Transcript of ART’s new Advanced Call Change Scheme

Transcribed by Emily Watts

Dee: We had looked through the scheme and immediately I saw that it wasn’t just what you would call usual call changes. There were lots of variations to try.

[Bells ringing rounds]

Cathy: Today, we’re going to be discussing ART’s new advanced call change scheme. And I’ve got four guests with me, and I’d really like them to introduce themselves. So starting with Clare.

Clare: Hello. My name’s Clare McArdle and I learnt to ring back in the 1970s when I was quite young and as part of learning to ring I learnt call changes well, learnt to ring them and to call them. So I really enjoyed doing that and I still get as much pleasure ringing and calling call changes today as I do from ringing methods.

Cathy: Thank you very much Clare. Dee

Dee: Hello, I’m Dee Smith. I’m Tower Captain of St Mary’s Burwell in Cambridgeshire. I’ve always enjoyed ringing call changes. In the past I have had the privilege of ringing call changes down in Cornwall, so I know how to do it, as they would say, the proper way. But my tower was one of the towers that was chosen to pilot the new Advanced Call Change Scheme, which we thoroughly enjoyed working through.

Cathy: If you’d like to introduce yourself now Jon?

Jon: Yeah, I’m Jon Bint and Tower Captain at Chagford and Drewsteignton and I learnt to handle from the old tower captain as a young teenager, a mid teenager in the 1970s. So quite late compared to some. I had three years up in Brum as a mature student and I got to know Clare then as well and did a bit of scientific up there and I did one peal on the treble of a treble bob in Edgbaston and then 20 years later I rung the tenor behind when we rehung our bells in Chagford a couple of years ago.

Cathy: Ian, would you like to introduce yourself now?

Ian: Yes. Hello, I’m Ian Avery. I’m Tower Captain Kingsteignton, a Gillett & Jonson eight here in Devon. Very much a call change tower. I learnt to ring longer than I can remember ago, although it’s very much a call change tower. We do have method ringing at Kingsteignton and I enjoy doing a little bit of method ringing in other towers with other like-minded colleagues, but yes, very much a call change ringer at heart.

Cathy: Clare The main topic we’re going to start off with is the new ART Advanced Call Change Scheme. Could you tell me a little bit about how that came about?

Clare: The inspiration for it came after a survey of the Learning the Ropes teachers and students. And what they discovered from the survey was that a lot of people felt that there was a barrier to progressing in method ringing, mainly because of lack of resources, be it experienced helpers or experienced conductors. So it was leading to a sort of a bit of a drop off and people maybe feeling that they couldn’t make that progress. So there seemed to be a gap in the market that focussing on call changes seemed like the right thing to do.

Cathy: And why is that? Why does call changes help out there? What you can’t do with methods.

Clare: You can do things that will actually help you to learn to ring methods with call changes. You can teach it in incremental steps and a lot of the time call changes is bypassed with method ringing. Not necessarily bypassed but not much time is spent on the call changes stage. That’s if you believe it leads to method ringing. But there’s, there are quite a few things with call changes if you teach them in an incremental way that will help you when you ring methods. So, for instance, spending a lot of time with bell control, which is required in call changes but equally required in method ringing. With call changes you spend quite a long time in the same place in the row and that gives you a chance to really learn to listen to where your bell is. If you move straight on to method ringing, you need to learn to listen to your bell. Your bell will be in a different place in the row, every single row. So it makes it actually harder to do where if you’re in one place, then you stand a better chance to be able to really polish up those listening skills and make sure that your ability to move your bell and place it exactly where you want to is really up to scratch before you move on.

Cathy: And you developed this advanced call change scheme.

Clare: Yes, I have.

Cathy: And something you didn’t bring out in your introduction is your role on the Birmingham School. Can you tell me a bit about that?

Clare: Yeah, I’m one of the founder members of the Birmingham School of Bell Ringing and we decided to form the Birmingham School Bell Ringing nearly ten years ago and it was specifically to improve the standard of teaching in our local area. So that’s Birmingham and also to help towers out if they didn’t have a teacher at the tower, but they had some learners, we invited them to send them to us. But we use the ART Learning the Ropes scheme throughout the school and focus on the different levels and take up to six students at a time at each of those levels. And so that helps out local towers in Birmingham and hopefully has increased the number of ringers and the number of ringers able to ring for Sunday services around the area.

Cathy: And getting back to the new scheme that you’ve developed, what are the main differences between that and Devon call change ringing?

Clare: When I was devising the scheme, I looked very closely at Devon call change ringing and I looked at what was good about Devon call change ringing. And that is the importance that’s given to listening. The accurate striking and pre-determined sequences with incremental difficulty and the obvious enjoyment that people get from ringing, and how good the standard of ringing is as well. So that’s what was good about it. And then I looked about what was different about it. For one thing, their style of leading is very different. You’ve got your closed handstroke leads, whereas in the rest of the country most of us ring open handstroke leads, speed of the ringing, it’s a lot faster because of the closed handstroke leads. And in many places, especially in competition ringing, they start with the bells down, ring them up, ring their sequence and ring them down again at the end. We didn’t think that all of these things were transferable into the scheme because I just felt that could be a bit off-putting for people if we were trying to cut and paste, if you like. Devon call change ringing into call changes elsewhere. So I looked at what was transferable and I think that the transferable things, importance given to listening and the accurate striking and also using these pre-determined sequences and that lends itself to method ringing you as well because if you know what’s coming next or you can predict what’s coming next because you know the sequence, then it will lead you to be more accurate where you place your bell and it won’t take you by surprise when the conductor calls the call change.

