Monday, February 9, 2009


Sawyer Gosnell, Alma Johnson, and St. Luke's bells

[February 8, 2009 excerpt from "Bob!", Alma's ringing blog. Click on title above to see the entire piece, "Hunting Season."]

Today I received permission to set my 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.