Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Just popping in!

Just dropping you all a brief note. I got really sick last month and have had a little minor but uncomfortable surgery. I'm doing well, but I'm not climbing tower staircases or pulling ropes for a bit. I'm definitely on the mend and will be back with you as soon as I'm back in action.

Thanks for your understanding, it should not be too long. My first post back will undoubtedly be on how much I am missing ringing and all my ringing friends!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Time Out!

I am betrayed. The 6, my oldest friend, with whom I took my first baby steps in ringing, clearly doesn't like me.

It feels that way. I can't seem to ever find my stroke with her, she jumps over the balance with the lightest overpull and will not settle for me. First I thought it was just me, but today I rang the 5 successfully for the second time and I have no problem with the tenor, so clearly, this is personal.

Now I know that it is undoubtedly a combination of the draft, the wheel size and the weight of the bell. I know that this bell is not oddstruck like our eight, so there is no intrinsic reason for the disparity in tail and head stroke. But ringing the 6 is like a test of wills, and she is clearly as stubborn as I am.

I have news for you, 6. The 5 likes me just fine. She is right next to you, and I can move her and stand her on tail stroke like it was nothing. The 5 is a nice, cooperative bell. You, dear 6, have an attitude problem. So I'm putting you in time out. I'll just be checking back in a few months to see if you aren't more charitably inclined towards me. I suggest you take this time to think over what I have said. Getting your rope all in a twist won't solve anything. I am willing to give you another chance when you are ready to be a good bell.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Ringing Weekend!

Wow, I think 4 days later I may have rested up enough after this past weekend. And what a weekend it was! The Baldwins and the Penneys came to visit from England, and folks turned up from South Carolina to Birmingham to come and ring at St. Lukes. I met lots of wonderful people and made some significant progress in my ringing.

I volunteered to do refreshments. I thought it would be a good idea, given that I am still too new to be involved in most of the ringing. Between sets of Lincolnshire/Cambridge there was still plenty of time for me to ring, and lots of folks to ring with. Dr. Bill, Rosalie and Dave came down from South Carolina, Ted came over from B'ham, loads of Marietta ringers were there, the visitors from across the pond and our band made like eighty bajillion ringers. I may be missing folks, there were so many people! Our ringing room is pretty big, so standing room only is quite a thing to see. Most of the morning Dr. Bill kept me entertained, then I was called to ring tenor on 8 as on Friday. And that was where I started.

Sneaky Lyn then called two other ringers to take hold and suddenly I was tenoring on 10. 10! And let me tell you, that's a trip. You can't count that fast, so you just have to get in a groove and do your best. The ringing is slower than on 8, but your striking window narrows considerably. I didn't embarrass myself, and I consider that alone quite an accomplishment.

Later in the day after everyone else rang many more touches of Lincolnshire I had the opportunity to learn to move the tenor around. And let me tell you what. Ask me to move a Volkswagen around, will you? Fine. I did it, but not well, and as the weekend progressed and I had more practice at it I got a smidgen better, but I still have lots of work to do to master that. See, the tenor can't just be hauled about. You have to set up the changes ahead of time for them to go well, and although I knew that intellectually, when time came for me to move I totally forgot all that. And it isn't nearly as important for holding up (ringing slower) as it is for cutting in (to ring faster). The more I practiced the better I got at remembering about the set up. Unfortunately that doesn't guarantee that I can do it yet. But remembering to try is half the battle.

I have to say here that the Baldwins and the Penneys were real troopers. Especially Roger Baldwin. This is Roger:
and his lovely wife Kathleen, who has over 1000 handbell peals to her credit and is an amazing coach (and a hoot!). Roger spent lots of time working with me for which I am forever grateful. He conducted lots of the touches and rang and rang and rang all 3 days. With a terrible cold, poor man. That's dedication. It is tough to be away from home (much less in another country) and feel ill. Do not ask me how I know this. Suffice it to say that I was very impressed by the good attitudes both Roger and Kathleen maintained, even through trials. I learned so much from them. Along with Roger, Gerald Penney and his wife Janet were nonstop ringers. Gerald conducted as well, and Janet was unflagging. Janet is really lovely. I really wish we all didn't live so far away. I would like to have more of these folks in my life and in my ringing. I must confess that I am quite taken with the Penneys and the Baldwins, and I really hope I will have the chance to visit them in the future.

Oh, and Roger, you left something here when you returned home. But it's ok, I've got it. Please send man-sized balsam Kleenex, Love, Alma.

