pointless handbell venues.


That performance of Chandler's in hand - those ringers have joined a very small community indeed.  In fact, half the band had only rung Chandler's in hand just back in April, and now here they are ringing someone else's first.  Impressive.  One wonders whether they will run out of challenges (although possibly not, that is the nice thing about ringing).

Then there is the spliced major in Adelaide, featuring a couple of Perrinses, David Brown (another Chandler's-in-hand club member), and Mike Trimm.  Given the recent accomplishments of the Perrins family handbell machine (who we have admired for many years), a peal of spliced very nearly counts as a 'Yorkshire and score', business-as-usual kind of  attempt.  Wouldn't we all like to be ringing at that standard?

(We did manage our first quarter of 8-spliced last week at our first attempt - our first steps on another big project).

Why are so many handbell performances being 'liked' on BellBoard?  Is it because the active players are all handbell ringers, and skew the results?  Or is it because handbell ringers are ringing more interesting things, taking more risks, and not just going for stuff they know they can get?

A completed project - at last!

Yesterday we finally did it: the classic 41 Surprise Minor. We've been going for it, on and off, all year, and sometimes it seemed as if we would never be able to get it. But yesterday, after at least half a dozen false starts (one of them lasting almost an hour!), we managed it. We had very good ringing throughout (although I must confess that there was one lead of Surfleet in which I was rather lost) and it really felt as if we had mastered the methods at long last.

It still takes an awful lot of concentration. I find when calling spliced that it's partly a question of remembering to think about the right things at the right time. During each lead I have to make sure I know which method is coming next; in methods like York/Durham, Beverley/Surfleet etc, I have to remind myself of which frontwork it is; I also have to remember to note the coursing order so I can check that no-one has swapped (actually we didn't have any swaps in this peal).

I think we all found that this is one of the most difficult things we've ever rung. It's good stuff though - and we should record our thanks to Philip Saddleton for the original discovery of the splicing techniques needed to get all 41 methods into 5040 changes (described here and here), and to John Warboys for developing further splices and producing such a wonderful range of compositions to choose from (his composition page is here).

So what next? There are several other 41-Minor challenges, such as John Warboys' compositions with a change of backwork and frontwork every lead, or his 5-part all-the-work in 5760 changes. Maybe we can try those one day, but for now we're going to concentrate on our 8-bell projects (the next goal is a peal of 8-spliced) and on developing our 10-bell ringing.

Scottish Association
1 Albany Quadrant
Saturday 10 November 2012 in 2h4 (11G)
5040 Spliced Surprise Minor (41m)
Allendale, Alnwick, Annable's London, Bacup, Bamborough, Berwick, Beverley, Bourne, Cambridge, Canterbury, Carlisle, Chester, Coldstream, Cunecastre, Durham, Hexham, Hull, Ipswich, Kelso, Lightfoot, Lincoln, London, Morpeth, Munden, Netherseale, Newcastle, Norfolk, Northumberland, Norwich, Primrose, Rossendale, Sandiacre, Stamford, Surfleet, Warkworth, Wearmouth, Wells, Westminster, Whitley, Wooler, York
Composed: John S Warboys (SU0308 & SU0403)
1-2   Tina R Stoecklin
3-4   Jonathan S Frye
5-6   Simon J Gay (C)
First of Spliced Surprise Minor in hand by all. Most methods: 1-2, 3-4 and as conductor.

2 8 or 0 2 8 ?

Sorry, trying some txt-spk there! To wait, or not to wait: that is the question. If someone hesitates, should the rest of the band wait so that the bells strike in the right order, or should they relentlessly follow the rhythm? On tower bells we don't have a lot of choice, because of the intrinsic rhythm of each bell's swing, but on handbells we can decide (to some extent) which mode we want to ring in.


Ideally we should try to create our own intrinsic rhythm and follow it regardless of hesitations: a mistake should cause a gap/crunch but not alter the length of the change. But when getting started on plain hunting with a learner, I think it's necessary to wait for her, so that she can see that her bells are ringing in the correct positions within the change - even if they are late and the rhythm is poor.

At what point should we stop waiting and switch to relentless rhythm? I would say that when ringing on 10 or 12, it's important to keep the rhythm up and just let bells be out of place if they go wrong. Also in our Surprise Major ringing, I think we've got much better at keeping the rhythm going despite mistakes.

However, when ringing Bob Minor with Thomas, the situation seems different. Because he still swaps his bells over quite a lot, I find that I need to concentrate hard on checking that bells are in the right places from change to change. If I want Thomas to ring in 2nd place, but he hesitates and another bell rings according to the rhythm and jumps in instead, I find it very disruptive and difficult to cope with. So in fact, I am expecting us to wait for Thomas to ring, and to make sure that the bells strike in the right order even if there are large gaps. I am now realising that it's important to explain this to the rest of the band, so that we are all ringing in the same mode.

I think I am right in saying that Abel and Mobel have a "wait for me" option, although I don't seem to be able to find it in Mabel. I have the impression, based on personal conversations, that Chris Hughes resisted including this option for a long time, because of the idea that a simulator should ring perfectly and force the ringer to fit in with it. Roger Bailey, and perhaps others, argued for including "wait for me", mainly (or at least partly) for handbell learners.

