Ringing Things

With tower-bell ringing in the District cancelled for the foreseeable future, here are a few things to do, watch or think about.

Please do send any comments, suggestions or questions.


Saturday 4th April

I'm sure that many of you, like me, enjoyed Gareth's fascinating talk on Thursday evening. One of the questions he tried to address was what people were ringing back then. He mentioned the first instructional back in bell-ringing, Tintinnalogia, published in 1668, and I wanted to look a bit more at the Plain Changes that I mentioned below (23rd March).

Plain changes seem to have been the first development from Call changes, with just one pair of bells swapping at each change, but presumably without any call being made. I suspect it would have been quite hard ringing them in practice, precisely because there were so few changes; although it's easy to stay in the same place for a while, you have to know exactly when to move out of it. The author of Tintinnalogia writes, as Gareth quoted, "I will here insert two or three old Peals on five Bells, which (though rejected in these days, yet) in former times were much in use, which for Antiquity sake, I here set down."

Firstly Twenty All Over, which I often recommend to people starting to call changes. Each bell in turn is called up to the back. We have rung it at Little Shelford without calls, changing at every stroke, which makes a good challenge too. The intention is to encourage observation, watching the bell that's coming up, so you know when to move out of its way, and, when you're leading, watching when the bell going up reaches the back, so you know when it's your turn to start moving.

Then An Eight and Forty, which is more of a challenge, especially for the treble, 2nd and 3rd. It's interesting to look how the piece is composed, based on the 4th and 5th bells hunting down to lead and back, in turn, while the other three bells gradually ring Plain Hunt Singles amongst themselves. A Cambridge Eight and Forty is harder still, with a different construction, mostly based on sets of 6 changes in which the middle three bells hunting amongst themselves.

Another link with the Plain Changes is in this Maths Art Challenge, Permutahedrons, starting with Single and moving on to Minimus. Note that in the Minimus section, you're only allowed to us plain changes; swapping both pairs of bells is not included. For more on representing the transpositions between permutations, see Ringing Shapes by John Harrison. For more diagrams, see the Ringing World from 1985 (pages 29 and 167), discussing White's No Call Doubles and more. Diagrams can also be used for composing touches, including 240s and 720s of Plain Bob Doubles; see Ringing World (1985 p. 341, 1994 p. 778, 1995 pp. 67, 930 and 1996 p. 365).

And, finally, this is rather delightful - a post from the centre of the ringing chamber at Walsgrave church, showing each bell who to follow in an extent of Minimus. It's actually an extent in Plain Changes, what we would now call Double Canterbury.


Wednesday 1st April

The obvious thing to think about today is April Day Doubles. No, this isn't a joke, it's a real thing - and if you can ring Plain Bob and Grandsire Doubles, you should already be able to ring it. Strictly speaking, April Day is a variation, rather than a method, as it takes one method, in this case Plain Bob Doubles, but uses a different call from normal. Here the call is a Grandsire Single. To read more, see here. You can also ring April Day Triples in the same way.

Perhaps this video on YouTube of some three-bell ringing that didn't quite go as planned is also suitabel viewing for today.

A new way of ringing while at home might be provided by Ringing Room, a new multi-ringer simulator app developed by Bryn Reinstadler and Leland Kusmer in the USA. Each ringer can press a key (or keys) on their computer, to control their bell (or bells), in order to ring together. It has been tested already with quarter peals, such as this.

And if you want more, the Central Council has put together as playlist of YouTube videos, entitled 'Oddities & wonders of ringing', which, coincidentally, starts with the ringing at Broughton mentioned above, and includes ringing at East Bergholt, in Italy, a musical experiment from Birmingham, ringing blindfold and ringing on 24 handbells, among many others.


Saturday 28th March

Today should have been the Eliminators for the National 12-bell Striking Contest. The Cambridge Youths (Great St Mary's) band were due to ring at Walsall, for a place in the final at Sheffield Cathedral on Saturday 20th June. The test piece was to have been Cambridge Surprise Maximus. For the non-12-bell-ringers amongst you, don't just take one look at the method and think "that's impossible"... Sit down, catch your breath (and grab a glass of something, if it helps) and look for all the bits that are familiar to you.

If you can plain hunt, there's definitely some of that. If you can dodge, there's plenty to keep you busy. And if you know Cambridge Minor, there's nothing new here. Just more of the same. Even if you've never rung Cambridge Places (the long sections where you stay in a pair of adjacent places for 16 blows), you can see that the same pattern occurs several times, in different places. This motif is just a series of dodges and place-making, with all the places being made (as you're used to) right, that is, at handstroke, then backstroke. And the middle dodge is with the treble each time.

If you are used to ringing touches of Plain Bob Doubles, you'll be glad to know that there's no new work to learn for Bobs, just the same old running in, runnning out and making the bob. And, unless you've particularly upset the conductor, there's only a three-elevenths chance of being affected at a call. Not only this, but by the time you have run in, run out and made the bob, you'll have rung more than enough for a quarter peal!

