Choosing Your Touch #
Regardless of whether you are newly learning to call and conduct or whether you’ve already called 1000 peals of Surprise Royal, there will be times when you need to pick a touch for a practice night, or pick a quarter peal or peal composition. If you’re very experienced, you’ve likely already got a “feel” for which compositions you prefer in style, but if you’re just starting out, it’s not unusual to feel a bit adrift in the huge variety of compositions available. Composition Library alone has over 43,000 compositions at the time of writing, and other collections of compositions may similarly number in the thousands (though they are less easy for this writer to quantify).
The choice of touch is often one of the first choices made, and it is often made in concert with a choice of band and band placement. But to simplify, let’s assume here that you have a set band; say, your Wednesday night practice group or Sunday service band or Saturday morning quarter peal attempt band. What sorts of things might you consider when picking a touch? That’s what this section will discuss.
Picking a practice night touch #
There are several things that must be balanced here. First, you have to pick an appropriate method or stage. Sometimes, the Tower Captain will ask you to prepare a touch of a specific method and stage, in which case the choice is out of your hands. Or, perhaps your band nearly always rings Plain Bob Doubles; in which case it is simple to pick a method and stage. If you have a choice of method or stage however, here are some things to consider:
- Is there a method your tower is working on? Do you feel ready to ring the method (including from the treble) while conducting to give the rest of your band that practice?
- Is there someone in the band who is working on something? For example, maybe you have a band member working their way up to touches of Plain Bob Major, or bob courses of Cambridge Surprise Minor.
- Do you have enough people to ring at a given stage? You may have 8 people in your band, but if 3 of them are learners, it might be best to stick to Minor to give the learners the best shot at ringing with a steady band. Or not! Everyone has their own style here.
- Do you have 8 people who all want to ring, but not all of whom are ready for a touch of any method? In this case, consider whether the best choice is in fact not to call a touch at all, but to ring a plain course instead.
When you’ve chosen a method and stage, you can also choose a touch. Consider how long it should be; often a full plain course of Surprise Major is deemed too long for a practice night, so something under 224 changes might be more preferred; then again, if you have exactly 8 Surprise Major ringers, maybe it’s not! Consider whether you want any particular member to be unaffected. You might need to place them in a particular spot in the circle for that to be the case, or you may want to watch their bell as you conduct. If you are placing ringers on bells, consider also whether some people might prefer a heavier or a lighter bells; do they want to learn how to ring a heavy bell for the first time? Or learn to ring a light and flighty bell? Consider if this is the “right touch” for that learning time. If you are not placing ringers on bells, think about how the social dynamics might influence who takes hold and where in the circle, and how that will affect the type of touch that might be appropriate.
Balancing the needs of a band on practice night is tricky business. Each band, tower captain, and individual ringer has different needs and wants. Some prioritize good striking over trying something new; some prioritize having a learner in every band over having more complex touches during practice night. Thinking carefully about what your priorities are and how to use your position in the band as a caller or conductor to mesh with the priorities of your band and fellow ringers will serve you all well.
Picking a Sunday service touch #
Sunday service ringing often gives rise to a new set of priorities. Regardless of practice night habits (or the religiosity of the ringers), often bands want to showcase their best ringing for service as part of a show of their respect for the service and the Church. So, choosing a touch for Sunday service can feel quite different. You might ask yourself:
- What methods (and what stages) do we, as a band, ring to our best advantage?
- How can we include those ringers that have made the effort to come to Sunday service, while also assuring the quality of the ringing?
- Should we ring a touch or a plain course or half course or call changes or something else entirely? It may be that a touch is not the most appropriate choice for your band on a particular Sunday.
- What is the right length? Do we have exactly enough ringers to ring something fairly long, or do I need a variety of short pieces to cycle a large number of ringers in and out?
Other than the special emphasis on high-quality ringing, the considerations are often similar to those about a practice night touch. However, there is often an extra-special consideration given to the very last touch rung before the start of a service (before the lower, if your band lower your bells after service ringing). This touch will have the widest audience, and it is nice for the parishioners and ringers alike if they can be welcomed to their Sunday service by the best ringing the ringers have to offer! As such, it can be wise to think of what you could do, and then take it back a step simpler to something you can do extremely well. Eleanor Linford contributes that she always thinks of a quote from Coco Chanel when considering choosing a Sunday service touch: “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off.” Before you pull off, look in the mirror and choose something a little simpler!
Picking a quarter peal or peal composition #
Picking a quarter peal or peal composition often feels fairly different. I personally often spend more time picking out quarter peal or peal compositions than I do random practice night touches, in part because they are longer and I want to be assured of my ability to conduct them well. The band is often taking special time out of their schedule for the attempt and it’s nicest when the conductor has put in the work ahead of time to give the attempt its best chance of success.1
In this section, to keep it simple we’ll assume that you have a band of ringers of equal ability, so anyone can ring anywhere in your quarter peal or peal. (If this is not the case, read on to the next section about placing your band, which will discuss some ideas about band placement).
You may or may not already have picked a method and stage, even though you likely know the number of ringers you’re working with. Here are some things to think about when you’re deciding:
- Should we choose a “stretch” method to try something new, or a comfortable and familiar method? What can I trust myself to conduct well?
- Should I choose a composition I already know, or a new one?
- Should I choose a multi-part composition, or a single-part composition? A single-part is often more memorization.
- If choosing a multi-part, what type of part end do I want? Do I want the challenge of a cyclic part end, the comfort of a handbell-friendly part end, or something else entirely?
- How many calling positions am I comfortable with using?
- Do I want a composition on the shorter side (1250 for a quarter peal) or am I ok with it being on the longer side (1500 for a quarter peal). Do I want a date touch?
- How important is this to “get”? Should I choose something dead simple I have a very good chance of getting, or stretch myself and my band a bit?
In the end, picking something you are confident that you can conduct well and that your ringers can ring well is likely to lead to the highest probability of success. That said, not all ringing is about “success”! Sometimes it’s about stretching yourself, making progress, and challenging your band, all of which can be equally enjoyable. Only you know yourself and your band well enough to make these kinds of choices.
However, 100% chance of success is never a guarantee, nor necessarily should it be! Simon Linford shares that he often likes to choose compositions which he has a 95% chance of calling. Everyone messes up sometimes, and it’s alright to go in with that perspective. Study what you can and aim to do well, and then what happens will happen. ↩︎