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The power of numbers

Numbers have an effect on people – we make a fuss about birthdays ending in 0, or years ending in 00. It’s been so for centuries – in the Bible numbers like 7 have special significance. The art of change ringing is dominated by numbers, and while there are mathematical relationships in most forms of music, ringing is built almost entirely on maths.

The performers aren’t normally aware of the deep theory behind what they are doing, as they just learn patterns of work that have names. But every ringing performance is defined by its length (which is the number of sequences rung, ie the number of times each ringer strikes his or her bell). It has to be more that 5000 for a peal, and more than 1250 for a quarter peal. For practical reasons, the length (on 8 bells) is normally a multiple of 16 or 32, and there are many compositions of 5024, 5056 or 5088, etc.

But for one type of performance the length is its whole purpose. A ‘Date Touch’ is a performance whose length matches the year in which it is rung. We have rung 20 Date Touches at All Saints since 1984, mostly on New Year’s Day, as we did this year.

Occasionally Date Touches aren’t rung at New Year, and they aren’t always rung in the year they celebrate. For example, in July 2005 we rang a 1945 Date Touch to mark 60 years since the end of the war, and in January 2006 we rang an 1881 Date Touch to mark 150 years since the founding of the Oxford Diocesan Guild of Church Bell Ringers.

There are no standard compositions for Date Touches, because this year’s length has never been needed before. So if you want to ring one, you normally have to compose one first. Most years the composition is complicated by the desired length not being a convenient multiple of the block length of which most ringing methods are constructed. Fortunately within the band at All Saints we have the requisite ability to do this.

This year’s performance was very much a collaborative effort, as the team included ringers from Hurst, Sonning, Shiplake, Eversley and Seattle, as well as our own. There is a published record of the performance at: 

John Harrison (January 2013)


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