Here's a video of the Birmingham band ringing Cambridge at Great St Mary's in 2018. The band went on to win the 12-bell contest (held in Cambridge) that year.


Thursday 26th March

Thanks to Alan Winter, here's a quiz for you. Can you identify these District towers, visited on a recent cycle ride? I should warn you that they don't all have bells hung for full-circle ringing, but they are in the right order, if that gives you any clues...


Wednesday 25th March

All this talk about ringing, but it's all theory. How can we actually ring at the moment? Today's jottings are about dumb bells, model bells and simulators.


Monday 23rd March

Have those rounds settled down properly yet? Nice even striking, with a gap at the handstroke lead, as we're not in Devon (or parts of Yorkshire which ring cartwheel too).

Let's have some call changes, then. Some like to say "called changes", which is perhaps more accurate, but I will stick with call changes. As with (almost) all change ringing, a pair of bells in adjacent places in the current row are swapped over. They might be called "up" (e.g. "2 to 3" takes you from 123456 to 132456) or "down" (e.g. "3 to 1" gives the same result). To be prepared for the next call, whichever system is being used, always make sure you know who the person you're following is following themselves. And it can also be useful to know which place in the change you are in, as well as who you're following (and who they are following, of course).

So, quiz time! Starting from Queens (135246), where does this sequence of calls take you? 3 to 5, 2 to 4, 3 to 4, 1 to 5, 1 to 4, 3 to 2.

Here's a list of some rows that have particular names, like Queens and Tittums.

Back to Devon, as that's where many towers still ring purely call changes and ring them extremely well. In the same way that we have well-known methods for our "scientific" ringing, they have named compositions of call changes. For instance, Sixty on Thirds; here the "Thirds" is a local name for Queens. This starts from Queens, then there are sixty calls before getting back to Queens, with each row produced before the final Queens being different. Details are given here. Here is a video of a performance at Shaugh Prior, including the raise beforehand and the lower afterwards. The calls start just after 2 minutes in; note that they don't say "to", merely (for instance) "4 5".

Another Devon peal, for 8 bells, is the Queens Peal. Again, you have to get from Rounds to Queens, then the sequence takes you back to Queens, before calling back to Queens. Each bell is called up to the back (as in Twenty All Over) in turn. Again, the list of calls and rows is here. The video for this one is one of my favourites; the Lamerton handbell ringers performing at the Devon ringers' carol service in 2010. They first simulate the bells being raised, then for the call changes, they physically swap bells! See if you can see each bell going out to the back in turn.

I suppose the obvious question, from a method-ringing point of view, is whether you can get a 120 of Doubles this way? And yes, there are several different compositions, for instance I'll Be Back Doubles, rung recently at St Dominic in Cornwall. The desire to get a 120 goes right back to the dawn of change ringing in the 17th century, with the "Plain Changes" in Tintinnalogia in 1668, although this was presumably to be rung with changes made at every stroke. The technique here is one of recursion, basing the extent at each stage on the extent at the stage below, with the hunt bell moving through all possible positions in each row at the lower stage. This technique also appears in Donald Knuth's "The Art of Computer Programming", for listing all permutations of a group of items - see here (algorithm P).


Wednesday 18th March

Well, let's start at the beginning, by ringing the bells up; see here for a split-screen video of a bell being raised. You can see that the tricky bit, when you have to start looking after the sally, comes as the bell is swinging up to the horizontal. But, due to physics, this is also the point that raising the bell enough to let out another inch of tail-end requires the greatest amount of energy to be put into the bell. So that's why it's easy to get 'stuck' at this point when ringing up, as the fedaddle of getting one hand onto the sally and back reduces the efficiency of your pull, just when the maximum is needed.

OK, how about some rounds now, to get used to our virtual bells? Try this website, set the method (at the top) to "Rounds" and select the "Listening" tab. Instructions are given on the screen, but the idea is to move the sliders to get the striking perfect, reducing the "Striking Errors Left" to zero. I found it took very careful listening, judging which bell was wrong and at which stroke, to get there. To start off more easily, you can go to the "Settings" tab, to set "Maximum number of strokes with errors" to a lower value.

For the more experienced ringers, try spotting the striking errors while they are ringing a method... There are also several other fun things to do on the site, practising a method or trying to identify a method by listening!

Finally, for now, let's listen to how it should be done, from Great St Mary's. This is video of a visiting Devon band, so note that they ring 'cartwheel', i.e. without a gap at the handstroke lead. They also call their changes just "2 3", for instance, rather than "2 to 3".

More on call changes next time...


Monday 16th March

How about listening to one of the Fun With Bells podcasts? The recent one, featuring Gareth Davies discussing his historical study of ringers in Cambridge, sounds particularly interesting.