What is a change ringing?
Change ringing is the art of ringing a set of tuned bells in a series of mathematical patterns called “changes”. Today, change ringing can be found all over the world, performed in a variety of media; but it remains most popular in the context where, in the 17th century, it developed: English church towers. These typically contain a few large bells rigged to swing freely: a ring of bells (the Cathedral has eight bells). The considerable inertias involved mean that each bell usually requires its own ringer. At the Cathedral, we still have a team of people, change ringers, who perform this ministry.
The bells can be hand bells or large bells weighing from hundreds of pounds to several tons. Large bells, such as the ones in the Cathedral bell tower, are mounted so the ropes hang in a circle and are in order, from the lightest bell, called the “Treble”, to the heaviest bell, called the “Tenor”. The bells are rung by pulling the rope, which is connected to a wheel that swings the headstock and the bell. Change ringing bells are not rung with the bell hanging down, as are most single bells. Rather, the bells are rung back and forth until they are in an inverted position with the sound bow of the bell facing upwards. This is what enables various methods to be rung on the bells.
These defined orders are called “methods” and have many unusual names such as Bob Doubles, Stedman, Gransire, Cambridge, and others. Change ringing originated in England in the 15th century but enjoyed its largest growth as an art and sport early in the 18th century. Change ringing societies sprang up in many of the larger English cities and some of the oldest are still active and their members visit Charleston on a regular basis. There are over 5000 bell towers in England, most villages with a parish had a ring of bells with the larger towns and cities having several towers with bells hung for change ringing.
What does a change ringer do?
A change ringer, along with the others in the band, performs these methods. The method calls for a ringer to change the place, in the order of ringing, where his bell sounds. As the ringer pulls his bell rope over and over, he causes the bell to ring either before or after another bell rings, but never at the same time as another bell rings. The methods involve good and correct timing between blows to perform the method correctly. A well rung method is a beautiful thing to hear and to participate in as a member of a bell band.
All methods start with the bells ringing in order, which is known as “rounds”. The bells ring starting with the #1 and progress to the #8: 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8 and repeat. The simplest method of ringing is called a “Plain Hunt”. In this method the bells change their order of ringing, the even numbered bells move to the front of the order, the odd bells to the back. When a bell gets to the front of the order it turns around and starts moving to the back of the order thus:
First course: (the #8 stays as the last bell ringing)
the next course
the next course
the next course
Every bell rings twice at the front of the order and twice at the back of the order. Every other change ringing method is some variant of this basic principle.
Methods can be rung with variations that enable a band to ring a large number of courses without repeating the order. These are called “Peals”, involve 5000+ courses, and can take up to 3 hours to ring. It is more common for a band to ring a 1/4 peal which take around 45 minutes. This are done on various occasions to celebrate events or just for the plain. pure enjoyment of ringing.
Who can join the band?
Anyone can join the band. Bell ringing does not require great strength or musical prowess. It is a percussive art. We have had ringers start who are teenagers and ringers who have started much later in life. Everyone is welcome and we encourage anyone who is interested to come to our Weds afternoon practice and see how fun and interesting change ringing can be.
Is training provided?
We will train anyone who is interested how to ring bells. There is always time set aside for every level of ringer at our practices, we won’t let you leave without at least getting some practice time. We often have ringers from other towers attend our practices which makes it even better.
Learn more about this ministryWray Lemke, Tower Captain
The Cathedral Bell Band
Wray Lemke – Tower Captain
Ann and Larry Hill
The North American Guild of Change Ringers
A lot of excellent information on change ringing!
Change ringing at St. Michaels, Cathedral band helping the St. Michael’s band ring half muffled for a funeral: