How not to lose a peal

Last Saturday, we sat down and rang a peal of Stedman Caters.


For many of our fellow handbell ringers whose attempts at ringing beyond a plain course are fraught with hesitations, disastrous memory failures, swapped pairs, and simple lack of confidence, the above is an amazing statement.  Most of our peal attempts have been hard-won and the result of several attempts and practices beforehand.  A great deal of our quarter peals are the same.

(Don't get me wrong, a lot of handbell bands can quite confidently sit down and rattle off a good, mistake-free peal on a regular basis, and our hats off to them.  That is where we want to be, and we have some distance to travel.)

So, Saturday's attempt came about after a very sociable handbell ringing weekend down in Penrith at the end of February, which brought us together with some other people we hadn't rung with before.  One thing led to another, and a very few emails later, we had a peal attempt in the calendar.  (Another proof, if we needed it, of the very good role a handbell gathering can play in getting more ringing happening).

In truth, I was dead nervous ringing outwith our usual band, and knowing it had been quite a while since I had last rung on 10.  And the attempt was not without excitement either - there were a couple of destabilising sixes, and the final courses had a very cautious rhythm.  But the recoveries were good, and in between the ringing was a pleasure.  It was fun.  I remembered how much I liked ringing Stedman in hand.

It later made me think what were the factors that made this successful at the first attempt?  And I came up with the following:

  1. An excellent conductor, who was completely on top of any difficulties.
  2. Everyone did some homework on their pairs
  3. Everyone worked not to fall into someone else's mistake
  4. Everyone worked at the rhythm, so that when there was a trip there was an obvious hole to fall into
  5. Everyone kept ringing no matter what

Now, not all bands are lucky enough to have item 1, and one could argue that items 2 - 5 indicate the relative experience of the band.  However, items 2-5 are good skills to work on at the same time as  one is learning methods, pairs and touches.  It isn't really enough to commit a pattern to memory and rehearse it in abstract - the execution is very important.   The habits of good execution (keeping to a steady rhythm, keeping the bells moving without hesitation) increase success.   These habits come as confidence increases; however, developing these habits will create increased confidence.  So it is never too soon to start.






Organising the Okehampton Handbell Day

Here we are less than three weeks off the Okehampton handbell afternoon. I’ve had it on the education programme since the start of the year, and in recent weeks sent emails to anyone in Devon I know of who rings handbells; as well as sending a poster out through branch secretaries, hopefully to go on every tower notice board. But I’ve had few responses and even fewer pasty orders! So it’s panic as usual for me, but I know it always turns out well attended (usually over 20 people) and good fun. This will be the fourth year of this Guild of Devonshire Ringers’ event so we’re on well trodden ground…


Mischa, who can ring a bit of Plain bob on handbells, opens her home to us from lunchtime on a Sunday and gets in loads of pasties so we start with eating. But as soon as possible I get people into groups practicing Plain Hunt or Plain Bob with the less experienced. After a bit the ‘better’ ringers try some Surprise Major or venture onto 10 or 12 (eeek!), then go back to helping learners. Mischa also has a 10-bell Saxilby simulator in her garage so this will be used, and a bit of tune ringing on handbells sneaks in. Sometimes a handbell quarter will be rung, but it’s mostly practice.

You’re not going to see much sustained progress once a year, but the event gets Devon handbell ringers together, and may spark off a new group some time?

I know of a couple of young ringers coming this time, with a new interest in handbells, so that’s encouraging. And on a personal note, my 78 year old mother is staying with us this week and keen to have the handbells out every day for plain hunt, so you’re never too old!

ODG Handbell Day – 2012

One house, one day, three dozen ringers and a similar number of planned quarter peals.  That was the formula for the 2012 ODG Handbell Day, held in Reading Saturday.  It’s an annual event that has grown over the years.  The first one I attended, in 1987, was in a village hall with two rooms (one extremely hot and the other so cold we rang in coats, hats and gloves) with I guess fewer than a dozen ringers.


