Pickled Eggs: Cambridge

Readers of the Ringing World know that Simon Linford has been writing a series of articles about developing a new Surprise Major repertoire, as an improvement on the Standard Eight. (Non-readers of the Ringing World should support it by not only reading it but taking out their own subscription).

The "pickled eggs" tag is based on an analogy between methods and the contents of the larder. Pickled eggs are items that seem to be there for mysterious reasons, but no-one really want to eat them. Probably Pudsey is a pickled egg in the Standard Eight.

Although the Nottingham Eight was proposed about 20 years ago as an alternative set of methods, it hasn't really caught on. Simon Linford's idea is to carefully justify the selection of methods, taking into account musical possibilities, the availability of compositions, and the need for a progression of difficulty and features so that working through the repertoire makes sense for instructional purposes.

Last week's article considered the pros and cons of Cambridge, and I expect that there will be similar articles in future about other candidate methods. We can also think about each method from the handbell-ringer's point of view, and we would like to try ringing the methods as they are announced.

The analysis of Cambridge came down in favour of including it. So what do we think of it for handbells?

We've rung two quarters of Cambridge Major at Albany Quadrant, one at Angela's house, and I seem to remember one or two in Tulloch. We've also rung three peals. That's not much in comparison with Yorkshire (23 quarters and 6 peals). Yorkshire is usually preferred as the first Surprise Major method on handbells, because it's easier for the tenors (especially the first and last leads of the course) and it's easier to conduct because the coursing order is preserved more below the treble, in particular at the half lead.

Among methods other than Yorkshire, we have always found Lincolnshire easier and more stable than Cambridge. This is partly because of the long dodging on the front in Lincolnshire, which is a good anchor as long as the right bells are doing it.

However, an argument for Cambridge is that it's easier than Yorkshire on higher numbers, so starting with Cambridge Major starts the pathway to Royal and Maximus. Cambridge Royal is my second leading method for handbell peals, after Yorkshire Major and equal with Plain Bob Major.

What about handbell compositions for Cambridge? An easy quarter by Steve Coleman, which is also true to several other standard methods, is 5 befores, single home, repeated. The tenors only ring the first two and last two leads of the course, and 5-6 are mostly coursing. Another quarter that I like is the one by Eric Brosius, which keeps 3-4 coursing most of the time, but it isn't true to Cambridge. Wrong home wrong is also not true to Cambridge. For a quarter in which the tenors ring the whole course, I would usually call wrong, home, three wrongs, two homes, single wrong, which is a well-known 1250. Alternatively, this one by David Beard looks straightforward.

When it comes to peals, I would call Middleton's by default, which is easy to remember but not particularly favourable for handbell pairs. I did once try to call Brian Price's classic 5090, but we didn't get it.

If the goal for a handbell composition is to keep a pair other than the tenors coursing as much as possible, then it's easier with Yorkshire (for example this one by Roger Bailey, and the ones after it on the page, get up to 18 courses of coursing for 3-4) or Superlative (for example compositions that I have written about here and here, with 5-6 coursing throughout). A very easy quarter peal composition of Superlative is 6 homes (bob bob single bob bob single), keeping 5-6 in the 5-6 position throughout and 3-4 with two thirds coursing; or by starting at the snap and calling 6 middles, 5-6 course throughout and 3-4 still have two thirds coursing.

One of Simon Linford's arguments in favour of Cambridge is that it follows on from Cambridge Minor, although he points out that  you can certainly question whether Cambridge is the best introduction to Surprise Minor. Tina commented that a good feature of Cambridge Minor for handbells is that the long pieces of work (the 3-4 places and the frontwork) start and finish at the lead ends and half leads, which means that all the bells move on from them simultaneously. That's not true in Cambridge Major, but in Superlative the 3-4 and 5-6 places last for half a lead and so the beginnings and ends are synchronised for everyone. Instead, in Cambridge Major, overlapping places appear (for example, in 4th and 8th place bells), which starts the progression towards the pattern of Royal and Maximus.

I don't know whether Yorkshire is going to make it into Simon Linford's selection as well as Cambridge. If we had to choose one or the other for handbells, then I think it would have to be Yorkshire. 

Two celebrations

Yesterday we rang my 600th peal - not one of the conventional high-profile landmarks, I know, but according to the PealBase crystal ball I'll be 77 by the time I get to 1000, so in the meantime I'll celebrate whatever I can.

At some point I came up with the idea of ringing 5600, so then the question was what to ring. It's the full length of Middleton's classic composition of Cambridge, which we could alternatively have rung to a different method such as Yorkshire or London. It's also the length of 25-Spliced Surprise Major all-the-work, for example Jonathan Porter and Roger Baldwin's extension of Norman Smith's composition, which adds Belfast and Hereford. That seemed a bit too difficult, although it could be a good project for another time, because as far as I can tell it has only been rung on handbells twice, in 1988 and 1990.

A good middle ground seemed to be this composition of spliced Cambridge, Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and Rutland by Robert Brown.