Now, let me tell you about Sunday. Sunday started with service ringing and quickly progressed to an exercise I initially thought was really strange, but was actually really useful.
Practicing hunting on non-existant handbells. But it works! Fist up to shoulder for sally stroke, lowered for tail stroke. Gerald Penney (standing next to me here) told us how he and some of his school chums used to practice Grandsire and other methods in the school yard long before any of them ever rang a real bell. I just think that's amazing. At my grammar school all we did was jump rope and play kickball. I feel cheated. But now that I know how to do this simple exercise I want to do it a lot. It got me used to interacting with the other ringers properly and understanding the flow of that interaction without having to worry about the bell handling and striking aspects. Which you will soon see is good for me.

So Roger put me on the treble and had me start making places with Sawyer while Lyn and Judith rang 3rd and 4th place bells. When I could do that without being too off, he called us to ring Bastow, which is a little method, but folks, it's a method. I rang a method! Did I mention Bastow is a method? OMGOMGOMGeleventyjillion! Infinity! Aaaaaaaaa............ !!!

In Bastow, all the treble has to do is make places. Sweet! Everyone else does a conga line type maneuver down to the treble and back up, so everytime treble makes places it's with a different bell! And it's a method!

OK, OK, then, then after that, I practiced dodging with Sawyer. Which I was really stinking at, but, hey, not totally falling apart. Still, not too good. Then Roger calls, "Go plain hunt on four"! And he was talking to me! Here we go again, folks, Plain Hunt!!!!! On four!!!!!!!! Aaaaaaaaaa...

It would be good to note about now that this is what I was referring to above when I said that hunting on hands and not actual bells is better. For me.
Because apparently I am all about the hunting out, and not at all about the hunting in. But we all gotta have goals, so it's all good.

So there's the wrap up on the Ringing Weekend, from my perspective. Which is decidedly a limited view, but I thought it was wonderful. Made new friends, made ringing progress, missed our Bill, and our Sam, and Tommy, but all the same I'm giving this one two thumbs up. With charming visitors like these, you don't really want the weekend to end.

Friday, April 17, 2009

For Whom the Bell Tolls

Today we rang for a funeral. Aside from service ringing, this is the first event ringing I have been involved in. I did not toll for the deceased, Bill did, but I ticked off each slow stroke on the whiteboard in the ringing room, helping him keep correct count. It was somber and strange. It was moving. It was every bit what I had expected it would be. Until after, when 8 of us took hold and proceeded to ring a very joyful sounding 20 minutes or so of Grandsire, Bob Triples and assorted call changes. I didn't expect that.

But it makes a certain sense. Toll the years; the deceased has earned that solemn salute. Then, celebrate the life lived. Today, I really feel proud to be a bell ringer.

Just last Sunday we rang a resurrection. Early in the morning, just before dawn with the lights off in the tower we rang the first joyful tones we had rung since before Lent started. It was energizing to be a part of it, and it really brought home to me how important we ringers are. So often as we work on our methods it is almost like we are only in this for ourselves. But as we rang the Easter services in and out I could really tell how the integration of bells with the liturgy really created a special experience for the congregation.

After the funeral ringing we had a bit of practice. Two lovely couples have come to visit from Great Britain, and we will be ringing with them all day tomorrow as well. I am tenoring acceptably on 8 bells, which is a big jump for me. I have previously rung on 5, 6 and not too well on 7, so I wasn't even sure I could count to eight, but apparently it is not out of the question for me. Which is kind of amazing.

I still benefit from Sheila's coaching. Sheila and Mike came over from GB to visit us about a month or so ago, delightful people who, amongst other things, taught me the correct way to pronounce Chiddingly. I was fortunate to make the practice when they were in visiting, and Sheila will always be the angel on my shoulder exhorting me to "nice, long strokes" whenever I start to lose it. She was definitely there this evening helping me get to eight.

And if you want to know, it is "Chidding-lye"

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Tenor Banger

So I am concentrating on tenoring right now. It has been extremely satisfying so far. I have been concentrating on perfecting striking and keeping an even time, and I think I am getting it. The interesting thing that is happening is that when you remove the responsibility of moving a bell and just ring constantly in the same place you really learn all about the stroke and begin to understand exactly where your bell is and what it takes to keep it there.

It would be much easier if I could see my bell as I ring it. But one of the challenges a ringer has is that you don't get to see your instrument, you play it remotely via your rope. So you are functionally blind to your instrument, and (except for ropesight, which I am learning has limited usefulness) I don't miss it a bit. It is like I am developing a dialogue with my bell by learning to understand what the rope is telling me. Each portion of the stroke has its own limitations, and its own advantages, and learning these really helps develop control and striking. I can learn a lot by carefully listening with my ears and with my hands. The most important thing I've learned so far is when to stop overanalyzing a fraction of the stroke and just ring, and when it's time to listen particularly to a problem area. I don't always know how to respond, but I'm starting to have a better idea of what it is telling me.

