RW Centenary

First ever change ringing performance on 24 hand bells

The Ringing World’s centenary celebrations on Saturday, 26th March 2011 will include an attempt at some very special ringing never before seen or heard – change ringing on 24 bells.

A touch on 24 handbells will take place in the late afternoon at the Grand Ringers’ Gathering in Central Hall, Westminster, following the Abbey service. It promises to be a spectacular and unique occasion.

The touch is fittingly 100 changes long, specially composed for the occasion, and will take about 7 minutes to ring. Moreover, the composition employs a new musical effect that should create a stunning, captivating musical experience.

Music in ringing

Music in change ringing is an interesting topic that can provoke a lot of debate. On lower numbers such as six bells, ringing “music” tends to be thought of in terms of individual pretty changes like Queens (135246) or “roll-ups” of consecutive bells (eg 234561). As we increase the number of bells to Major, Royal and beyond, composers typically try hard to maximise the number of roll-ups in their compositions.

On “higher numbers” – 12 bells and above – very different types of music can come into play. The sound of groups of bells moving around together – hunting as a pack, if you will – becomes much more apparent.

Turning back to lower numbers, a fixed cover-bell in well-struck Doubles can provide a pleasant musical structure to a touch. When listening, you can simply be drawn to the rhythmic regularity of this single bell, and everything else just beautifully blends in around it. In a similar way, listening to a group of bells “coursing around” together on higher numbers can be mesmeric. The effect propagates through the ringing, lasting much longer than an individual pretty change, literally adding another dimension to the experience.

You do need a high number of bells to feel this – the more bells, the more pronounced the effect. On smaller numbers, bells lead and lie much more often, and hence there’s a lot more “intermingling” of bells when they turn round. This is what is sometimes called an edge-effect – a bit like a very small Cornish pasty with no room for filling inside.

Historical perspective

Now none of this is exactly new – in the 18th Century composers started producing compositions for hunt-dominated methods (such as Grandsire) “in the tittums”. In practice this meant the biggest three working bells (ie 9, 10 and 11 for Cinques) were “coursing” consecutively, or following each other around. This was considered to provide nicer music compared with previous compositions, and indeed to a large degree endures in Grandsire and Stedman compositions today.

In truth, though, conventional “in the tittums” music can be rather disappointing. Having only three bells coursing is not so many, the tenor does not get involved, thereby diluting the effect, and 11 bells is not really enough for maximum benefit.

Mega-tittums

In recent years, the traditional tittums effect has been developed into a magical new concept called “mega tittums”, involving many consecutive bells coursing. The 24-bell touch we will ring has a section where all 24 bells are in the mega-tittums, which will bring about some remarkable music.

The touch starts with a transition where the bells (starting from the front of the change) progressively navigate into mega-tittums positions, whilst the back-bells take part in more conventional roll-up music. After the full mega-tittums position is reached, there is a spectacular wall of sound, with a continual, glorious transition between what sounds like forward rounds intermeshed with reverse rounds. Different music pops out, depending on whether you focus on the big or little bells. It really does need to be heard to be believed. The touch concludes by sequentially returning bells to their home position, in a true 100 changes.

Uncharted territory

Whilst there have previously been a handful of impressive handbell peals in traditional methods on 18, 20 and 22 bells, we’re moving into uncharted territory with 24 bells. The mega-tittums concept has had two public outings – on 16 bells at the College Youths’ dinner touch in November 2006, and on 20 bells at the wedding of Philip Saddleton and Anthea Edwards in August 2009. By increasing the number of bells to 24, next March’s performance promises to be the best yet.

Ringing a touch on such a high number of bells undoubtedly poses significant mental, technical and even physical challenges, and so a top band drawn from around the country – under the watchful eye of David Pipe – has been assembled. If we can pull it off successfully it should be an awesome, unique event. Don’t miss it!

PHILIP EARIS

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CC
Central Council of Church Bell Ringers