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This page explains what All Saints ringers could offer to local schools. If you know nothing about bellringing and have come straight to this page, then you might like to look at the rest of our site for some background, using the buttons at the top of the page. You might find About Bellringing particularly useful.
We recognise that schools have different needs from many other community groups , and we would like to offer something to fit in with those needs. We can offer:
Short talks for primary schools Lectures for secondary schools Projects for secondary schools
We can give a short talks to primary schools in assembly. The talk is illustrated with visual aids and bell music, and it ends with some of the pupils demonstrating the basic principles of change ringing using handbells. These talks are well received. If you are interested in a talk for your school, please contact us to discuss what we can offer.
Schools we have talked to include: Westcott School, Palmer School, Westende School, Keephatch School, Hawley school, Frogmore school, All Saints School.
For secondary schools, we can provide a more substantial lecture, either broadly based, or focused on a particular subject in the curriculum. The science and art of bells and ringing offer a rich source of material that can illustrate the principles in several subjects, for example those described below. We would adapt the content and presentation to suit your needs. If you are interested in a lecture on any subject, please contact us to discuss what we could provide.
Bellringing generates a distinct musical sound, because of the constraints imposed on the way the bells are rung. The resulting sound sequence has many musical properties. For example, changeringing satisfies the criterion discovered by researchers in the field of computer generated music, that 'music' should be neither completely predictable nor completely random, but a balance between the two. Repeated recognisable patterns (called 'roll-ups') emerge periodically from the music, in some ways analogous to leitmotifs. Some methods include clusters of repetitive sequences, and so on. Leading composers of ringing performances (mainly 'peals' that last about 3 hours) go to great lengths to maximise the musical content of their compositions, and as with conventional music, some of their criteria are widely agreed, while others are not. For a mucial perspective on ringing, see these articles. For more technical detail on change ringing music, see here .
Two factors combined to push changeringing in a mathematical direction. One was the physically driven constraint that a bell should never move more than one place between successive rows (sequences). The other was the concept of 'truth', ie that no row should be repeated in a piece of ringing, coupled with the associated desire to ring as many different rows as possible (within achievable limits). As a result, ringing theory is heavily dependent on permutations, group theory and symbolic transformations (as well as arithmetic of course). This lecture has been well received. There is an overview here.
As early as 1952, only four years after the first stored program computer ran, and only two years after it became available for research, it was used to run a program to solve a ringing problem . In the early days of home computers, the first thing many ringers did was to write simple ringing program. John Harrison , an All Saints ringer who built his first computer from a kit in 1979, wrote a ringing program to run on it before he had finished building the case!
Computers are now widely used by ringers for various purposes from the mundane to the exotic, and no serious ringing composer or theorist would consider working entirely by hand. For example, see 'Computing' on this site
English style ringing is only possible because of the special properties of a compound pendulum swinging near full circle, and the resultant ability to vary the swing timing accurately, and to do so for a heavy bell with moderate force.
The more complex problem of clappering, ie the dynamic inter-relationship of the bell and clapper (one compound pendulum suspended from another compound pendulum) was solved experimentally at Cambridge University in the 1960s to give a simple parametric map of different behaviour for any combination of bell and clapper. More recent research, also at Cambridge, has given insights into the way the clapper bounces on impact with the bell, and the effects that this has.
The technology of bells and bell installations has evolved over several hundred years, improving both the design and the use of materials. Much of the basic technology is readily visible, and the theory mostly based on Newtonian mechanics.
Bell bearings need to allow for slight misalignment due to flexure in the bell frame, and unlike almost all other bearings that carry a heavy load, they must do so with an oscillating, rather than a rotating motion.
Most bells are cast using formed loam based moulds, though in the past some founders used lost wax casting. Some modern founders have used numerically machined models and sand casting.
Recent research on tower sway caused by swinging bells has led to both a theoretical understanding of the mechanisms, and the development of sensors to measure the movement.
Wrought iron, the traditional material for bell clappers, is no longer readily available anywhere in the world, thought small quantities are made at heritage sites like Blists Hill . The modern materials used to replace it have been prone to both fracture and poor tonal quality in heavy bells. Hybrid wood-metal clapper designs have recently emerged as a solution to both of these problems.
During the last 1000 years, major social changes first led to the emergence of bellringing as a recognisable activity and then shaped its evolution in fundamental ways. Ringing bells has been a routine monastic chore, a paid civic service, a fashionable exercise for the young gentry, a popular public entertainment, a discredited activity, a cause of zealous reform, an intellectual challenge, and a stimulating modern pastime. Over the centuries, ringers have been both driven from, and welcomed back into, the life of the church. The tradition of change ringing began in a few major cities, spread throughout England and then around the English speaking world, but for some reason (until now) it never penetrated our nearest trading neighbours in Europe.
The world of bellringers is an interesting example of a dispersed, but tight-knit community. Although most ringers ring most often in their local tower, they are also part of a network of district, regional, national and international organisations that provide extensive support, services and comradeship. In addition, the custom of ringing with ringers from other towers has led to a strongly inter-connected web of personal relationships between individual ringers. One indication of this sense of fraternity is the fact that a ringer walking unannounced into any tower in the world where ringing is taking place would almost icertainly be made welcome and invited to ring.
As a personal life component, ringing offers moderate physical activity, the development of co-ordination and timing skills, teamwork and mental exercise - a very 'balanced diet' to obtain from a single activity.
The role of bellringers in the local community provides an interesting, and slightly unusual example of citizenship. The ringers maintain a tradition whose results most of the public hear and appreciate, but few understand. They expect bells to be rung for their weddings, but have no idea of the technical and social infrastructure that makes it possible. In many places the ringers remain obscure to all but the immediate congregation of the church where they ring. At All Saints Wokingham, we are trying to bring a fuller understanding of ringing – its traditions, history and ethos, as well as its practicalities – to a wider audience within the local community, through our programme of talks and tower visits , as well as by offering to work with schools.
There are some interesting demographic changes in the ringing world, whose long term impacts are not yet fully understood. The demography of ringers has changed markedly, with more older ringers (some of whom learnt in their teens, while others learnt late in life) and far fewer in their 20s and 30s. Many still learn to ring in their teens, but not as many as did a few decades ago. The gap between teens and middle age is a concern because the most dynamic leaders of ringing bands used to be in this age range. The increase in older learners mirrors society in general, where we are all living longer, active lives. But it is harder for them to learn the basic skills, and to become proficient performers. On the other hand, they bring with them fully developed life skills. Whether this new mix of ringers will generate enough 'rising stars' to continue to push the boundaries, and to provide the next generation of top performers and leaders, remains unclear.
If you would like to go further than a lecture, and base a project, related to a curriculum subject, on ringing, then we would be happy to work with you to do so. You are in the best position to decide how to exploit what we can offer, within the constraints and pressures of the timetable, national curriculum, exam schedule and so on.
The broad content available for each subject is as listed above in the lectures section. The list below gives examples of how each topic might be developed into a project. Of course, other possibilities might emerge in discussion with you. We would be happy to discuss how we could work with one or more subject experts in your school to help develop a suitable project. Contact us to discuss your needs and interests.
To discuss your ideas about how we could help you to use ringing as the basis of project work, please contact us .
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