How many times did Anne Sullivan have to make the sign for water into Helen Kellers' hand before she connected the "word" with the feeling of the cold liquid rushing over her hand and understood that language was happening? How much longer did it take for her to understand the ramifications of what language is and its usefulness in communication? It is very much like that, feeling the rope go slack at the wrong times and understanding that I have either anticipated a stroke or allowed the bell to fall without controlling my rope. Understanding the potential energy when the bell "floats" between swings, and how that is different from standing the bell on its head at balance and how that will affect timing and striking. Where one is more useful than the other and vice versa. Feeling my rope sign to my hand the answers to the questions of my learners' stroke.

Tenoring also allows me to get a bit zen with it. Finding a rhythm, finding the physical input to maintain it, then repeating the motions over and over; remembering to complete all the steps of rope handling to their fullest. Tail stroke long, long, then snap. Catch the sally, let it rise but not too much, throw it back to the floor and don't forget to let go (or the bell reminds you by tearing it from your grasp) and be ready for the tailstroke. Keeping all the motions complete, smooth, it becomes a form of meditation. Hearing changes called but knowing I won't be affected by them, I let them flow over me and begin to integrate them on a much deeper level than before. If the ringer achieves good form, good striking will happen. Don't try to force it, don't try to control striking, just mind the rope and it comes. Before you know it, I am one with the bell and the striking is good. Then, and only then, I notice that I'm ringing well with the band, but I let that pass by as well refusing the distraction. I'm not looking at ropes, mine or anyone elses - I'm not looking at anything in particular. Through peripheral vision, it is all coming in, but in a gentle wash, rhythmically, like ocean waves against the shore. See? Told you I go all zen.

But that's it, isn't it? If you're going to ring the bell in the same place for 15 minutes straight or for 15 hours, it doesn't matter, does it? It is all joy, even in the lenten tones we play during this season. It is a sonic communication with God; as His agent, to His people, calling them to prayer; with the other ringers, in companionship; with the bells themselves, helping them express themselves, proclaiming with every tone the messages of their inscriptions, the intention of their makers, their memory of those who rang them before you. There is a richness to ringing tenor, a contemplative sort of prayer which could be lost in all the physical effort and mental busyness of method ringing. I won't be satisfied with it forever, but for now I am glad I can experience it.

One of the reasons I write this is because I am, as you know, journaling my thoughts on ringing as I learn, sharing them with my family and with my friends who are interested in ringing. But also because I know that in some towers tenor ringers, people who never ring anything but tenor and that for their entire ringing careers, are sometimes looked down on. They have been referred to as lacking something because they never want to move the bell around or try method ringing. Maybe, though, just maybe, they are tenoring not from a lack of drive, but from a deeper appreciation of tenoring than you may have developed. I don't know. What I do know is what I have found. And because of it, I know that I will always enjoy tenoring and will never see it as onerous or lacking in challenge.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Worrying about all the wrong things......

This post is going to start with knitting. Yes, I know I have a knitting blog and all, but it really belongs here right now. You'll see. I get around to ringing. It works, too. Trust me.

There is this cast on I have been fighting for over a year. It should be really simple, but it has utterly eluded me. For round shawls, you start by making a loop with the yarn in one hand (not even a knot!) and then you loop back and forth with your needle to pick up your stitches for the cast on. Then, you pull your yarn end and the whole thing tightens up to a perfect little circular cast on, no muss no fuss. There are step by step pictures available on the internet and everything. And last summer, when I decided to cast on for my first circular shawl, I fought this fiddly maneuver countless times before giving up and using another, less perfect cast on. I mean, fought, too. Consulting the website, mimicking the needle path for the wraps, making sure the yarn was draping over my hand just so...

So today when I decided to cast on for another shawl that I am really excited about and clicked the link provided on the pattern for the cast on and was directed to the very same website, my feeling of defeat before I even started was intense and even physical - I felt like all my innards dropped a bit. You know, it's what they call that sinking feeling.

Why, then did I see today what all my careful scrutiny of last year did not reveal even through physical experimentation? I was focusing on entirely the wrong thing. I was focusing on the movement of the needle illustrated and not even thinking about what I was trying to accomplish - casting on! Meaning, that once cast on, my stitches should sit on the needle just as they would with any other cast on, facing the same way and ready to knit. So I sat down now with the goal on getting the yarn on the needle in the correct orientation regardless of what machinations the needle would go through, and got it on the first try.

This is usually where people would type "facepalm".

Except that I had a brainwave right then about my ringing (see? I told you we'd get to it!), so no smacking myself in the head.

I have been focusing on almost all the wrong things with my ringing! To be fair to myself and to those good people I ring with who are teaching me, it really is something I had to figure out for myself, and being as new to ringing as I am, I'm hardly late getting around to it.

