Plans for 2020

We've got a whole new year stretching ahead of us, ready to be filled with handbell projects. Here are some that come to mind.

  • The most significant development is that we have an extra ringer for our regular band in Glasgow: Peter Kirton, who has just finished a couple of years of working in Vienna and has taken a job at Strathclyde University. I hope we will be able to get all five of us together often enough to develop our 10-bell ringing, but having an extra person will also mean that we can still do 8-bell ringing if one of us is unavailable. What I would really like to to do is get to be able to ring Bristol Royal with our local band - so my goal for the year is to ring a peal. We will have to work through some right-place surprise royal methods with Peter first, as well as extending his 8-bell repertoire (we're going for a quarter of Bristol Major tomorrow). If we can get a good regular surprise royal band, we will have a much better chance at surprise maximus when we can bring in Nick, James or Julia.
  • It would be good for Tina and Jonathan to conduct some peals; also Peter has conducted a few, but not surprise major yet. So diversifying the conducting will be a goal for this year.
  • My sister is getting married in July, so we would like to ring a peal for the occasion. She lives in Sheffield, so my idea is to ring a peal of Sheffield Surprise Major, which is Preston (familiar from Norman Smith's 23-spliced) with a 18 lead end. We've been ringing Preston recently as part of a spliced project, so we should be able to ring Sheffield. It's Glasgow above the treble, but a bit easier than Glasgow because it's right-place below the treble, and it has Plain Bob half leads, which means that all the bells are (briefly) hunting in coursing order around the half lead. As far as I can see from the standard reference sources, there hasn't been a peal of Sheffield on handbells, so we have an opportunity for a first.
  • In April, Tina is organising a ladies' weekend in Inveraray, so that people can experiment with ringing the back bells. To occupy some of the partners (what's the male equivalent of a WAG?) we're going to have a boys' handbell weekend. We should have a good band, so I hope we can ring a couple of peals - perhaps including Littleport Little Surprise Maximus as a foray into 12-bell ringing.
  • We could do with an 8-bell project to give us some focus when we're not ringing on 10. I would quite like to call Pitman's Four (London, Bristol, Cambridge and Superlative). Another possibility is that Graham John has a composition of 14-spliced surprise major, tenors together and all the work, consisting of the standard 8, the Nottingham 8, Belfast and Ashtead. We've rung all the methods before, so we might be able to manage it, although the composition will take some learning.

That should keep us going for most of the year! Watch this space for progress reports.

Diversification in Scottish handbell ringing

As well as losing a peal in Glasgow yesterday, Nick and James scored one in Edinburgh today.

Scottish Association
, Midlothian
27 House o' Hill Crescent
Sunday, 1 December 2019 in 2h 29 (11)
5056 Yorkshire Surprise Major
Composed by J W Holdsworth (no. 7)
1-2 Barbara J Bell
3-4 James W Holdsworth (C)
5-6 Nicholas W Jones
7-8 Susannah M Ewens
First peal (at the first attempt): 7-8.
First Surprise in hand: 1-2.

Congratulations to Susannah on her first peal, and to Barbara on her first of Surprise in hand (and first handbell peal since 2003, according to PealBase).

I find this peal noteworthy for another reason. Apart from one peal of Cambridge Minor in 1989, there have been 42 handbell peals of Surprise for the Scottish Association since regular handbell peal ringing restarted in 2007. Of these 42 peals, 39 were conducted by me, one by Roger Bailey while visiting Glasgow, one by David Pipe on our annual ringers' holiday, and today's by James Holdsworth. Also, I rang in all of them except today's. So it's a welcome broadening of the pool of ringers, and especially of the pool of conductors.

Handbell ringing in the Scottish Association, measured by peals, has been patchy during the lifetime of the association. There were peals in 1932, 1936, 1946, and then none until 1978. There were a reasonable number from 1980 to 1990, then a sporadic peal in 1999, and then peals got going again in 2007, largely due to Mike Clay. Since 2009 there have been peals every year, with the high points being 11 peals in each of 2015 and 2017.

Since 2007, a total of 26 people have rung handbell peals, of whom 21 were resident members. That is about 10% of the current resident membership, which I'm sure is not bad in comparison with many other associations. Resident conductors have been Mike Clay, Robin Churchill, Dan Smith (no longer resident), Peter Kirton, James Holdsworth and myself. We should work on getting Tina and Jonathan to conduct peals, as they have both called several quarters. Also Peter will be joining our band in Glasgow after Christmas, so we should include him in the conducting rota.

