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In January we have our AGM and the Rector remarked, ‘we do an enormous amount which most people never realise’. I hope in these articles to give you a little better understanding of what it is to be a ringer, what we do, what inspires us and what qualities we need. Some of you may have considered joining us, but what commitment and skill would it need and what satisfaction would you get from it? It goes without saying that ringing the bells to the highest standard, and in particular ringing for services, is why we exist. All the other activities: training, social and competitive events and the considerable organising which goes with them support the team in that aim.
We currently have about sixteen resident ringers of varying ability though our numbers have in the past been as high as twenty five. To start with a few basics: we have eight bells and it takes one ringer to ring each bell. Normally there are more than eight of us present and the ringers change round between ‘touches’. Most touches we ring for services last between five and ten minutes. You have probably noticed that we stop and start again from time to time. Now you know why? Changing the band between touches adds variety and allows a mixture of more advanced methods with simpler ones in which the less expert ringers can make a useful contribution.
We try to make the last touch, the ‘service touch’, a little bit better than the others and at the end of Sunday evening ringing, we normally ‘ring down’ which is rather different and leaves the bells in their safe position.
On Sundays we ring at 8.50 for the 9.30 service, at 5.50 for 6.30, and for baptisms, Christingle etc as required. We also ring for special mid week services such as Ascension day and Ash Wednesday and for weddings which seem to come in ever greater numbers, often three in a day. We practice on Monday evenings. All this amounts to a lot of (wo)man hours.
Having more ringers than bells is essential to cover absences. Every one has to have a holiday or make the occasional business trip, but as a general rule, ringers are expected to attend as nearly as possible on all occasions. Turning up twice on Sunday when most people come only once may seem a bit of a chore, but it is all part of the service.
Unlike Sunday ringing which is free, wedding couples do pay for the bells to be rung.
So what do you need to be a ringer? What you don’t need is huge strength. Most bells can be rung by most people with only modest effort. In fact, one of the commonest errors among the less proficient is using excessive force. You can’t develop a sensitivity for the rhythm of the bell if you heave on the rope as though you were trying to pull it out of the tower.
What really does matter is the ability to apply modest effort accurately, rhythmically and consistently. The physical coordination involved has to be developed. And although it is different, it is probably no harder than that needed in say tennis, golf, cycling ,dancing or drumming. (Not all at once, of course!)
”Don’t you get carried up to the ceiling?” You can’t imagine how often people ask this when they first meet a ringer, or how irritated it makes us. Of course, it has happened, just as people have rolled over cliff edges when their car hand brakes have failed, but I have never seen either. Proper handling makes it virtually impossible. The tiny risk is probably more than offset by the beneficial effects of keeping a little fitter through walking upstairs and lifting your arms up and down several thousand times a week!
Do ringers need to be musical? That is a more difficult one to answer. Certainly many are, and a good sense of rhythm is essential to ring well, but a good ear for pitch or melody is not. You must be able to listen accurately, detect rhythmic errors, determine whether you or someone else is out of time, and adjust your rhythm accordingly. A musician would recognise his own bell by its note, but most people, being on the end of the rope, find they know when their bell will strike and this works just as well.
‘Ropesight’ is another much revered skill. There is a lot of mystique surrounding this, but what it boils down to is being able to see where your bell fits in with the others by observing the movement of the ropes. It is a bit like road sense. You tend to acquire it without realising it, and it makes you feel a lot more confident you know what you are doing.
Paradoxically, some ringers rely too much on ropesight, to the exclusion of proper listening. Our sense of vision is so highly developed that we tend to rely too much on it. It can be very tempting to ring by following the ropes, but this invariably leads to worse striking. Ropesight is good for seeing your way through the changes, but not for accurate striking. That requires rhythm and listening. There are good blind fingers but no good deaf ones! How long does it take to learn? That varies enormously depending on: how much teaching is provided initially, how much time is available to ring with other ringers, how much effort the trainee puts in, and of course ability. More man hours go into. training a ringer than into any comparable skill based activity, and it is all provided free.
Many trainees, alas, fall by the wayside’ before becoming fully proficient. If only we had some way of selecting the ones who will stick, far more time could be devoted to them with correspondingly greater rewards.
If you feel that you would make a ringer having read what it is all about, please contact me to discuss it.
John Harrison (Feb 1989)
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