In ringing with others I had become so focused on starting well that I had completely disregarded why we ring rounds to start. Not that poor starting is excusable, but before we were to the second pass of rounds I would start in beating up on myself if I wasn't perfect. Not that everyone else didn't need several more rounds of rounds (how do you say that?) to get their timing straight, but I was all tunnel vision when it came to ringing.

I was also coming down with a bad case of method madness. In my new found ability to move places with my bell, I lived in happy anticipation of Plain Hunt, after which I would learn to treble for treble bob methods and then Kent and Oxford would be mine, all mine! (insert maniacal laughter here) Then Stedman, and then who knows?

Focusing on methods when I still can't reliably tenor may have been a tad foolish on my part, but close proximity to more experienced ringers who are able to focus more on methods and less on basic technique has undoubtedly influenced me a bit. But I was at once putting pressure on myself even as I was enjoying the mental challenge, and I didn't really need that right now. I had already realized that I need lots more practice with basic ringing, and the relief I felt at letting method madness go for now really told me it was the right thing to do.

Last Thursday at practice I found myself feeling a little blue that I seemed to have hit a plateau. That night we had 4 visitors to the tower, and while answering a question for one of them I realized that what I was telling her was at complete odds with my feelings of stagnation. It was then I realized that there are no plateaus, just times for different kinds of learning. Some are so internal that I don't recognize them as learning, yet they still build on my base of experience and therefore qualify as learning, leaving me with no other alternative than to accept it. Which is hard. We are taught about plateaus in life, whether in dieting, where you get to a weight you just can't seem to get past, or in exercise, where your body seems to have adapted to an activity level and no longer responds to it positively. There are many other expressions of plateau we accept without question in our lives, and we usually have negative associations with them. Like the term "in a rut" or when you're "going nowhere" in a job or a relationship. We are taught that once you hit a plateau the only thing for it is to get out of it and the usual remedy is to change your relationship with the activity (or person) until you get a better result. The one thing we never think to do is embrace the plateau. Maybe, though, there are no plateaus at all, just a challenge to accept those moments and try to percieve what different types of progress we are making.

The thing about discovering you've been worrying about all the wrong things is that it begins a process of elimination of unprofitable activity. I now have that many fewer things to carry into the tower with me, freeing space up in my mind and body for new information. I must remind myself that there is still plenty of time in my ringing career to worry about all that other stuff, and when I finally get to those issues again I may be more prepared to deal with them in a positive and fruitful way. I just need to relax and reconnect with my inner sponge and soak up as much as I can for where I am now.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Unopposed flexors

I have had real trouble with tendonitis since I started ringing. I haven't spoken of it here, mostly because I would have just been whining about it, but now that I have real information I figured I'd share it.

About the time I began handling the sally I started having a tough time with sore knuckles in my right hand. By the time I began raising and lowering it had progressed to real pain. The kind that woke me up several times a night with my hand so stiff I had to use my other hand to bend my fingers into a closed fist and open and close my hand until it loosened up enough that I could sleep again. Until it woke me up again. And again.

I had mentioned it to my primary care doc during my last physical, and explained the movements of bellringing and how and when the pain would hit. He did not seem concerned, and said my hands were just adjusting to the new activity. I kept ringing, and worked myself up into such a state that I decided to stop ringing until the pain stopped. At that point, both hands were hurting, my sleep was seriously disrupted, and I was having problems all day long. So I went two weeks without ringing, and since my hands were getting better I decided to ring a little at our last Thursday night practice. Everything was going ok until I overpulled a tail stroke and tried to correct on the next handstroke, and BAM!. Lyn watched me ring and tried to help me identify where I was going wrong, but I was so worried about feeling pain, my ringing was really crap. By Sunday morning my right hand was killing me and my husband was getting aggravated with me because I was insisting I could go to the tower and not ring (and we both knew that was complete bullshit), so I grudgingly called out, but I have been really worried that I ultimately would have to give up ringing.

So this morning when I had to get some bloodwork drawn, I took advantage of the situation and readdressed the problem with my doctor and I think we have it licked. This, and the way I handle it, is not the culprit:
And while the pain is in my knuckles, it is because of the flexor tendons constantly working to grasp,

while the extensors are not getting any workout from the activity of bellringing.

So therein lies the problem and the solution. The beauty of it is that I don't have to stop ringing! And being an official word from my doc, even the hub can't object! (Which he only does out of a loving concern, so I don't really mind) What I DO have to do is stretch those flexors and contract the extensors right after ringing, everytime I ring. Because unopposed flexors are a bad thing.

