Putting something interesting to the test

Specifically, putting Tina Stoecklin’s  and  Simon Gay’s  2020 book, Change ringing on handbells to the test. As someone who, together with a few others, started to learn to ring handbells in 2020, this has been our essential guide.  It starts from first principles and takes the novice from plain hunt to Double Norwich, Kent and Oxford TB, stopping just shy of any tricky surprises.  Our fledgling band chose to jump on a little bit and tackled Norwich surprise a few months back and it is certainly a jump if none of the band have actually rung Norwich in hand before.  It took a long time and perhaps we would have been wiser to have tried for Double Norwich, but of course that depends on how many of you there are in the game!

The book is intended to be accessible to anyone, non-ringer or experienced ringer alike, and assumes no knowledge of change ringing on tower bells. It starts at the beginning, but I am not sure that an experienced ringer can write from first principles because their knowledge is so ingrained, that they forget how truly ignorant some of us actually are. To discount the knowledge that one has and to put oneself into the head of someone who knows nothing on a specialist subject is a very difficult thing to do.  Assumptions will creep in, however hard one seeks to banish them. For example, at the very simplest level, for me, brought up on the piano, the fact that rounds start with the highest note in the sequence and then start again at the highest note, rather than working up from the lowest to the highest and then back down in reverse order, was enough to confuse for a long time. Now rounds sounds like the most natural thing in the world, but for months it felt all wrong and trying to remember that the sound was “going up” when actually it was coming down caused me no end of misunderstanding because I was moving  aurally “down the row”, when everyone was talking about moving “up the row”.

However, they accept that the book has been read mainly by established ringers, who during lockdown seized on the chance to ring handbells, because nothing bigger was available. It starts at Plain hunt on 4 (our little band missed out this step and started on 6), and encourages everyone to conduct from the earliest opportunity.  Conducting is not a “super power” but part of normal ringing. Amen to that. Correct terminology is stressed – again crucial but for novices hanging out with experienced ringers a real barrier because we assume that certain words mean what they do in normal life, and often they have a subtly different slant and misunderstandings creep in very easily. Only a few days ago someone was wittering on about “places down” and despite the fact that I have called a quarter of Kent, I had to check what they meant because I don’t use that sort of language. Different approaches to understanding handbell ringing are suggested and  trouble shooting strategies provided should things not be working out. Learning set patterns will get you quite far, but I suspect that by the planned sequel to this introductory book, more advanced skills will be required.

The acknowledgment that some people’s ability to achieve better striking once the physicality of handling tower bells is absent is interesting.  The lack of the need to handle is what keeps me going back again and again to handbells, even now that towers are open and my time would probably be better spent learning to ring better on church bells.  With handbells I can ring methods quite nicely because once I have learnt the pattern I can put the bells where I know they need to be.  No such luck with tower bells where even the very simplest things have me crashing around in an untidy fashion. The physicality required has me beaten every time.

In the last year we have already covered much of what is in the book, but in the interests of research, I have decided to put the last chapter to the test.  Can I learn to ring Double Norwich on handbells using the advice offered?  Is it sufficient to allow a novice tower bell ringer, with little previous knowledge, to be successful in such a venture? I promise not to use my rather clumsy home grown method to learn what to do, but to follow the instructions as offered. Will I enjoy success?

I will let you know.  It is always good to have a project on the go.

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