So there's now an Edinburgh peal band (OK, Nick was a visitor, but there's Ian Bell who wasn't in today's peal) which might well start producing regular performances. James has great plans, which he was telling us about yesterday. We'll look forward to seeing what they come up with, as well as continuing to do crossover ringing like yesterday.  

A busy day of handbell ringing

Yesterday we had one of our mad days of trying to combine too many things. The trigger was Nick being available for another Bristol Royal session, so we took advantage of that to also get James to come and call a peal of Pitman's 4 (London, Bristol, Cambridge, Superlative). At some point we realised that it was the weekend after Thanksgiving, so we decided to invite everyone for dinner with roast turkey and all the trimmings.

After a frantic morning of cooking, we started for the peal of spliced after lunch. It was going very well, but blew up about a third of the way through. Afterwards, James said he thought we had been ringing a bit too fast. I was ringing the tenors, and I must confess that I was enjoying ringing quickly with a good rhythm - but of course the peal is more difficult for the other pairs, so we have to take that into account.

There wasn't time to restart the peal, but we rang a good quarter of 8-spliced. James couldn't stay for dinner, so we summoned Jonathan and Angela to get the next band ready. Dinner went well, after recovering from a pie disaster and a gravy disaster, and then we went for a quarter of Bristol Royal. The first attempt collapsed after almost three courses, but mostly we were doing well, so we started again and succeeded.

At its best, the ringing was very good, but we had a few rough patches. I think we all find the wrong dodging difficult. I persistently missed the wrong 3-4 dodge in 4th place bell, and no doubt everyone had their own bugbear. Never mind, we'll improve with practice.

I called sW sH sW sH, which keeps 3-4 in the 3-4 position and only has the 3-4 and 5-6 positions for 5-6. Another time we'll have to try putting people into different positions. A popular composition is four wrongs (bob, single, bob, single), starting at the snap after the wrong (so the initial coursing order is 32456, with 5-6 coursing). This means that 5-6 are coursing throughout, and 3-4 ring the 3-4 and coursing positions. I noticed that our friends in Oxford rang it recently, with the calling sW W sW W. The advantage of starting with a single is that 3-4 ring the first two courses in the 3-4 position (coursing orders 32456 and 42356) and then two courses in the coursing position (coursing orders 23456 and 43256), so there is more time to settle into each position.

Handbell day, with some old friends

Yesterday was the Scottish Handbell Day. Jonathan and Angela were away, but we were reinforced by a visit from Ruth, Richard and Lesley, who we used to do a lot of ringing with before moving to Glasgow. We had the usual mixture of practice sessions and quarters, and everyone made good progress. There were two quarters of Yorkshire Major, one of Cambridge Major, and a couple of attempts at Plain Bob Minor that didn't quite go.

I wanted to ring something with Nick, Ruth, Richard and Lesley, as a reunion from the days of ringing with Roger Bailey at Imperial College. My idea was to ring a short touch, then someone suggested a quarter, then Nick suggested spliced Cambridge, Yorkshire and Lincolnshire. So that's what we rang - Richard is very good at quickly learning compositions.

1,282 Spliced Surprise Royal (2–3 methods)
Donald F Morrison (no. 2348)

 23456   W  H   2m           3m           3m  
 45236   -  -   YCYCY.CCYC.  NCYCY.NCYN.  YCCYY.R.
(32456)  s      CYCCY.(Y)    CYNCY.(Y)    CYRCYRCY.(Y)
Rounds two blows after the single.

Scottish Association
1 Albany Quadrant
Saturday, 5 October 2019
1282 Spliced Surprise Royal (3m) 
442 Yorkshire, 440 Cambridge, 400 Lincolnshire, 28 c.o.m., a.t.w.
Composed by Donald F Morrison
1–2 Lesley J Belcher
3–4 Ruth Blackwell
5–6 Richard A Pearce (C)
7–8 Simon J Gay
9–10 Nicholas W Jones

Rung at the Scottish Handbell Day by former members of the Imperial College handbell band, remembering Roger Bailey. Spot the connection behind the band in the photo.

We also rang a course of Bristol Royal (Simon, Tina, Nick, Richard, James), three leads of Littleport Maximus and almost a course of Cambridge Maximus (Simon, Tina, Nick, Ruth, Richard, Lesley). We've got another date with Nick for Bristol Royal at the end of October, so we should have a good chance of a quarter.

