Giving Guidance

Giving Guidance #

There are many opportunities for a caller or conductor to give guidance. These may be as simple as a short reminder about the composition before beginning a touch, or may be as complex as giving instructions about the coursing orders during a peal attempt. Here are some thoughts about the different times and manners in which callers and conductors give guidance.

Before the ringing #

Everyone has a different philosophy about how much guidance to give before a touch, or a quarter peal or peal attempt. Often, for a touch, there is some chatter about the method beforehand, and then every catches hold and the most that anyone in the band knows is “Go, Plain Bob Minor!” before the bobs start flying. This works well if everyone knows exactly what the bobs and singles for that method are (though if they are “nonstandard”, whatever that means for your tower, you should give guidance before you start). For a quarter peal or peal, depending on the interests of the ringers, often more guidance is given.

Personally: If I think that at least one other ringer will be interested to know what the composition is — whether they are learning to conduct or whether they know how to conduct and want to watch it as it goes by — I share some relevant information with the band before we start. If it’s a short touch I might just share the touch. For a longer composition, some types of things I might share include:

  1. How many parts are there? What are the part ends like?
  2. Are there bobs and singles or just bobs or just singles? Is it mostly bobs but a single at middle and end?
  3. Are there any particular features that people should watch out for? For example, are some handbell pairs preserved (but swapped) part-to-part, or is there some interesting symmetry?
  4. Are there any unusual calls? If there is any ambiguity about the call type (are singles 1234 or 1678?), I make sure to specify before we begin, even if the band were given the information in an email beforehand. Not worth the risk of a fire-up!
  5. If you’re ringing spliced, the name of the first method, and maybe a quick re-cap of the other methods involved (Something like “Yes, it’s the 14, not the 10” will do in many cases; or if you’re only ringing a few, reminding by method name).

During the ringing #

You’re done with rounds and you’re off! I think for most conductors the ideal circumstance is to not have to provide any guidance other than the calls at the correct place. In reality, however, it is very common for conductors to give periodic comments throughout the ringing. In most circumstances, in fact, it is usual for the conductor to be the only one expected to make such comments.

Here are a few things you might say during conducting, which aren’t related to the bobs, singles, or other calls:

  1. “Lead end here!”
  2. “Half lead here!”
  3. “Four should be coursing the six!”
  4. “Finish your whole turn on the front!”

And on and on. There are a variety of small corrective comments (or just comments on landmarks) that may be useful. It is my experience that when giving these comments, one is often under some amount of stress (trying to keep the method and the composition in one’s head while saying the comment and watching the result is quite a lot of mental effort!) and it is sometimes too easy to slip into yelling, somewhat grumpily, at the rest of the ringers in the circle.

Personally, I do not care much for grumpy yelling. I do not know what other ringers say about me in the pub when I’m not there (nor do I hope to!), but I aspire to be the sort of conductor where they say things like “Even when she’s telling me I missed a dodge, she’s so nice about it!”.

Here are some of the things I do to make giving guidance during the ringing more pleasant for everyone:

  1. When possible, I try to give more structural guidance than individual guidance. That is, I will tell the band where the treble is, or what places are being made, rather than singling out the person who has failed to dodge with the treble, or make the place. Sometimes this works, and sometimes this doesn’t — if it doesn’t work then I will change my strategy for the rest of the ringing.
  2. When individual guidance cannot be avoided, I try to be polite about it. Think about how you would tell a work colleague that they had missed out a column in the spreadsheet; then think about how you tell a fellow ringer (and likely friend!) that they had missed out a dodge. It seems to me to be ideal to be at least as nice to the fellow ringer. So I will say something like “Four, finish your lead please” (if I can spare the syllable for please!) Make eye contact if possible, and try for a smile; I know it’s hard when concentrating but it does make a difference.
  3. Give encouragement as well as guidance. If there has just been a shaky section, let the band know that everyone’s in the right place again with a happy “That’s right!”. Give a smile to a band member when they dodge with you or hunt past.