Good. Now I can stop talking about it and just ring. I just figured I'd put it out there for anyone else who might come across this problem in their tower. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go work out my extensors so I can ring like a maniac again!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Hunting Season

Today I received permission to set my own bell. In my tower, this is a right of passage. Permission is granted when the ringing master determines a learner's skill has reached the point where they can be trusted to handle bells without further close supervision, and are ready to handle the responsibilities of being a learner on their own.

So today after the first round of service ringing when the conductor called us to stand - I did!


Yesterday morning I went to practice at my tower, and did a respectable job of tenoring for a method, I think it was St. Simons or maybe St. Martin's. I don't remember, I was just keeping time while everyone else rang the method. And it was fun. Really fun. Then I had a chance to lead rounds and some call changes. Well, I thought I was being asked to lead because I knew I had made errors in tenoring and maybe the ringing master was trying to find something else I might do better, but I should know better than to listen to my inner monologue. It's a paranoid and neurotic product of Catholic Schools, whose first response to almost anything is Mea Culpa. Anyway, I said the magic words:
Look to which means ok, everyone, pay attention, we're about to ring,
Treble's going which means get your bell to the balance and get ready to pull off, then,
Treble's gone as the bell comes over and the rest of the band cascades into place after you, into rounds.

Now, there is this thing you do in ringing called the "handstroke gap". Everyone does it all the time anyway, it's just how you ring. You pull the sally, the rope goes up, then you pull the tail, it comes down and you catch the sally. There is a little pause right there, before you pull the sally down again, and that is the handstroke gap. When you don't have that little gap in timing after that second stroke you end up with this continuous ringing, called cartwheeling by some, which can be a real problem sometimes but is always technically incorrect. If you ring by ear at all, it makes it really tough to know where you are, and it plays merry hell with timing. And if you're ringing call changes, it can make lots of different bell combinations sound indistinguishable from each other. But when you ring it is the most natural thing in the world to have that little gap, and it is what you want to achieve especially when you are ringing lead.

I have been told that some people find it difficult to establish and maintain the handstroke gap and don't lead well, or just don't like leading. But nobody told me it was difficult before I was asked to do it, so not knowing any better I just did it. Oh, it was off at first, but then I realized that no matter where in the order I rang it was how I had always rung, so then it fell into place. If you don't tell me something is difficult and it truly is, I will find out for myself shortly. But if something is difficult and you tell me, chances are it will be, whether it truly is or you just think it is. It is pretty cool to find out whether you can do something or not without having pre-conceived notions affecting you. I will have to remember when the time comes for me to pass my knowledge on to another learner not to burden them with my prejudices or limit them before they show me what they can do. I'll be a better teacher one day for it.

So today after receiving permission to set, I wanted to try moving my bell around. That means changing places with another bell. It is called lots of things, depending on how you do it. Dodging is when 2 bells swap places every round. For example, here, 1 and 2 are dodging.
123456 (rounds)
123456 (rounds)

Making places is the same move, but carried out for two strokes before changing.
123456 (rounds)
123456 (rounds)
123456 (rounds)
123456 (rounds)
3 and 4 just made places.

If you move a bell back and forth, that's called hunting. Let's hunt to the back with the 1.
123456 (rounds)
and you see that as the 1 moves down the line, other bells have to move out of the way.

Then you go Plain Hunting, a method where all the bells hunt.
123456 (rounds)
654321 (back rounds)
123456 (rounds)

I see it as a weaving of bells. Only the bells don't physically move, their "places" move. I am working on moving bells one at a time now, so one day soon I can go hunting. It is about the only kind of hunting that appeals to me, as it involves none of the following:

Waking up at 2 in the morning
Dressing in camo
Freezing your keester off in a blind for hours
Killing critters (well, I fish, so killing critters with legs, I suppose)
Any product called "Doe in Rut"

Monday, February 2, 2009

Abel Enabled!

Now I am truly dangerous. My copy of Abel came today. For those of you who don't know what that is, it is a ringing simulator for Windows. It can be set up for tower use or personal use. They are working on a Mac version called Mabel which is supposed to be out sometime this year. Check out the website.

Tsarina, this might be perfect for you if you want have fun playing with some methods or call changes. Next best thing perhaps?

Gotta go play now.

Friday, January 30, 2009

What If?

Last night at practice I found myself once again in a frustrating place. I have had enough exposure to experienced ringers to see how they ring and all that did was outline intimately how far I am from that level of ringing. Nothing comes with ease, there is no fluidity, no relaxation in my ringing. There is plenty cutting short of full strokes and turtleing up. No gentle rise and fall of the rope, just overpull and check. And once in a while, that fleeting knowledge that that last thing I did just there, that was perfect, but I don't know exactly what I did or how to repeat it.