Yesterday there were six rooms allocated to quarter peals, with one attempt in each 1 hour slot through the day (except lunch) and another for general ringing by those not ringing in the quarters.  As you can imagine, the schedule to make sure everyone had several quarter peal attempts in the methods they wanted, and in bands that gave them a reasonable chance of success was quite complex.

The participants ranged from very inexperienced to very experienced, the latter being essential to provide the conductors and steady ringers necessary to give the former a fair chance.  Looking through the list, I would say around a third were hardened handbell peal ringers.  Some were members of the group that holds a weekly handbell practice in and around the Reading area, which has developed several ringers over the last few years.  Most participants were from within the ODG, but a few came from father afield.

22 of the 35 attempts were successful - over 60%.  Interestingly failures got more common as the day wore on.  All six 10am quarters were scored, and only 4 lost during the morning, compared with 8 lost during the afternoon.  Kent Maximus was lost, but Plain Bob (x3) Kent, London, Bristol & Lincolnshire were all scored.  At the other end of the spectrum success was a bit lower: 1 / 5 Plain Bob Major, 1 / 4 Little Bob Major and 1 / 2 spliced Plain & Little.  In between were Stedman Triples, and Kent, Oxford, Yorkshire, Cambridge & Bristol Major.

What makes a day like this so successful (apart from the hard work of the organisers, the food providers and the host who welcomes us to overrun her house)?  Undoubtedly it is the way the more experienced give their time to help the less experienced to do things they couldn’t routinely do.  As an example, within the group of ten or so who hold regular Thursday practices, we routinely ring up to Plain & Kent Royal, and Yorkshire Major, and several of us have conducted quarters, but our collective ability to get quarter peals round is relatively limited.

Oh Savannah!

My brother has recently eloped, and we have been trying to get a quarter peal round for the last couple of weeks. Our string of frustrations is a good way to encapsulate the progress of our ringing over the last few months.

(We have had a long period 'off-blog' in 2012, as our software reconstruction got held up by a broken arm.  This also had a detrimental effect on our various handbell projects, although it didn't stop our handbell ringing completely.)

Step back to the 28th of March, when we got an email from my brother saying he was going on 'vacation' with his fiancee and (soon-to-be) step-daughter.  As it happened, Josy was coming round for some ringing that very evening - a perfect opportunity to knock off a quarter peal of Plain Bob.  Well, some cancelled trains and the late cold start prevented the necessary concentration, so we gave up and had a play with some Cambridge.

The next day was 'the day' and also was the Easter Service at our primary school, in which the Handbell Club was doing its first public performance.  Our nine school ringers regaled parents with rounds on 8 and 10 as they entered the school, and then, after a nerve-wracking wait, performed some round and call changes to the Assembly.  They held their nerve very well, and let me video them briefly, which I emailed to my brother (I had promised him bell ringing).

Pass a few days forward, and we are practising some of the 41 Surprise Minor with Jonathan.  This happened to be a longish quarter peal length, and would have done the job, except that we didn't quite come round.  Still, it was a useful practice, and we felt that a peal attempt on all 41 was not beyond possibility.

Roll on this morning, and Jonathan arrived, armed with hours of DVDs, and the full day cleared in his schedule.  Some eight (or possibly nine) attempts, several chocolate cupcakes, a lunch break, and numerous cups of tea and coffee later, we gave in.

Instead we rattled off a nice quarter of Cambridge:

Scottish Association
1 Albany Quadrant
Saturday 7 April 2012 in 32m
1320 Cambridge Surprise Minor
1-2   Tina R Stoecklin
3-4   Jonathan S Frye
5-6   Simon J Gay (C)
Congratulations to Paul and Alison Stoecklin, married on 29th March in Savannah, Georgia, USA.

(view this quarter on Campanophile)

The children deserved a medal for behaving through a whole day of ringing, but they got cupcakes instead.


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.



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