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Ringing – sport or art

Is bellringing a sport or an art? It combines elements of both. It shares with more conventional music the need far a good ear and a sense of rhythm. It shares with many sports, say tennis or golf, the need for good physical coordination and anticipation of movement. Imagine the skills needed for eight people to play a piano, one note each, with the keys weighing several hundredweight and the sound being delayed inside the instrument by about half a bar! Quite a feat. This explains why the ‘music’ which we play is of a more constrained variety.

Where ringing differs from most sports is that it is not normally competitive. Indeed, it is highly co-operative, with the band working very closely together to achieve an accurate rhythm. The bells are rung to the glory of God, as a continual reminder af the presence of the Church, as the continuance of centuries old English tradition and of course for the pleasure and satisfaction which the participants of any art enjoy.

However there is nothing like a dash of competition to put a fine edge an any skill, and most of the ringing Guilds in the country hold annual striking competitions. The objective of these competitions is quite simply to achieve the most accurate ringing possible: to achieve a perfectly even rhythm while the order of the bells continually changes. This may sound an easy task until you remember the analogy with the peculiar piano. Both the Oxford Diocesan Build and the Sunning Deanery Branch to which we belong hold eight bell and six bell competitions every year.

All Saints has for some years entered the local competitions though with unremarkable performance in the early days. Recently, the steady improvement in our own standards has led to our winning both the Deanery competitions, and this fired our determination to go for greater things. Last year we entered the Diocesan eight bell competition and won at our first attempt against bands, many of whom were drawn from whole branches, not individual towers as we were. This year, we returned to defend our position, (at Bicester, not the easiest of bells) and again we were placed first out of eight teams by a nationally renowned judge.

We are naturally proud to have won, and it is a great reward for all the practising we put in, but the greatest satisfaction comes from being able to transfer what we have achieved into our week by week ringing. It will not be perfect; not ail the band are competition ringers, but that brings us back to where we came in. Ringing is a team activity. We all put in according to our ability and we all share the results, both the highlights of success and the routine efforts to ring just a little bit better as we give our service Sunday by Sunday.

John Harrison (May 1986)


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