5,600 (5,152, 5,056) Spliced Surprise Major (4 methods)
Robert D S Brown

23456    M   W   H   Methods
43652    -           CNC.YNNN
56234    -   -       NCN.C.YCC
23564        -   -   YYYY.CYY.
52364            -   CNNNNYC.
35264            -   RRRRRRR. 
5 part.

Contains 1600 Lincolnshire (N), 1440 Cambridge, Yorkshire, 1120 Rutland, with 62 combination rollups, 89 changes of method, all the work. For 5152, omit 3H and associated leads in one part. For 5056, call Before for MMWW and omit associated leads in one part.

It's the calling of Middleton's, and would usually be shortened in the same way as Middleton's, but we rang it in full. I wouldn't be surprised if ours was the first full-length performance of the composition.

We did well - the last three parts especially were really good. Compared with our first peal of these methods, in 2011, it's satisfying to see how far we have come. Also it was satisfying to score at the first attempt, so that it didn't become a project.

After we had finished, imagine my surprise when Angela said "Don't put the bells away - we have to ring a quarter now!". It seems that she, Jonathan and Tina had discussed ringing a quarter for the birth of Matt and Jessie Hetherington's daughter, but they hadn't got around to telling me. They wanted to ring Glasgow (and we are doing the same again this evening in the tower - Matt and Jess are former members of the Glasgow band). We haven't rung Glasgow for ages, and after a short false start we decided that we would have to ring a little slower and very carefully. We did that, and rang an excellent quarter, although I don't think it was much quicker than we will ring it in the tower (and for those who don't know, Glasgow are 32cwt).

And yet another landmark: recently, Emma Southerington and Bill Croft simultaneously rang their 1000th handbell peals. According to PealBase, only 19 people have reached that total. Emma has conducted 562 handbell peals and Bill has conducted 626, which must put both of them high up the leader board for handbell conducting. That can be a topic for a future blog.

London calling

We rang a peal of London Major on Monday, which was a satisfying achievement. It's not at all easy, and everyone did well. Conducting from a pair other than the tenors was a challenge for me, and afterwards I realised that it completed the Standard 8 as conductor on working pairs.

The composition was one I've called before, by Henry Dains. It's wrong home wrong, padded out with a block of 5 befores in every course.

5760 (5024) London Surprise Major
Henry Dains

23456    B  W  H   
45236    5  -  -  
34256    5  -   
3 part.  
72 crus.
For 5024 omit one block of 5.

In the first block of 5 befores, the coursing orders are 53246, 65324, 46532, 24653, 46532. So 5-6 are coursing for 4 of these 5 courses. This is the case in the first block of each part: 5-6 course for 4 courses. In the second and third parts, the coursing orders are rotations of 54326 and 52436, so 3-4 are also coursing for 4 of the 5 courses in each case.

In the second block of the part, the coursing orders are rotations of 35426, 45236 and 25346. In these blocks, 5-6 are never coursing, but in the third part, 3-4 are coursing for 4 of the 5 courses in the block.

To maximise the amount of coursing for 3-4 and 5-6, it's best to omit the second block of befores in either the first or the second part. However, this time I omitted the very first block of befores. This was because it's only when the befores are omitted that the tenors ring 2nd and 4th place bells, and I decided to get that out of the way in the first course.

With these blocks of 5 befores, there is a complete contrast between the two possibilities: coursing for 4 out of 5 courses, and not coursing at all. The former is easy except for the one course in the 5-6 position. The latter is a long stretch of ringing without any rest periods in the coursing position.

When conducting from a working pair, there's a question of how to work out where to call the bobs. Options include:

  • Keeping track of which place bells the tenors are, in each lead.
  • Spotting when the tenor is ringing the place bell before the next bob.
  • Working out what my bells will do at the next bob, and waiting for the appropriate lead.

I find it's best to use a combination of techniques, to reduce the risk of failing to spot something crucial. For example, working out what I will do at each bob relies on remembering and transposing the coursing orders, and there's always the possibility of losing track of the coursing order.

My main technique was based on the coursing order and the work of my bells, but I also tried to check the position of the tenors at the lead end before a bob was due. Most of the bobs in this composition are befores, which come at the end of leads when the tenor is 4th place bell. After a while I realised that at the beginning of this lead, the tenors do a fishtail together at the back, which is easy to spot because I am always aware of when the fishtails are taking place (when the treble is in 3-4). I also found it easy to spot the tenor making 2nds at the end of the lead.

The bobs that aren't befores all follow the pattern of wrong home wrong: in each part, the 5th makes the bob and runs out twice. That was helpful for calling those bobs.

Finally, I was pleased to be able to check the coursing order by seeing the sequence of four bells leading in coursing order between the two times that 7th place bell leads.

Looking back and looking ahead

We're a little way into the New Year now, so we can review progress over the last year and see what's coming up.

The highlight, of course, was our peal of Horton's Four. We also rang peals of Cambridge, Yorkshire and Lincolnshire Royal with Julia, and Pudsey with Mike and Ian. Continuing the Surprise Royal project, we had three unsuccessful attempts at a peal of London Royal, which we have now decided to shelve for now.

