I’ve become fascinated by bell-ringing as it’s practiced all over the British Isles and hope to hear some ringing when we visit England this fall, especially on Sunday mornings.
One of the first things to know is that if you’re hearing a recognizable tune, then you’re listening to a carillon played by one musician using a keyboard that manages the striking of stationary bells. Or, perhaps an electronic carillon with no musician — a system that may or may not have actual bells.
The sounds produced by bells that are swung with a rope can be managed by the order that they are swung. The simplest is a “round,” ringing from the smallest bell to the largest in order. Once that is accomplished, one or more bells can be paused to switch up the order — that’s called a “change.” A composition of changes is called a “method.”
Here’s a video of how change bell-ringing sounds and looks, At about the 50-second mark, you’ll see and hear them change from rounds to a different ordering:
The next video shows both the rope pulling and the position of the bell. That helped me understand the difference between simple chiming (that I occasionally was allowed to do with the one bell in the small-town church where I grew up) and the more complicated positioning that allows bells to be stopped and held by the bell-ringer so that changes can be made.
This fun video shows a young man in his initial steps of learning to ring bells:
Every Sunday, BBC Radio 4 plays a recording of the bells of a different church. Episodes for the past year are available on the Bells on Sunday web page.
Besides being a community service, bell-ringing in the British Isles is a social hobby. There are lessons, practices, societies, and competitions. From what I’ve been able to gather, they welcome new-comers because anyone who rings a bell wants to make sure that bells continue to be rung in the future.
Have you heard bells rung in this way?
I’ll link this post to our British Isles Friday link up later this week. Check back for more UK and Ireland themed posts.