Bristol Royal

On Monday we were joined by Nick for another Bristol Royal session, without the distraction of ringing London first. We agreed that we would set out for a plain course, and if we got to the end, I would call a wrong and keep going for a quarter.

It started very well - a complete transformation in comparison with last time. As I remember, we got past the lead end where all the pairs cross. I remember thinking "wow, we're going to have to continue for a quarter - but I don't know whether I can keep up this concentration for long enough!" It didn't last though - we broke down a couple of leads later. Nevertheless, it was so much better than our first attempt, that it suddenly seemed possible.

We followed the usual technique of restarting at problematic leads, and practising until we had rung the whole course in sections. Then we managed a whole plain course at the end of the evening. It felt like a real breakthrough. Unfortunately it will be a while before we can get together again - probably November - but Tina and I might have a chance to ring it next week on our ringers' group holiday.

We had particular difficulty with the lead in which the tenors are 4th and 6th place bells. I then realised that this is the lead in which the first half lead has all the pairs ringing rotationally symmetric patterns (I wrote about this when we were working on 23 spliced). As I said before, it can feel quite awkward to be doing the same work with both bells, but turned upside down and backwards. Strangely, the lead in which the second half lead is rotationally symmetric, which is when the tenors are 7th and 9th place bells and occurs earlier in the course, seemed much easier. Nick suggested that it's easier to get through a difficult second half lead, because we have a better idea of which place bells we are aiming for, instead of aiming for the half lead as a landmark.

Here are the rotationally symmetric pieces of work for each pair. From left to right: 9-10, 7-8, 5-6, 3-4.


They do look rather tricky!

Another tricky aspect of Bristol Royal, which doesn't occur in Major, is the wrong dodges. In particular, it's possible to do a wrong dodge with one bell and a right dodge (dodging with the treble) with the other bell. An example is the relationship between 9th place bell, in the diagram above, and the treble. The bells move in parallel for two changes, but for one of them it's a right hunting step followed by a right dodge, and for the other it's a wrong dodge followed by a wrong hunting step. This is different from moving in parallel in a coursing position, because there are two bells between, instead of one.

When writing blogs about the methods we are ringing, I usually focus more on the inside pairs, because that's what I ring. But let's spare a thought for Angela and have a look at the trebles.

Most place bells have the right/wrong dodging feature. It occurs when the treble is in 5-6, so the other bell can be adjacent (3-4 or 7-8) or further away (1-2 or 9-10). Also distinctive, and tricky, are the sections where the trebles are almost coursing, but two bells apart instead of one bell apart, with the treble right hunting and the second wrong hunting. This is in 9th, 7th, 4th and 6th place bells. The offset dodging causes them to ring adjacently, then separate again to two apart. Angela said that this took some getting used to. The same thing happens in Bristol Maximus, but continues for longer. 

There was a lot of announcing of points going on, mostly by me. I have always found it slightly more difficult to announce the points if I'm not doing one myself. During the evening, I realised that when ringing 7-8 (which I was), or 5-6, every time there's a point, one or both of my bells is involved in it. That made it easier. It's only the coursing or 3-4 pairs that can be outside the points, at the same end of the change as the treble.

When considering which composition to call for a quarter peal (if we had got that far), there were a few reasonable options. For ringing in the tower, W H W H is a standard favourite, which I have called from the 5th a couple of times (it's just like calling Plain Bob Minor: 4ths and out twice, then home). It also has the advantage of ringing the whole plain course before the first bob, which is what I wanted for our session. However, 3-4 have to ring three positions (3-4, 7-8 and coursing) and 5-6 also have to ring three positions (5-6, 3-4 and 7-8).

Another possibility is H sH H sH, which can be massaged into starting at the snap and calling W sW W sW, which keeps 5-6 coursing throughout and only has the coursing and 3-4 positions for 3-4. But it's four 8-lead courses, so it isn't all-the-work, which seems undesirable.

After a while I realised that sW sH sW sH is also true, and it keeps 3-4 in the 3-4 position throughout. 5-6 ring 5-6 and 3-4. I haven't seen this composition written down before for Bristol Royal. It has fewer 4-bell runs than some of the others. But I think it's the best calling for our first quarter, when we get the chance to try again.


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