Handbell Compositions: 5152 Yorkshire Surprise Major by Bernard H Taylor

I was looking for handbell-friendly compositions of Yorkshire in the collection at www.ringing.info, and I noticed this one by Bernard Taylor.

6048 (5152) Yorkshire Surprise Major
Bernard H Taylor
23456   M   W   H
56234   2   -
35264  (3)  -
25463   -   3
45362   -   3
63254   -   -
52436   -   -
34625   -   -
23645   3   -
42635   3   -
62534   -  (3)
23456   -   2   3
Omit both (3) for 5152.

Bernard's description of the composition is included:

Difficult to believe this is original, but have been unable to find it elsewhere. Peter Sanderson has published something similar, though this was arrived at independently. It is delightfully easy to call, with the position of 5-6 making it obvious what to do. All 12 courses of 5-6 coursing are the 'right way round' (6 before 5) and 3-4 have 12 coursing courses too.

At a casual glance, the composition looks like a series of wrongs and middles without a great deal of structure or pattern. But the claim that it is "delightfully easy to call" sounds attractive, and in line with previous articles about compositions in which the coursing order is a mnemonic for the calling. So let's unpack the composition and see what it's all about.

We can ignore the blocks of (3), because I don't think there's much demand for a 6048. Here is the first section, written out with the coursing orders in the positions of the bobs.

  M      W
53624  36524
65243  52643
65432  54632
65324  53624

The composition starts with 2M 2W, the classic "Middleton's block", which is equivalent to a before and produces the coursing order 65324, with 5-6 coursing. Notice that between the two middles the coursing order is 53462, with 3-4 coursing, and between the two wrongs it is 36524, with 5-6 coursing.

Next comes M 3W M 3W M. This is 3M with blocks of 3W inserted. The coursing order at the beginning is 65324, so the 3 middles are on 2,3,4. This means that at the bobs, the lead ends will be familiar changes: 1423xxxx, 1342xxxx, 1234xxxx, where the xxxx is 5867. If calling from 5-6, one has to not be confused by the fact that becoming  5th and 7th place bell at a bob might feel like calling a wrong.

In the blocks of 3 wrongs, 5-6 are affected in the same way that 3-4 are affected in a block of 3 homes from the plain course. They ring two courses of coursing and one course of the 3-4 position.

The third middle returns to the coursing order 65324, and then a wrong and a middle return to the plain course. These final bobs at wrong and then middle complete the 2 wrongs and 2 middles from the beginning of the composition. Overall this is a round block that inserts 10 courses into the plain course, including 5 courses with 3-4 coursing and 6 courses with 5-6 coursing.

The composition as a whole is palindromic. It's easiest to see this at first by ignoring the 3 homes at the end. The symmetrical point is the half lead in the middle of the plain course (reverse rounds). The second half of the calling is the mirror image of the first half. Wrongs and middles become interchanged, because a wrong is the same distance after the midpoint as a middle is before it. On the page, rotating the first half by 180 degrees produces the second half.

M   W                M   W
-----                -----
2   2                    -
-   3                -   -
-   3       ->       3   -
-   -                3   -
-                    2   2
-----                -----

Here are the coursing orders for the second half.

  M      W
32465  24365
24365  43265
43265  32465
32546  25346

It's the same idea with middle and wrong exchanged: calls at wrong affecting 2,3,4, and blocks of 3 middles in which 5-6 are affected. This section also has 5 courses with 3-4 coursing and 6 courses with 5-6 coursing. Finally, the block of 3 homes adds another 2 courses with 3-4 coursing.

I wondered whether there would be any benefit in starting with one or two homes, instead of having all three at the end, in order to get more of the 5-6 position for 5-6 out of the way early on. It turns out that doing this reduces the amount of coursing for 3-4 from 12 courses to 10, because the two middles at the beginning and the two wrongs at the end no longer contain courses with 3-4 coursing.

We can see how the coursing order is a mnemonic for the calling by looking at the first half, and then the same reasoning applies in reverse for the second half. Each block of 3 wrongs finishes when the coursing order is 65xxx, and the enclosing block of 3 middles finishes when the coursing order is 65324 (a rotation of the plain course).

So it should be straightforward to call, and in particular the three consecutive courses all called M W no longer look like a section that has to be counted through (it's always best to avoid counting if possible). The main pitfall I can see is forgetting that middle and wrong are consecutive leads.

