Placing Your Band #
Band placement is, I think, one of the trickier things that callers and conductors do (other than calling or conducting!). Not everyone chooses to place bands, for a variety of reasons, but many callers and conductors do choose to, especially for quarter peal and peal attempts.
However, in my experience it’s rare that there is frank discussion of how exactly bands are placed. I think that a lot of this reluctance of discussion is due to the fact that it can be fairly socially tricky to place a band. A ringer might feel hurt if they are only ever asked to cover, or might be offended at being asked to treble when they’re “perfectly able to ring inside, thank you very much!”. It can feel easy to ask the very agreeable ringers in your tower to do all the trebling and covering because they won’t complain about it, but is it serving their best interests and desires for progression?
I am reminded of a time in college (university, for the Brits reading) where my friends and I were discussing how to assign different solos to different people in our Renaissance chamber choir. Someone said it was “like solving a jigsaw puzzle, but where all the pieces have feelings” — a comparison which often feels very apt to me when placing a band.
When I’m placing a band, I’m trying to think about how to balance everyone’s needs and wants with my own desires for a certain standard of ringing, a certain method to be rung, or maybe something else entirely. Here are a few things that I think about when I’m placing a band; maybe you think about others, or in a very different order. If you have other things that come to mind, feel free to shoot me an email; I’m happy to update this space to be more inclusive to different philosophies.
Placing a stronger ringer or ringers #
If there is a ringer who is stronger than the rest of the band — in terms of method confidence and ringing ability, not physical strength — it can be useful to think about where to place them to best advantage. You can trust them not to go wrong (or at least trust them more than others) and so it’s worth taking time to consider where that would be best.
Even though it’s less “interesting” for the strong ringer (and may seem counterintuitive), I often like to place a strong ringer on the treble. Having a steady treble can make a huge difference in the success of a quarter peal or peal attempt, and provides a rallying point. Being able to know with confidence when you shout “Half lead!” that the treble is, in fact, at the half lead, is extremely useful.
This choice can also be a convenient one, socially. The ringer in question will almost always know that they are one of the more confident in the band, and are therefore less likely to feel put out by your putting them on the treble. It is not a vote of no-confidence, it’s a vote of high confidence that they will be a steady and valuable member of the band!
Other good places put place your relatively stronger ringers: on the affected bells of a composition (often the front bells), or on the very back bells (if they are steady back bell ringers, or if they want to work on their back bell ringing).
Placing a “stretchy” ringer or ringers #
Sometimes there will be a ringer, or several, who you suspect may struggle with something you want to call or conduct. There’s nothing wrong with this; it’s perfectly normal (and arguably desirable) to have a band with a range of abilities, and it’s part of your job as caller or conductor to make sure that all members of your band are supported, regardless of ability. Nonetheless, it can be a sensitive matter to place these ringers depending on their personality.
These ringers might struggle with certain aspects of the method or composition you have chosen. We can call these ringers “stretchy” in that they are stretching the limits of their abilities — which is a great way to learn, after all!
You may choose to place them on the treble. If they are a strong treble ringer, this can be a great choice for your performance; however, if they are roughly equally adept at the treble and at inside ringing, I generally prefer to place them inside (if I have a choice; sometimes you may not have a choice if they don’t know the method you’re ringing, for example). Having a strong ringer on the treble is very valuable for stability.
Similarly, you may choose to place them on the cover; if this cannot be avoided then you should do it and not look back! I rang several quarter peals from the cover in my learning days when I was not yet ready to take a bell inside. It can be a really valuable experience for a stretchy ringer. However, if they are equally able to ring the cover and ring inside (certainly not always true), it may be more pleasant for them to have a chance to ring inside, and you can place a ringer with a strong sense of rhythm on the tenor.
If you are placing a stretchy ringer on the inside, consider who their course and after bells are being rung by. Setting up a band such that the stretchy ringers are coursing along with strong ringers can set you up for success.
Other good places to put your stretchy ringers: on unaffected bells in the back (especially if you can “sandwich” the ringer between two more experienced ringers, or if you can make sure that their course and after bells are being rung by strong ringers), or on affected bells in the front where you can keep an eye on them. If you place them on a bell right next to you, you can also sometimes give quiet encouragement or advice without having to shout across the room. You can also choose to put them on the observation bell (rather than yourself on the observation bell), on the logic that you’ll probably know where the observation bell “ought” to be most of the time! These depend on your preferences as conductor and the ringer’s preferences; there’s no one-size-fits-all solution but these are a set of thoughts to get you started.
Further social advice #
Sometimes the ringers — regardless of where they fall in the spectrum of ability in your band — will have a Very Strong Preference about where they want to ring. When this aligns with your preference, that is all very well! But sometimes their desires and yours can be at odds.
My first bit of advice in this case is not to ask where people want to ring unless you’re prepared to actually take their desires into account. Most of the time I find it simpler to assign bells and then, over the course of weeks or months, make sure to rotate people off and on the treble, tenor, cover, or inside working bells. I do this even when I am pretty sure that everyone in the band could equally well manage something, just to keep things equal. It is also sometimes helpful to assign bands in advance for things like quarter peals or peal attempts to give the opportunity for focused practice on a particular bell or pair of bells.
Sometimes, when you have assigned a band, someone will vocally disagree with you or complain, or even refuse to ring the bell that you have assigned them. Even though it’s difficult, I think the best thing to do in this circumstance is first to stop and take a look at your own behavior and think about whether you have done the right thing, in light of the complaint. Is this the fourth time you’ve put Avery on the treble tonight? Have you given all attempts at tenoring to the same two people all evening? Consider whether their complaint is reasonable, and then regardless I recommend you apologize and fix the band placement. It’s not worth fighting about ringing; it’s a hobby we’re all supposed to enjoy! If possible, follow up with the ringer later (privately) and see what you can do to remediate the situation.
It may be frustrating to deal with some of the types of complaints, and they may seem unreasonable to you. Perhaps you have a ringer who will only ring the 2nd and will vehemently complain when assigned to another bell. Or maybe you have a ringer who purses their lips and sighs loudly every time they are asked to cover. This aspect of calling and conducting is, I think, one of the most difficult bits. It can be upsetting when people are angry or frustrated with you, especially when you’re doing all you can to support the development of the band as a whole. See if you can accommodate all requests, within reason, and occasionally ask if the ringer would like a chance to try something new (unless you’ve been told not to ask, of course). I think that being kind and supportive is the only thing you can do in such a situation.