Now, as a learner, there is an assumption that, well, you're going to suck. And in bellringing, the warning you will get from the start is that it may well be a very long time before you don't, so don't get discouraged or try to rush yourself. Now, this may be true, and it may be fair warning, but your subconscious can really run wild with that, and before you know it you are perfectly happy to be doing poorly because you have given yourself a pass on having to be responsible for improvement. You don't have to be good, you're a learner. No one expects you to make great progress, so why beat yourself up over it too much?

It is clear that our minds can affect our bodies. Modern medicine grudgingly admits that mental state can negatively affect health. People suffering mental stress, anxiety or depression are more likely to succumb to infections they might have otherwise have fought off. They take longer to heal. Some research even suggests that there may be a mental or emotional component to some cancers.

What about the other side of the coin? The medical community is even less willing to admit to the positive power of the mind on the body, but how many times have you heard of breakthroughs in healing due to mood enhancing therapies and positive imagery?

Where I'm going with all this is that the other day I had a thought: what if I just went to the tower and rang as if I already could? What if I parrotted the experienced ringers who moved with ease and confidence? What could I do if I pretended to be one of them, stopped thinking about how to ring and just rang? So I tried it.

Um, it worked.

Not 100%, mind you, but it sure took my ringing up a notch or two. I rang rounds pretty darned well on 5, 6 and 7 bells, and I think it worked because I stopped consciously trying to remember all the stuff I was supposed to do and just did it instead. Hot damn, I think I may be on to something here!

I'm also not saying there wasn't vast room for improvement, that my rope handling was perfect and that my striking was spot on, but I was really ringing with the band instead of generally around them, which is where I have been.

The greatest compliment I got that evening was when I went to where my husband was sitting and reading while practice was going on and asked him if he had heard me ringing so well. He apologized because he didn't hear when I was ringing! And that, folks, is what its all about.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

In Which I Get Ahead of Myself

Janice's comment on my last post made me realize that I need to do a basic bell intro here. I got a much better graphic than I can make from the Central Council website.

This is how a bell normally hangs. For change ringing you start with the bell "mouth" up. Hence the raising. Now, as you ring, the stay swings around with the bell, and comes into contact with the slider, which slides (duh!) to the end of the runner board. The next swing of the bell brings the other side of the stay into contact with the other side of the slider, sliding it over to the other side of the runner. The slider will only go so far, and when it is at its farthest, the bell is over the balance. Setting a bell means gently bringing the bell over the balance fully, leaving the bell mouth up, stay against slider at the end of its path. Stays are made of ash, just like baseball bats, and the reason is that ash will break if necessary, sacrificing itself to save more important parts of the structure. Sliders are made of oak, and are not meant to break. Overpulling can cause you to bang the stay against the slider, and banging the stay can result in broken stays. But as with so many things in life, just because you can doesn't mean you should. So you try not to bang the stay and try to learn to ring without breaking any. Here is a good page with animations of bells ringing so you get an even better idea of how it works. The middle link in the top row called "swing bell" particularly illustrates the action of the stay on the slider.

Ok, so the video below is of me raising a bell. Starting from the raised or up position means that when the band is ready, ringing can commence immediately. At the beginning of the video, you see me take the tail in my left hand and gently pull the sally. If the bell is indeed down, it will rock gently back and forth, causing the sally to bob up and down like in the video. You never assume the bell is down, so if I pulled and it was up, the bell would "come over", or, start its downswing. So that I am not screwed at that point, I have the tail in hand, and can stay in control of the bell. Then I put energy into the bell so it will swing higher and higher until it finally can be set to make it ready for ringing. One day I will learn to "raise in peal". That is when the whole band raises all the bells at once, in order, like rounds but more chaotic.

I hope this helps clarify a few basics for now. I'll try to remember to fill in background info in the future.

In Which I Need To Lose Weight

Just to show how dedicated a blogger I am, I present the following video in which all vanity is abandoned. This is the first time I successfully raised our tenor without help. Mind you, I had just raised the other nine bells, that's what I was practicing, so I was already pooped out when I got to this, the last bell in our ring of 10. I thought I was working this too hard, but it seems I was just raising it quickly.

And to Lyn, I had permission for this practice only to set the bells I raised, so I could practice that as well. But enough with the disclaimers, it's time for the show!

Saturday, January 24, 2009


Today I went to practice in Marietta and redeemed myself. A bit. Lets start at the beginning.

Are we all sitting comfortably? Good.

Ringing a bell is very much like I would imagine having a conversation with Helen Keller would have been. I'm talking now about ringing solo, not with other ringers. That adds a whole new world of sight, sound and anxiety. No, just me and a bell, talking with my hands, being spoken to through my hands.

