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Belfry (and a half) News

If you went down to the Church that day, you’d have been sure of a big surprise. Electronic sounds wafting down from the balcony may not be new, (though few of you will have heard them), but a small scaffolding tower between the pews, with the sound of Worcester Cathedral bells sounding out from it over a solitary ringer, is definitely a novelty at All Saints. But this was no toy, as the intense concentration of the person ringing it would have demonstrated. Saturday 9th May was about the impact of high technology on an ancient art. The Diocesan Ringers Guild has an education committee of which I am a member. Most training is of course done at the grass roots, but the Guild can run courses and other events beyond the resources of an individual Tower or Branch. We also try to introduce new ideas which may have been tried elsewhere. May 9th saw such an event.

We ran a seminar on computer based ringing simulators and how they can be used as training aids. A simulator is a box which can make bell sounds and can vary the order just like real change ringing. Where it differs from real ringing is that it never makes mistakes and rings with a perfect rhythm.

Such a box would be a mere curiosity, but for the realisation in the late 70% by a Cornishman, Peter Cummins, that if you make one of the bells sound when triggered by a detector on the wheel of a real bell, instead of when the machine thinks it ought to, then you have a powerful aid to help ringers develop their skills’. Peter actually taught himself to ring using a simulator.

Using normal training methods, each fledgling ringer needs many hours surrounded by a ‘good’ band to ring the other bells. This is a heavy drain on the resources of most towers. Even then, real ringers are not perfect, and their mistakes can add to the trainee’s confusion. With the simulator you only need an instructor, the rest of the ringing is perfect and you only have your own mistakes to think about.

There is an added bonus. Good ringing means striking the bells accurately at the right time. Doing it depends heavily on hearing.

Many ringers get into the habit of relying too much on their eyes, and ‘following the ropes’. Since no two bells strike in exactly the same way, this is a recipe for poor striking. But because there are no other ropes when ringing with a simulator, you have to use your ears. This is an excellent discipline.

Over twenty people attended the seminar. Some of us had prior experience but many had not. Most came from within the Diocese but one person travelled from Devon for the day. Local ringers present included the tower captain of the new band at Sandhurst RC Church, the most recent ring of bells in the Branch.

And the reason for the scaffolding tower? We wanted to give everybody plenty of time to experience for themselves what it was like to ring with a simulator. It would have been too confusing to have two simulators both ringing at once in the ringing chamber, so David Bagley, one of the two manufacturers of ringing simulators, brought along his mini tower which can be erected and dismantled fairly quickly. It has a ‘bell’ weighing about half a hundredweight. This is lighter than almost all church bells, adding an extra dimension to the experience of ringing it.

John Harrison (Jun 1992) 


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