Little Boxes

The other day the Clanging Belles were discussing “blocks” because it is the terminology used in the new, improved, ART training resources for handbell ringers (http://ringingteachers.org/resources/handbells) .  What are these mysterious little blocks that we are encouraged to bolt together in order to ring new methods, without straining our brains so wildly that we throw down the bells in disgust and take up knitting instead?

They are not as unfamiliar as they sound and for me, an inexperienced ringer, they are surprisingly useful. Each method is constructed from rules and as one moves from one pattern to the next, guided by any particular rule ( eg make 2nds when the treble leads) a different block needs to be applied (x12 in this example).  At another time, a different box comes in to play and we try to move seamlessly from x12 to x14 at a bob, which requires a  little thought, but not so much that we collapse with the effort.

Anyway, we were ringing, we were thinking about our blocks (what pattern is required now?), and one of our number started to hum.  Not Plain Bob Minor which at least would have been relevant, but something else entirely – something vaguely familiar, but which none of us could put a name to.  We stopped ringing, because one cannot identify a half remembered song and successfully ring handbells, and checked out Google.  It was “Little Boxes” that had crept in as an uninvited ear worm, and until we named it, our attention was diverted.

Do you remember Little Boxes? It was an early 1960s protest song written by Malvina Reynolds and made famous by a Pete Seeger cover and later a version was used as the theme tune for the TV series, Weeds.  Many of the songs in the 1960s were political, disguised as folk.  Gentle enough as melodies, but when you listen to the words, they contain quite biting satire.  Little Boxes mocks suburbia and all those middle class people living near identical lives in little boxes made of “ticky tacky.” It speaks of the frustration with a society where uniformity is to be admired and identi-kit lives applauded…  “they all get put in boxes and they all come out the same….”

Later versions have a different tone and the much more  recent Rise Against version is downright angry.

But our little ringing boxes are of a different sort and the contents certainly do not all come out the same. It would be much easier if they did.

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