Thursday 29 April 2010
Another great British tradition is bell ringing. All Church of England churches have at least one bell - to announce services - and many have rings of bells hung for bell ringing. This is also called Change ringing as the bells do not play tunes but complex patterns called changes. There are many different methods to ring. The bells are rung for services, weddings, funerals, practice nights and also special occasions.
When I was at Smith, I planned to go to England for my “junior year abroad”. I was excited to get into Collingwood College at the University of Durham as an occasional student for a year, 1976-1977.
Knowing that I was going to England, I decided to learn Bellringing over January interterm . Smith had an empty tower in its new theatre complex, which had a ring of eight English bells installed by Whitechapel Bell Foundry (Smith not being short of money). I had no idea if there were bells in Durham and no real idea of what was involved or how long it took to learn. The dreadful crashing noise coming out of the bell tower didn’t dissuade me either.
It was one of my better ideas - there was a strong bell ringing society at Durham and it was rounds and call changes for Pippa that year. There were weekly practices, weekends away, a summer ball and a summer tour. All good fun. I met my best friend, Val and many others. I was able to get into British college life and avoid those Americans who seemed to stick together.
Over thirty years later I’m still learning and enjoying bell ringing. I’ve gotten further than I ever thought I would do. Mike is a very gifted bell ringer and does lots of conducting - he is the Pettistree ringing master. Of course there’s always more to learn and you get to see some very pretty parts of the country side. If you’re on holiday, you can go to local service ringing or practices with friendly sorts (mostly!) And bell ringing is like a little community, there is a great camaraderie and also a fantastically rich history. The bells themselves are expensive and historic instruments and its like making music with a team of people. All in Mediaeval buildings.
What does the ringing sound like?
You can listen to Pettistree bells in rounds here:
For more complex touches there is a program called Bells on Sunday and you can hear repeats at this BBC Radio 4 site:
Oh and by the way - don’t ever call it campanology - its just not done.