When two bells are swapped #

Sometimes it’s obvious when the ringing has gone wrong; bells are all over each other and it’s lumpy, or there may be firing. Sometimes, however, it can be much more subtle. A minor kerfuffle at a lead end you might think has straightened itself out — only to find half a lead later that two bells are swapped. This, in my experience, is the most common way that the ringing can be “subtly” wrong. Some conductors would immediately stand the touch up at this point, but I often prefer to instead try to set it straight quickly if possible.

It may be that your first impulse is to immediately shout out that the two bells are swapped. However, this isn’t always the right choice depending on your band. Here are some options that I generally weigh when I’m thinking about when to speak:

  1. You could wait to tell the ringers until the next lead end, and tell them what their work should be and what their place bell should be. This option can be great if you have the spare brain power to figure out what their new place bells or work should be. It reduces any chance of confusion.
  2. You could wait to tell the ringers until they are ringing near each other, then let them know that they are swapped and what work they should do next. A particularly convenient place to do this can be when they come down to the front, especially to lead full. If the 2 and 3 are over and the 3 is heading down too quickly, let the 2 know that it’s their turn to lead and tell the 3 to lead next. There will be a whole pull or two of chaos but then generally things will straighten out.
  3. You could decide not to wait to tell the ringers, and just let them know as soon as you figure it out. This can work, depending on your band. Sometimes ringers are very good at figuring out where they ought to be, or pulling their bells where they ought to be. In handbell ringing in particular this isn’t a terrible option, necessarily, though I’d argue it’s less ideal than the above. In tower bell ringing, however, you could be giving your ringers a very difficult task. If the two swapped bells are at opposite ends of the row, chaos (and possibly firing) will ensue as the bells attempt to swap places, probably confusing other ringers in the process. The matter is even more difficult if the bells are at all heavy or difficult to ring.

When it’s all going wrong #

Sometimes it’s just that two bells have quietly swapped places at a bob; sometimes chaos breaks out everywhere at once. How long do you let it continue? It’s a very difficult judgement call, and your judgement abilities will definitely grow with time and experience.

Personally, I still find it a complicated and difficult choice. Different regions, conductors, and ringers all have their own level of tolerance, and it varies based on when you’re ringing and what for. On a practice night? Maybe it’s okay to crash about a bit for a bit until it becomes clear it’s unproductive, or maybe it’s okay to let two bells be swapped for a while. On a Sunday? Perhaps better to stand it up if it’s not going to sound very nice, especially if you’re ringing the last touch before the service starts (and note for next time to choose something less ambitious!). For a quarter peal or peal attempt? Here you will get ringers with stronger opinions. An unwritten, but common, guideline is that the bells ought not to be swapped or crashing for more than a full lead.

Now, we must apply common sense to this guideline (like all guidelines). If you are a local band who is working up to your first ever local quarter peal, maybe it’s okay to deal with a lead and a half of swapped-over bells. If you’re most of the way through some tricky, tricky peal of spliced major, maybe you can stretch it a little as well. But you’ll want to make sure others in the band feel the same way, and avoid the terrible fate of having someone else stand their bell in protest (although I would argue they are being quite rude by doing so – voicing your opinion that it ought not to count can happen after the ringing rather than during).

As a note, I have sometimes let a performance go on when I wasn’t sure whether or not two bells had gotten swapped, or some other mistake had happened. It’s easy to forget a coursing order in the middle of something; it happens to everyone. This happened to me somewhat recently, in fact, and it was disappointing when we got to the last little bit and I realized that two bells had, in fact, been swapped for some time. I told them to swap right before the rounds at the end of our quarter attempt. We didn’t count it as a quarter, but we still had a good time and got a lot of practice in – and we scored it the next time.

After the ringing #

After the ringing, I always try to say something encouraging — even if the ringing didn’t quite go. Complimenting a particularly well-struck section or the hard efforts of the ringers goes a long way towards softening the blow of a failed attempt. Of course if the ringing did go, there’s at least one encouraging thing to say! So do it. I try to leave the post-mortem of all of the slips and trips to the pub if I can, and never call out individuals.

It is slightly different after a practice night touch. You may want to talk to an individual ringer about their performance and how they might improve. In such a case, I recommend privately going up to them and asking if they would like feedback on their ringing. They may say yes — and they may say no, which must be respected also.