We have a peal attempt of Yorkshire booked for the week after next, so I will give this composition a try.  

Performing at the Central Council Weekend

This weekend is the Central Council meeting in Edinburgh, so we've spent some time attending events and helping out. We were asked to ring handbells during the Choral Evensong at St Mary's Cathedral, Edinburgh, this afternoon, at the end of the service instead of the usual organ voluntary.

We couldn't ring with our usual four, because Angela had to stay in Glasgow to run the evening ringing there. Instead, we engaged Graham John, who is a Central Council member, to join me, Tina and Jonathan for the occasion. The added bonus was that none of us had rung with Graham before (although we have communicated via blog comments), so it was a nice opportunity to meet him.

We decided to ring three leads of Bristol, and everything went smoothly. The handbell ringing was listed in the service sheet, and the congregation sat quietly and listened while we rang, erupting into thunderous applause when we finished. Performing handbell-ringing in public is always a little nerve-racking, and it takes concentration to maintain focus. It's different from ringing tower bells for a special occasion, which is also a performance, because of being visible to the audience. Also there is more danger on handbells that if something does go wrong, it will lead to an embarrassing total collapse. But everyone did well and it was a satisfying achievement.

A few tips for handbell ringing performances:

  • Choose a set of bells that are not too small, and nice and loud.
  • Always practice beforehand, even if you are ringing something that's well within your capabilities (and you should ring something that's well within your capabilities).
  • Start and finish with a few rounds, instead of ringing "up, down and off" and stopping as soon as the touch comes round.
  • Don't ring too quickly - the audience will appreciate it more if it's a little slower.

The Fourth Peal of Horton's Four on Handbells

Scottish Association

1 Albany Quadrant

Saturday, 13 May 2017 in 2h43 (15C)

5024 Spliced Surprise Major (4m) 
1344 Glasgow; 1248 London; 1216 Bristol, Belfast; 113 c.o.m.; a.t.w.

Composed by Roderick R Horton

1-2 Angela H Deakin
3-4 Tina R Stoecklin
5-6 Jonathan S Frye
7-8 Simon J Gay (C)

We finally did it - Horton's Four on handbells. The composition was published almost 30 years ago, but is hardly ever rung on handbells: only three times previously.

  • Thursday 11th July 1991: 113 Beechwood Avenue, St Albans: 1-2 David J Sheppard, 3-4 Peter J Townsend, 5-6 John N Hughes-D'Aeth (C),  7-8 Paul N Mounsey. (Ancient Society of College Youths)
  • Wednesday 22nd February 1995: Huxley Building, Imperial College, Knightsbridge: 1-2 Simon J Gay, 3-4 David C Brown (C), 5-6 Roger Bailey, 7-8 Michael J Trimm. (Middlesex County Association and London Diocesan Guild)
  • Thursday 11th November 2004: 9 Falstaff Gardens, St Albans: 1-2 Jennifer A Town, 3-4 John N Hughes-D'Aeth, 5-6 David C Brown (C), 7-8 Paul N Mounsey. (St James's Guild)

One of the difficult aspects of the composition as originally published is that the tenors are split for almost the last third of the peal. It is possible to rotate the composition so that the split tenors section is rung first, while the band is still fresh, but we decided to ring it in the original form. Practising the split tenors section as a (long) quarter peal, which we did several times, is helpful.

It was a much longer project for us than for any of the previous bands - about two and half years, on and off, with the main "off" being a detour into ringing 23-spliced. Along the way we've rung 11 quarters and two date touches, as well as several quarters of the individual methods, numerous lost quarters and two or three lost peals. We hope it's improved our ringing in general - we'll see, whenever we next try something different. Overall it was a great team achievement, and extremely satisfying.

It's a good challenge, and obviously there are other bands and conductors who would be able to do it. Give it a try and we'll look forward to seeing more peal reports.  

