General articles

Peals, Methods and Motion (D)

by Peter Niblett

Earlier this year (p.281) I gave notice that the Methods Committee would be proposing some changes to the requirements relating to Peals and Methods at this year’s CC meeting. You can see this as Motion (D) on the agenda for this year’s Central Council Meeting. This proposal has provoked a fair bit of correspondence in the last two editions of The Ringing World, and is also mentioned in the thoughtful article by John Harrison that appears on pp.489-490.

In this article I will explain the background that led to the motion and attempt to explain the motion and its effects if passed. I will then address some of the comments that have been raised. At the outset, though, I would like to make two general comments:

I share John Harrison’s view that the CC Decisions should be descriptive rather than prescriptive. It important that we have shared definitions of what a peal or a method is, but the existence of these Decisions should not act as a bar to innovation by appearing to restrict what ringers feel they can ring.

There are more serious issues facing the future of ringing, and we should keep this a sense of perspective when discussing this one. I would not like the 2014 CC meeting to be remembered for a long and unproductive debate on technical details that have little bearing on the vast majority of ringers.

Background

As currently formulated, the CC Decision (D) describes what we mean by a Peal and Decision (E) describes what we mean by a Method or Call. The two are linked as (D)A.11 requires peals to be composed out of methods. At the time the Decisions were first formulated, this simply reflected current practice.

When peal ringing started, peals were composed out of single methods, using calls to achieve lengths that are longer than the natural plain course of the method. In the 20th century peals of Spliced became popular, and to begin with these were composed using leads of methods that had already been rung. Composers of Spliced then started introducing blocks of changes into their compositions which weren’t leads of methods that had previously been rung. To begin with this didn’t cause any difficulties, as what they were adding were leads of ordinary methods, as described by Decision (E), and these methods could be (and often were) rung in peals by themselves. However around the turn of the millennium innovative composers started to produce compositions (in particular peals of Maximus with cyclic part-ends) that used blocks of changes which couldn’t naturally be expressed as leads of conventional methods.

After much discussion and debate, this situation was addressed in 2002 by adding a number of extensions into Decision (E), to allow these blocks to be viewed as leads of methods, thereby bringing the peals that contained them into compliance with (D)A.11. The vast majority of these new methods (certainly on Major and above) have never been rung except in peals of Spliced.

This accommodation lasted for a while, but as I explained my letter on p.281, the compositions used in peals at Cambridge on 22nd November 2012 (see www.bb.ringingworld.co.uk/comp.php?id=1369) and at Shoreditch on 2nd Februrary 2014 (see www.bb.ringingworld.co.uk/comp.php?id=481961) contain blocks of changes which yet again don’t work as leads of methods as described by Decision (E).

One of the blocks used (called “Top Little Hybrid”) had 10 hunt bells and is the subject of our, apparently uncontroversial, sister Motion (E). However three of the blocks used (“Strange Differential”, “Bottom Differential” and “Meson Differential Little Hybrid”) run false immediately if, viewed as plain leads of methods, you were to attempt to ring two consecutive leads of any of them.

As I stated in my letter all these blocks could be viewed as called leads of methods but the composer, David Pipe, felt that that would misrepresent the true nature of the compositions, and we respect this view.

Motion (D)

Our remit in proposing this motion was to bring the Compositions used at Cambridge and Shoreditch into compliance with CC Decisions. However we have tried to go further than that, along the lines that John Harrison suggests in his article, and provide a framework that allows a degree of future innovation in peal ringing without us having to continually have to amend the Decisions to catch up with it.

The motion itself is quite wordy, but its essential details are:

  • To remove the requirement that peals are composed exclusively out of methods, by allowing the use of any block or sequence of changes within a peal, subject to the existing requirements on the truth of the composition.
  • To provide a mechanism for these blocks of changes to be named, so as to allow compositions that use them to be described succinctly.
  • To keep the definition of a method unchanged, so in particular a method is still required to have a true plain course.

It are also proposes a bit of technical restructuring of the Decisions, so that if passed, (E) will just contain the description of Methods, whereas today it describes both methods and calls. The description of calls will move to a new Decision (J), and a new Decision (I) will provide the mechanism for naming the new blocks of changes.

We are also proposing a slight relaxation of the definition of a call. At present a call is required to take you into a different course of the method in which it occurs and is not allowed to jump you to a different part of the same course. Such a restriction makes no sense when you are ringing blocks of changes rather than courses of methods, and we are proposing to remove it entirely including in cases where calls are used in conventional methods.

This motion does not attempt to remove other restrictions on peals, for example it does not allow for jump changes, rows which do not include all the bells, peals which don’t begin and end in rounds or peals where a row is repeated immediately, with all bells lying still.

The correspondence

I will now summarise and respond to the main points raised in the letters on p.465 and pp.490-1.

Matthew Sorell suggests that we should formulate the decisions to be a framework which supports innovation in ringing while retaining the conventions that have been built up over more than a century by deleting (D)A.11 and replacing it with appropriate housekeeping. That is in essence what Motion (D) proposes, although if we were simply to delete (D)A.11 we would lose the ability to describe the contents of compositions that did not contain methods.

Peter Scott observes that this change would allow peals in which bells (in his example 6-10 in a peal of Royal) lie still for long periods. This is true, and it illustrates the prescription vs. description debate. If such things were to become popular, I would say that it’s not the role of the Central Council to prevent them.

Don Morrison and Graham John have pointed out that Strange, Bottom and Meson could be classified as methods if we were to modify Decision (E) to allow methods that are false in their plain course, and argue eloquently for this approach. This is something that we did consider, however:

  • The idea of a method being true in its place course has been there since the very start of method ringing, and to some could be considered the definition of what is a method.
  • When included in peals of Spliced, these blocks of changes are really being used just as that. They aren’t intended ever to be rung as conventional methods, and it is unnatural to have to pretend that they are. It’s not clear to me that ringers really want to have to apply method classification mechanisms to these blocks, for example the “Meson Block” is a more straightforward description than “Meson Differential Little Hybrid”.
  • This approach is more flexible as it allows compliant peals to contain other kinds of innovation in the future, such as the sort described by Peter Scott – whether we think that particular idea is good or not. To modify Decision (E) would be to continue the approach of patching it up to try and catch up with current practice.

I realise that this is a controversial area, that the question of “what ringers think they are ringing” is always somewhat subjective, and that what we are proposing is a compromise between making minimal changes to the existing structure and doing a complete re-write of the Decisions. As such it runs the risk of pleasing no-one but that’s the nature of compromise, and so I would be naïve if I didn’t expect some criticism along the way.

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