Mark Rizzo - a good guy

It has been on my list to write a blog post or two about handbell ringing in Kalamazoo, although I never imagined it would be about this.  Mark Rizzo, who died just last month at the age of 50, features on the list of names associated with my earliest ringing experiences, one of the rather awe-inspiring (certainly to me) group of existing handbell ringers who were doing pretty clever things out in a small College in the Midwest.

Other people can speak of his tower bell ringing, his support of ringing in Chicago and of the Society of Cumberland Youths, not to mention the many other activities to which he lent his energy and enthusiasm.  Me, I'm going to always remember Mark as a handbell ringer.  If one looks at his rather too short ringing career, his period of very active handbell might seem only a small part of it.  It doesn't matter.  Once a handbell ringer, always a handbell ringer, and I think he would have agreed.

Mark was a member of a very small group of bellringers who rang his first peal in hand, and a member of an even smaller group of bellringers who rang everything by place notation.  He made the required Pilgrimage of all Kalamazoo handbell ringers of that era:  the trip to the office of Roger Bailey at Imperial College, and the resulting handbell peal for the Mid Atlantic Society.

His total of 16 handbell peals, 4 conducted, may be modest by some standards, but at that place and at that time, the quarter peal was the true medium in which we made progress.  Peal or quarter, these were mostly student bands, and usually had at least one person (like me) for whom either the method or the length was a stretch (or both), and actual conducting had to happen.  It was no good just putting in the bobs and hoping for the best - that was a guaranteed loss.  It was years before I appreciated how hard the likes of me made it for the likes of Mark, and how easy they all made it look.   All things considered, we didn't lose all that many attempts.

Kalamazoo handbell weekend c1984 The photo on the left was sent to me by Jeff Smith, who taught Mark, myself and many other Kalamazoo students to ring.  It is a slice of North American handbell ringing from 1984. Mark Rizzo is standing at the back, third from the right. I had been ringing maybe six months at that point, and this was the first time I had met any other ringers outside of Kalamazoo.   I rang a quarter of Plain Bob Major (the first of many of my quarters which Mark conducted), and listened in awe to discussions which featured things like 'Norbury' and 'Yaxley'.  Oddly enough, this photo is a reasonable snapshot of the people Mark rang a lot of handbells with, although some of the top contenders are missing - his good friends and fellow Kalamazoo graduates Tom and Chris Farthing, and of course, Jeff Smith himself.

Mark certainly did his 'Kent Apprenticeship': Plain Bob, Kent and Oxford feature high in his list of methods.   Many of these were first quarters for somebody else.  In fact, he rang a lot of quarter peals, and relatively few were to advance his own ringing.  He was keen, he was always willing to help, he took his opportunities where he found them and made the most of them.  Along the way, he made a difference.  Tom Farthing wrote that Mark was "a good ringer and a good guy".  He was.

News of Mark's death was still fresh when we had our most recent Handbell Day, and there we had a small world moment with Nick Jones, who knew Mark from having worked in Chicago for a year.  So it was satisfying and appropriate that we were able to dedicate this quarter to Mark:

Scottish Association
1 Albany Quadrant
Saturday 6 October 2012
1312 Bristol Surprise Major
1-2   Tina R Stoecklin
3-4   Julia R Cater
5-6   Nicholas W Jones
7-8   Simon J Gay (C)
In memory of Mark Rizzo.
Rung at the Scottish Handbell Day.

The Sixth Scottish Handbell Day

Yesterday was the Scottish Handbell Day, a high point in the calendar at 1 Albany Quadrant. It was the best one yet, and everyone went away happy. We had 18 people, and by lowering our sights a little instead of forcing everyone to ring on 12, we managed to score 10 quarters from 15 attempts. These included two first quarters in hand, a first on 8 in hand, enough Surprise Major to stretch everyone, and - a first for one of our handbell days - a quarter of Kent Maximus. Disappointingly, we didn't succeed in ringing our son Thomas's first quarter, although he did ring almost a quarter peal length in total over two attempts, which is by far the most he has rung in a single session. So we need a bit more practice with him, but we'll get there sooner or later.

It was very satisfying to get the Kent Maximus, but we still find it difficult. I think working up to ringing on higher numbers needs a pyramid. To make progress on 10, you need five good 8-bell ringers, and to make progress on 12 you need six good 10-bell ringers. Any five of our Kent Maximus band could have rung a quarter of Cambridge or Yorkshire Royal, but it still feels as if there's quite a barrier to cross before we can get beyond Plain Bob or Kent Maximus. We need to get the 12-bell rhythm better embedded in our brains. Tina commented that one second I was telling the band to speed up and the next second to slow down...but the first was when bells were holding up towards the end of the change, and the second was when bells were leading before the previous change had finished (this of course is a direct consequence of the first problem...). Anyway, like with everything else, we just need more practice.


RSS feed Subscribe to Blog feed