The Nottingham Eight on Handbells

The Northallerton band rang a peal of the Nottingham Eight recently:

Yorkshire Association
Northallerton, North Yorkshire
19 The Green, Romanby

Friday, 28 April 2017 in 2h32 (11)

5184 Spliced Surprise Major (8m) 
960 Cassiobury; 768 Cambridge; 576 Bristol, Cornwall, Glasgow, Lessness, London, Superlative; 149 com.
Composed by D F Morrison (no. 7344)

1-2  Jonathan J F Stokoe
3-4  Jennifer A Town
5-6  James W Holdsworth (C)
7-8  Peter J Sanderson

The composition is one of the ones I decided not to call in the tower, but it's a good one with lots of 5678s and 6578s at the front and back, as well as being handbell-friendly because 5-6 are fixed at the part-end.

This set me wondering how many previous handbell peals there have been of the Nottingham Eight. By searching BellBoard, I found two more, both of them Graham John's one-part all-the-work composition, conducted by Richard Pearce.

Middlesex County Association & London Diocesan Guild
Staines, 44 Sidney Road

Tuesday, 11 November 2008 in 2h21 (size 15)

5024 Spliced Surprise Major (8m)
(8m: 800 London; 672 each Cambridge, Cornwall, Lessness; 640 Superlative; 544 Glasgow; 512 each Bristol, Cassiobury; 137 com, atw)
Composed by G A C John

1-2  Muffie King
3-4  David C Brown
5-6  Richard A Pearce (C)
7-8  Peter R King

Middlesex County Association & London Diocesan Guild
Islington, London, 9G Highbury Crescent

Thursday, 17 October 2013 in 2h20 (size 11)

5024 Spliced Surprise Major (8m)
(800 London; 672 each Cambridge, Cornwall, Lessness; 640 Superlative; 544 Glasgow; 512 each Bristol, Cassiobury; 137 com, atw)
Composed by G A C John
1-2  Peter J Blight
3-4  Ruth Blackwell
5-6  Richard A Pearce (C)
7-8  David G Maynard


There might be other peals that were never published on Campanophile or BellBoard, but it's more difficult to find them through a combination of www.peals.co.uk and checking details in the Ringing World. Even so, it's clear that there is some way to go before this combination of methods overtakes the Standard 8 in popularity.

The Nottingham Eight

Browsing peal compositions of Spliced Surprise Major, for example at www.ringing.org, reveals several compositions of the "Nottingham 8". This collection of methods was proposed at least 20 years ago as an alternative to the "Standard 8".

The Standard 8, of course, are London, Bristol, Cambridge, Superlative, Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Rutland and Pudsey. I don't think I have come across a definitive explanation of how this combination of methods came to be considered standard. The first four (L, B, C, S) were used in early compositions of spliced by Albert Pitman and Harold Cashmore, but where did Y, N (Lincolnshire), R and P come from? One possibility is that they were first added to Pitman's 4 by Noel (Jim) Diserens, but I don't know whether that's true, and there's still the question of why those methods were chosen.

The Nottingham 8 also takes Pitman's 4 as a base, and adds Cassiobury, Cornwall, Lessness and Glasgow. This introduces a variety of place bell orders, with two 2nds place lead ends (Cassiobury and Lessness) and two 8ths place lead ends (Cornwall and Glasgow). As a result, there is a greater range of possible structures for courses than with the Standard 8. There is also agreement that the musical possibilities are better. The methods are reasonably standard: Cassiobury, Cornwall and Glasgow are all in Norman Smith's 23-spliced, and Lessness is a variation on Uxbridge, which is also one of Norman Smith's methods. So for many experienced bands, there is not much learning to do.

The reason why I am writing about the Nottingham 8 is that we decided to ring it for our latest local band tower-bell peal in Glasgow, which we succeeded with and rang a very good peal. I became interested in the origin of this particular collection of methods. When looking for compositions, I noticed that several of them were published in a certain issue of the Ringing World in 1999 (page 942). Three of the compositions are by Richard Allton, and the fourth is by Graham John. The composition review by Don Morrison explains that alternatives to the Standard 8 are frequently suggested, but that Richard Allton had gone further than most people by producing three compositions for his choice of methods and commissioning a fourth composition from Graham John. The first peal of the Nottingham 8 seems to have been on 6th March 1997 at Bulwell, and Graham John's composition was rung on 21st May 1998 at Greasley. The peal report from 1997 doesn't describe itself as the Nottingham 8, but that description is used in Don Morrison's review. Both Bulwell and Greasley are close to Nottingham, so I can only suppose that this combination of methods was adopted by a band in that area and that led to the name.