We rang 6 quarters at Albany Quadrant and 4 at Angela's house. That's the lowest total since 2009. This is partly explained by only having one handbell day, and not scoring any quarters on the handbell day that we did have. However, we have made good progress working our way through the standard Surprise Major methods with Angela inside. We are getting close to 200 quarters at Albany Quadrant, so there will be a retrospective blog when we get there.

We have plans for the next two Mondays: a quarter of London Major with Angela inside, and then a peal of London Major with Julia; after that she wants to ring Bristol away from the tenors. Last Monday we had a productive eight and ten bell practice with Jenny and Marcus, while Tina was away. That gives us a potential twelve bell band if we can get everyone together again in the future.

Last autumn we also had a Surprise Minor practice with Robin; we have talked about launching another 41 Surprise Minor project, but as always it's a question of finding enough evenings to ring with all these different combinations of people. 

Now for another sense of looking ahead.

When we were practising last Monday, we rang Cambridge Royal several times. Everyone can ring the method, but often the rhythm is choppy and I get a sense that there is too much deciding at the last moment which place to ring in. Going back to Nick's principle of letting the handstrokes ring themselves, I have been analysing my thought processes and I believe that at each backstroke, at the latest, I have a clear idea of where I will be at the next backstroke. On tower bells we know that we have to think ahead in order to get the right amount of pull, especially on heavier bells, but I am now realising that this is also essential for handbell ringing. To get nice smooth rhythmical ringing, we have to have a plan that looks at least a whole pull ahead. Like previous comments on handbell ringing style, it's another example of handbell ringing and tower bell ringing being more similar than we might assume.

For another sense of looking back, this time as something we shouldn't do: I often remind the band not to dwell on mistakes after they have happened; what's gone is gone, and it's important to maintain focus on the ringing ahead. I find that this takes a conscious effort, but it's important.

Handbell Compositions: 5040 London No.3 Surprise Royal by Donald F Morrison

We've arranged another attempt for our peal of London Royal for the Saturday after Christmas. I've decided to try a different composition, which is this one.

5040 London No.3 Surprise Royal
Donald F Morrison (no. 1705)

23456  M  W  H
46352  -     s
32654  s     -
34256  2     -
53246     -
46325  -  s  s
24365     -   

When I first looked at it, I thought it looked a little complicated; it didn't have the memorable pattern on the page that I saw in Richard Pearce's composition. Also it has singles, which Richard's composition doesn't. But I've studied it more, and it's another example of a handbell-friendly composition in which knowing that a certain pair (3-4 in this case) stays coursing is a big help in remembering the calling.

According to Graham John's CompLib, 3-4 have 95% coursing, and the rest in the 3-4 position. What that means is 6 leads of the 3-4 position, i.e. 3 leads in each half of the peal. Closer examination shows that 3-4 ring the first lead of the 3-4 course, i.e. 3rd and 4th place bells; the last lead of the 3-4 course, i.e. 2nd and 6th place bells (these occur in the first and last leads of the part, which can't be avoided); and 2nd and 6th place bells again, somewhere within the part. This is about as good as it could be, because these pairs of place bells are the reverses of each other, and contain some coursing within them even though they are not from the coursing position.

Let's work through the coursing orders to see how 3-4 are affected. Start in the plain course, 53246.

Call Coursing Order Comment
M 53462 The quickest way to get 3-4 coursing, which in London only takes 1 lead.
sH 56432 Keep 3-4 coursing. A Wrong would also do it, so we need to remember that it's sH.
sM 56234 Move 3-4 to the end of the coursing order, still coursing.
H 52364 This is where 3-4 ring 2nd and 6th place bells.
M 52643 3-4 back into coursing.
M 52436 A memorable coursing order. 3-4 run in and out.
H 54326 A nice 567890 course end. 3-4 run in and out again.
W 43526 3-4 run in and out again.
M 43265

Remember to affect 5-6 before moving 3-4 again.

sW 23465

The only way to keep 3-4 coursing.

sH 26435

Continue the theme of moving 3-4 towards the end of the coursing order.

W 64235

Into the coursing order for the part end. 3-4 ring 2nd and 6th place bells for the last lead of the course.

I found that after I had worked through the coursing orders in this way, noticing how the bells are affected, I just about knew the composition. I find it important to work through the coursing orders for the second half of the peal too, to get used to how it looks with 3-4 and 5-6 reversed.

When thinking about who should ring which pair, I find myself worrying that whoever I ask to ring the easy pair will be insulted by the insinuation that it's all they can manage. Alternatively, I suppose, whoever is ringing the difficult pair could be annoyed that they have a harder job.

I have developed the philosophy that if someone has an easier pair, then it's easier for that person to ring better, which makes all the ringing better, and that makes it easier for everyone to ring better. From that point of view, it doesn't matter who gets the easier pair. I think we have all accepted that. So I hope that this composition will work better than the Richard Pearce composition in which 3-4 and 5-6 ring exactly the same work as each other, when the whole peal is considered.

Let's see what happens next Saturday!


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