First comes the gross physical movements. The tail takes you up, you pull it down, catch the sally and let it take you then down it goes as well. Lather, rinse, repeat. You can only get so far on this, even though this much is a lot to learn to do without getting tangled in the rope or, well, getting the person next to you tangled in the rope. I found the balance on the hand stroke and then on the tail stroke. This is where you have rung the bell to where the mouth ends straight back up. With the bell in this position you can leave it a good long while, let it go over and set it, or you can pull it again and keep ringing. It is a great place to know how to get to if you are like me and constantly speed up because you can do big slow down corrections here. And to do this takes practice so that you don't overpull and bang the stay against the slider, so it is an important place to know how to ring to. It is not, however, where you ring to or from most of the time.

Enter floating. This is where when you ring below the balance you maximize the amount of time the bell has to end its upswing before gravity kicks in and the bell moves into its downswing. This is for when you want to ring faster, which is lots of the time, but you still want control. Little slow down corrections. Even minute. Let's abuse a sine wave with my mad grafix skillz.
Where A is the balance (first at hand stroke, then at tail) and B in the middle is mid swing. For this very professional graphic, we are going to go back and forth and back and forth between A's to illustrate as many swings of the bell as you like. If point C is where you need the movement of the bell to end (as in to speed up), you can see that 1) you will have to keep putting energy in to each stroke to keep the bell going back to C or else the bell will fall faster and faster like a pendulum until it comes to rest at point B, and 2) you have to really finesse C for every millisecond you can get out of it. That's the float. Any pressure you put on the rope or the sally will affect it. So we're talking really fine touch. Which I ain't got yet, but I have the idea, therefore I am dangerous, people, dangerous I tell you.

I learned the other day when I was practicing raising that the main key to ringing bells is to handle them as delicately as possible. Let them ring themselves as much as possible, only putting in just the right amount of energy (at the right place) or else you develop the bad tendency to ring through a series of overpulls and ropechecks which completely destroy control and make you work too damn hard. All those Brits who are celebrating their 9 zillionth peals don't get there by making this any harder than they have to.

So there's the bit about floating. I don't even know if it is a true technical bell term or just a description, but for the blog, it's a term I'll use. Meanwhile, I'm tops at making whatever I do harder than it has to be. It's part newbie, part exuberance, part panic and 100% me.

My ringing is getting better. Today I rung a sad and ragged tenor to rounds on 8 bells and a respectable first attempt smack in the middle, 4th bells place in rounds on 6 bells. May not sound like much to those who are composing spliced surprises in their spare time, but for me it is mondo big. Keeping the mental comprehension a few steps ahead of the physical skill acquisition seems to be ideal for progress in ringing. If you already know what you need to do, the doing of it is just a matter of time. Oh, yeah, and practice. Otherwise I'll just be doing the equivalent of screaming at Helen Keller. And I just can't have that.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Crash! The Learning Curve pt 1

I have found stupid. Do you know where that is? It is the place in the learning curve you hit right about the time you think you've got it. Whatever it is. And right after that special moment of triumph, you hit stupid.

When I went back to college after being out of school for 10 years, I had to relearn how to learn. In many respects I had never really learned before; you start out as a little kid and you don't think about it, you don't analyze it, you just do it. Learning is what you are, and all the way through school and into the workplace (at least at first) you are still just doing it, sometimes well, sometimes not, but usually without thinking about the process. So after working for 10 years I went back to school, and there I was forced to pay attention to the process because I had been out of that loop for a decade. Since then I have continued learning, starting Japanese lessons after I hit 40, taking up knitting in 2003, and throughout all these endeavors the process is the same.

In my process I have to encounter the new concept/technique then sleep on it before I get any feel for it. When I next encounter it, my brain or muscles or whatever have some memory of it and I'm better at it and can progress. After a short while I feel like I am gaining some control over the material, and my comfort level increases proportionately. I am then able to successfully apply the material, and my confidence level increases. But before true integration occurs, I start losing it. Everything. Eventually I recover, and at that point I usually achieve a true integration of the material, whatever it is. This happened to me in knitting, and surprised me, because I had forgotten how integral a part of my process this was. Now I'm hitting that point in bell ringing. Even though I shouldn't be surprised, hitting stupid always comes as such a shock. And with the public nature of bellringing it has been particularly humbling.

Several weeks ago at a St. Lukes practice (my tower) I was allowed to attempt ringing rounds. That means bells 1,2,3,4 and 5 ringing in that order, over and over again. Sounds simple, eh? Not so much. But the chance to ring on my own with the band was exhiliarating, and after a few botched attempts, and with good advice to count (I was 5 in that order, so 12345, 12345 is where I had to ring) I actually got it, surprising myself (and, apparently, everyone else). The next Saturday was practice at St. James, and I had high hopes to go there and be all impressive.

