Practices, Quarters and Peals

Following up on Tina's article about losing quarters on the handbell day, I am thinking about the way we use practice sessions, quarter peals, and peals.

We have always rung a lot of quarters with our regular band, as well as on the handbell days. I like measurable achievements, and quarters have benefits that are more difficult to get in shorter touches. For example: ringing in a range of different positions; concentrating for longer periods; practising the determination to continue through mistakes; for the conductor, working with a range of callings and coursing orders.

However, going for quarters prematurely can lead to too many losses, which becomes demoralising; also, even if a quarter is scored, if there is too much intervention from the conductor, it can be unsatisfying for the band.

With our regular band, we have been working our way through the standard methods with Angela inside and Tina and Jonathan conducting. We also have an established pattern of ringing a quarter one week and then practising the next method, but we broke the pattern this time by ringing a quarter of Lincolnshire, practising London, then ringing a quarter of Rutland after a gap of six weeks and with no specific practice.

The Rutland started fairly shakily, but improved as we went on. I did quite a lot of conducting (although Tina was calling) and for me it was worthwhile practice at working with the coursing order and checking or correcting the ringing. However, it seems that I rather took over, and probably the band would have preferred to ring a better quarter another time, even if it meant giving up on this one.

Peals are another question, and here we have different systems with different bands. We worked our way through the right-place standard eight with Mike and Ian, always going for a peal. We had several losses, but all the lost peals were good practice, of course. Getting people to come all the way from Edinburgh for a practice or a quarter seems too much.

This applies even more to getting Julia to come from Penrith. We have had two unsuccessful attempts for a peal of London Royal, and in both cases we rang half way so presumably could have scored a quarter. But going for peals seems worthwhile as a challenging but realistic goal.

Talking of London Royal, we've arranged another attempt for the Saturday after Christmas. More about that later.

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.


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