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.