Conducting in Hand

Conducting in Hand #

Much of the information in Calling It Round applies equally well to tower bell ringers and handbell ringers. However, there are some special tricks that are mostly suitable for handbell ringers that I think will be useful for you as you make a start at calling and conducting. Some of these tips may not be useful right away, and this will likely vary ringer to ringer; so take what’s useful and leave the rest!

Use both your bells #

If you’re going to be ringing two bells while calling, they might as well both be useful to you. When you are starting, you are likely starting to call from either the trebles or the tenors. When you are ringing the trebles, you have the advantage of always knowing where the treble is (and therefore where to make the call!) somewhat “automatically,” which can be a huge advantage at first. Choosing compositions that can use the 2 as observation, then, will make your life quite a bit easier because you’ll be using “both your bells” and don’t have to necessarily rely on another ringer or another bell to keep yourself straight within the composition.

If you are ringing the tenors, you can also use both your bells. Even though the tenor is likely the observation bell, check in advance to see if there are any landmarks you can use with your other bell. For example, in the common touch WsWWsW for Plain Bob Minor (said: “Wrong, single Wrong, Wrong, single Wrong”), at each single it is the 5 making 3rds while the tenor dodges Wrong. In fact, in that touch, the 5-6 pair has a pattern that repeats! This touch can also easily be lengthened into a quarter that has these nice qualities for the 5-6. The 720 is given by WsWWsWHx3, and then either that can be repeated or a shorter second part (a 540) can be rung with WsWWsWHx2 followed by a final Home. This CompLib collection has both of those options included as well as others.

Pick handbell-friendly compositions #

There are a variety of compositions that are particularly composed for handbells. These have nice properties like leaving pairs of bells coursing, or having pairs of bells swapped over at part ends, or things like that. Even if you don’t know exactly what makes a composition “handbell-friendly,” using compositions that are marked that way is likely to be easier for your band and therefore less likely to cause a trip-up.

Don Morrison’s website has particularly good resources for handbell callers and conductors. Visit the relevant page and look for “handbells” within that page; many compositions are specially marked as being particularly suitable for handbells. As you study compositions of that type you should get an intuitive feel for some of the things that make a composition good for handbell ringers.

Using CompLib’s Handbell Positions #

There are a few other ways to figure out whether a composition is particularly handbell friendly which involve the use of CompLib’s “Handbell Positions” tab under a given composition. For example, have a look at two different quarter peal compositions for Plain Bob Major.

This 1264 has a limited number of calling positions and leaves the tenors unaffected. So far, so good; and it’s fairly musical as well with a music score of 212. Let’s look more in depth at the handbell pairs, though. By reading across each row of the table, you can see the amount of the time that each pair is ringing its own pattern. So for example, the 1-2 pair will always be ringing leads from the 1-2 pattern, because the treble has a fixed line in each lead. In this composition, the 3-4 and 5-6 pairs spend a good amount of time in their own pattern, but also spend a fair amount of time in the other two available patterns.

Compare that to this 1264 of Plain Bob Major, which is arguably slightly less musical with the music score of 203 and which has fewer calls at Home.1

However, 3-4 pair spends no time in the 5-6 pattern, and is only ever in its home pattern or in the 7-8 pattern. This is great: the ringer of the 3-4 pair will likely have practiced the 3-4 pair to plain courses and that will feel familiar. The 7-8 pattern is special because the 7-8 are often coursing, and are therefore often an “easier” pair to learn. Avoiding the 3-4 ringing the 5-6 pattern makes it an easier composition for a handbell band. Similarly, the 5-6 pair does not have to ring too many leads in the 3-4 pattern and spends the majority of its time at home or in the 7-8 pattern.

So these two compositions, which have many similar features — both are nice quarter peals of Plain Bob, relatively similarly musical and with only a few calling positions each — will feel quite different to one another for a handbell band.

Using lead heads #

You can also look at these features without using CompLib, by simply looking at the lead heads throughout the composition, but this is certainly more error-prone much more time-consuming! However, one area that’s useful to look at for any composition is the part ends of a multi-part composition.

For example, take a look at this composition of Robert T Kakuk’s on (noting that someone has already helpfully annotated it as “For handbells”!). The composition repeats itself, and the part end is 24365. Recall that this is short for the row 12436578; that is, rounds with the 3-4 and 5-6 swapped over. This part end means that in the second part, each person in the band will repeat the exact same work they just did, but the ringers of the 3-4 and 5-6 pairs will simply be crossed over. This type of structure will make it much easier for your ringers to stay right or for you to put it right if required. If you’re learning the course ends or the coursing orders, only half as much learning is required as you can simply remember that the 3-4 and 5-6 are swapped over in the second half.

Other resources #

I highly recommend the book Change-Ringing on Handbells (Volume 1: Basic Techniques) by Tina Stoecklin and Simon Gay. They have many tips and tricks and go into much more detail than I have here.

Notes #

  1. Music scores reflect a certain musical preference (you can see what is judged by clicking on the Music Score tab) but the scores are by no means objective arbiters of taste! ↩︎