What about the compositions, bearing in mind that I had to find one for our peal in Glasgow? One of Richard Allton's compositions is a 6-part with part ends that permute 4, 5 and 6 (and swap 2 and 3); this plan is aimed at producing CRUs. The second is a 7-part on a cyclic plan, with part end 14567823. The third, which was rung at Bulwell, is a one-part all-the-work with some split tenors sections. Don Morrison explains that it has a short 7-part all-the-work block as its core, which is extended with tenors-together blocks. The composition by Graham John, which was rung at Greasley, is a one-part, tenors-together, bobs-only, all-the-work.

More recently, other compositions have been produced. Don Morrison has a cyclic 7-part with a lot of 4-bell runs, a 6-part aimed at 5678 / 6578 combinations, and one which is essentially a 12-part, again going for 5678 / 6578 combinations. Tom Perrins has a neat 12-part with all the 5678s and 6578s off the front. A few years ago, following discussion on one of the email lists about Tom Perrins' 10-part composition of the Standard 8, I noticed that the idea works slightly more easily for the Nottingham 8, and produced this composition:

5120 Spliced Surprise Major (8m)
Simon J. Gay

B M W H            23456
*     2  LEWWL.B.  34256
  - -    OO.C.B    52643
- -   -  SG.GS.CE. 65432
10 part, adding a bob at * (between WW) in alternate parts.

640 each Bristol, Cambridge, Cassiobury (O), Cornwall (W),
         Glasgow, Lessness (E), London, Superlative

129 changes of method.

I needed a composition for our peal in Glasgow. Ideally it would have been good to call Graham John's one-part all-the-work, but as we are still working on Horton's 4, I didn't have the energy to learn another difficult composition. The 6-part or 12-part compositions by Don Morrison are musical, but the method balance is uneven, which is also the case for Tom Perrins' 12-part. My own 10-part has equal amounts of each method, but I thought it might be a little dull to call. Instead, with a little help from my computer, I came up with the following 5-part, with equal amounts of each method, a change of method every lead, and all-the-work for everyone except 7 and 8.

5120 Spliced Surprise Major (8m)
Simon J. Gay

W  B  H                    23456
-        BWLEW.E           52436
   3  2  COW.GB.GWS.CS.B.  43652
-     -  LS.OGC.           65432
      -  LEC.              46532
2     -  EOL.B.GOS.        56342
5 part.

640 Bristol, Cambridge, Cassiobury (O), Cornwall (W), Glasgow, Lessness (E), London, Superlative.

159 changes of method.

All the work for 2,3,4,5,6.

The 5-part plan is nowhere near as good for music as a 6-part plan, but you can't have everything.

"Wait a minute", I hear you say, "this is all very interesting, but isn't this a blog about handbell ringing?"

Yes it is, and I would like to ring my composition on handbells, as a (brief, I hope) diversion from the Horton's 4 project. I think I have convinced the rest of the Albany Quadrant band. We tried a quarter last Monday, to help us brush up on the methods before the tower-bell peal, which was promising although we didn't quite get to the end.

Finding a quarter peal composition was trickier than I expected. My ideal plan for a quarter of 8-spliced is a tenors-together 5-part composition with one lead of each method in each part. That's fine for the Standard 8, but it doesn't work for the Nottingham 8 because of the place bell orders. If we associate each place bell order with a number according to how many leads of Plain Bob it's equivalent to, we have B = +6 (equivalently, -1), C = +2, O = +3, W = -2, E = -1, L = -1, G = +1, S = +2. The total (ignoring multiples of 7) is +3, whereas it needs to be 0 if we are to arrange the leads into a number of complete courses. Calling a bob at Wrong, Middle or Home in one of the 8ths place lead end methods would add 1 to the total, and calling a Before in one of the 2nds place lead end methods would subtract 1, but it's not possible to get to 0 with exactly one lead of each method.

My solution was to use the first part of the peal composition as the basis for a quarter, and add the following block to bring it round at 1280.

M  W  H           56342
   2     LC.WC.B  64352
-     -  L.CW.    23456

In the end, we fell apart in the last course of the first part of the peal, and concluded that although Cassiobury, Cornwall and Lessness are not difficult in themselves, we suffered from lack of familiarity. I will report on our peal attempt in due course.


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