Crash, in bell terms, is what happens when one bell rings on top of another bell. I am explaining this now so you will know exactly what I excelled in at that practice. I could not control squat. I had not warmed up (and I am starting to think I need a minimum of about 2 hours warm up before I can ring anything like in my place) and I kept crashing into other bells and got so off that I ended up on a different stroke than everyone else. After which I sat down and listened to the rest of the ringers actually ring. (My initial theory at that point, but which has since been proved wrong, is that there were 6 bells and I can only count to 5) Anyway, matters were not helped by a small scheduling glitch which also had 2 people with Highland pipes practicing in the sanctuary just outside. Not to mention the drummer with the full drum kit who kept noodling on the drums. There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth in that tower that day, and as much as I'd like to blame my crappy ringing on the bagpipes and on the guy who thought he was John Bonham, it was honestly me just hitting the stupid portion of my learning curve.

So much for being all impressive.

I like to look at it this way, though. I am progressing. It is a process, and I'm in it, and I have to accept every stage of it, even the embarrassing parts, otherwise what will I have learned from them? That I suck? I don't, I'm just riding the low point of that curve at the moment. I am on the verge of integration. But I have to admit: bagpipes? They do not help.

And so, for your viewing and listening pleasure, here is a short movie from that practice. You will thank me to know I am not ringing in this one, this is some real change ringing. The method was Oxford, and this is what is referred to as a short touch. I'll get all technical and chatty about that later. See if you can hear the bagpipes cut in. Or rather, see if you can hear all the bells through the bagpipes cutting in. Fun!

A Short Touch of Oxford Minor

Ringing in the New President

New York's Trinity Church will make a peal attempt in honor of the inauguration of President Barak Obama today. There was a brief spot on NPR yesterday, and I've put the link below. I'm working on raising and lowering, but I'm at work today, so more tomorrow.

Meanwhile, listen.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Great Feature on Change Ringing

The folks at FLYP and the Washington Ringing Society have put together an awesome production. Check it out.

Change You Can Hear

And coming soon: yet another way in which bagpipes can be annoying. Enjoy!

p.s.Tsarina, I forgot to set up comments to email me before you found me so I can't reply, but I promise here and now to do my best to use this blog to make you drool over bells at least as much as you make me drool over your designs.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Finding Balance, or how I stopped worrying and learned to love the box

When I was just starting out learning to ring, I stood on a box. I thought this was because I was short, which I am, and it didn't occur to me that I should not be on a box. Later, I was told to ditch the box because it was time I learned to stretch more. I felt like I had graduated or something, and I proudly stood flat on the floor and let the rope stretch me more and more. This made sense to me, because I'm not the only short woman ringing in my tower, and I had started wondering why I was the only one on a box and felt kind of dorky to be on it.

I had a problem, though. I was just starting to ring alone, that is without my teacher having a hand on the rope at all, just me with him close by. And I was having a tough time controlling my speed. Well, this is not a shock, I'm new to the whole ringing alone thing, and I kinda suck at it in that learning curve way. But I was getting really frustrated because if someone told me to slow down, I couldn't. I could slow my hand stroke, hell, that sucker could sit in the balance all day, but no matter how I tried the whole show went right back out of whack.

Then someone asked me if I was getting to the balance on the tail stroke. Huh? I couldn't ever remember anything that felt like that, so I began letting out rope, and letting out rope, and letting out rope. I ran out of tail, and still didn't have a clue what they were talking about. Surely I was doing it, I had been ringing tail stroke since I began. But you know, I had wondered about the times I had seen ringers setting the bells on the tail stroke. Even though I had never set a bell on the handstroke, I could see how it would be done. I had pulled too hard and felt the bell go over the balance, and I knew if I eased it over at that point the bell would stand and I could walk away. I realized I had never even felt a tail stroke go over, and that was the ticket.

So I am back on the box, and again, I feel like I've graduated or something. I took no time at all to scare the hell out of myself feeling the tail stroke go to the balance point and a bit over (it feels so precarious!), but now I can tell that I will be able to slow both strokes and actually control the bell. The scary feeling is the same feeling I got when I first became responsible for the hand stroke. It's fast and a little out of control, and I get a real sense of potential danger, but I know that I'll get it now because with practice you learn how to work with the bell. And that seems to be the whole trick, doesn't it? I keep having to remind myself of it, but the bell is going to do what it is going to do in the macro, I'm only here to make the micro adjustments.

This time the box doesn't make me feel like a big dork. My height is a fixed thing, and barring weathers' effect on the rope, the rope is a fixed thing as well. If a box is what it is going to take to get me to the next level, I'll embrace it.

Now, just for fun, here is a pic of me with our tenor.