Cathy: And you talked about open and closed handstroke lead, in one there’s a pause, isn’t there? Whereas in Devon call change ringing, it’s continuous sound. Is that right?

Clare: Yes, yes, you’re absolutely right. So in general, an open handstroke lead means that you ring a handstroke and a backstroke. So if you’re ringing on six, for example, you’ve got 12 consecutive beats, and then there’ll be a slight pause before you ring your handstroke and backstroke again. So after every backstroke, there’s a slight pause. But I didn’t want to be prescriptive about some of the Devon style differences. I didn’t want to be saying that we must ring with closed handstroke leads, wanted to encourage people to adopt their local style of leading and their local speed of ringing, and also things like calling conventions. In Devon, they call the call changes up, and elsewhere in the country some people call them down, some people call them by place. I didn’t want to presume that people would have to change what they did in order to ring on the scheme. So we’re quite flexible with the scheme about how people approach it, just so that it makes it more accessible to everybody.

Cathy: Dee, you piloted this scheme that Clare put together. I think there were six pilots in the end, weren’t there? But Dee You were one of those. Can you tell me a little bit about how that went?

Dee: Yes. When I heard about the change scheme and the need for pilots, I literally jumped at the chance for our tower. We’d had eight months due to the pandemic of no ringing, and so my ringers were quite lacking in confidence with basic key skills. And yes, we yes have rung call changes beforehand, but just the basic into Queens and back again and that perhaps Titums and that was it. We had a look through the scheme and immediately I saw that it wasn’t just what you would call usual call changes. There were lots of variations to try. So you’ve already mentioned that we had a go at cartwheeling. We still need to have lots of practice for that because that’s quite a skill, but we’re getting better. One thing that we quite liked was that we, by tradition, have always called down. But there are towers in our area that call up. So we’ve introduced a variation so that the ringers actually understood what would happen if this call was made? And what would happen if another call was made? We also had a go at calling, and this was the key thing, because most of my ringers, I would say reticent are not confident at calling. But through the scheme you have this occasion where you can actually call something but not actually ringing. So we had someone work out what change they wanted to call, like, for example, calling into Queens. And then they stood what we call outside the circle weren’t ringing a bell, but they were still able to call it. And that gave them a real sense of achievement to call this into Queens and back again. And lots of merriment because we say whatever the caller says, you have to do. So sometimes it went wrong, but that didn’t matter. But it really boosted their confidence. And then the next step is for them to call while they were ringing. So a continuous increase in confidence and things like that. We also thoroughly enjoyed doing something called jump changes.

Cathy: Jump changes? What are those?

Dee: Yes, the form we do in our tower, it’s not quite as complicated as Clare, but we for example, if you’re going to ring queens, which is one, three, five, two, four, six, normally you would call individual bells into that order one at a time. But now when we’re ringing rounds, I’ll just say “Queens”, and immediately they’ll go from ringing rounds into queens. So this really helps practise their bell control. And then from there we can go back into rounds or for a real challenge, we can go “Titums” and immediately they have to ring the change. So it’s fun things to do, but by really reinforcing your key skills.

Cathy: Did all this happen on normal practice nights or did you have special..?

Dee: It was normal practice nights and quite a few of them are used to the ART scheme, but one or two have never done the ART scheme, so they’re really pleased, as is usual in the ART scheme, in the logbooks, to tick off each stage at a time. So it’s a really positive experience.

Cathy: And how many sessions have you had? About?

Dee: What to do the call changes?

Cathy: Yes

Dee: We’ve done a little bit at a time every session since you went back to ringing, which was August, September last year.

Cathy: Okay. And how far through are you?

Dee: We’re very proud. We’ve all got past level two, which is the equivalent to level two in the normal ART Learn the Ropes scheme and some of us are nearly at level three.

Cathy: How many are participating?

Dee: We’ve got six of us, but the interest has grown because we’ve got other ringers from another tower coming into the practice and they’ve got involved as well.

Cathy: So it’s really taking off. Yes. My questions are for Jon now. Jon, do you have any tips on raising and lowering in peal? We’ve heard that’s not something that the scheme insists on, but it’s something that I find interesting anyway, because this is something that the Devon call change ringers do very well.

Jon: I think somebody mentioned earlier about bell control and you’ve got to be able to control your bell at every stage of its swing going up, going down or even halfway up and holding it there yourself in a good practise. That would be my main tip, because without, you can control your bell. You aren’t going to be able to rise or lower your bell successfully in place. One thing I do always spend a lot of time stressing is, is the feel of the bell, the rope when you’re learning your handling. I say to them, all you’ve got between you and what’s of above is the piece of rope between. You’ve got to feel everything through it. You’ve got to do everything through that cord, that piece of rope.

Cathy: Ian do you have any tips on raising and lowering in peal?

Ian: Yes, I think like a lot of other elements of call change ringing, practice makes perfect as it were. As long as everybody can raise a bell individually, I think you need somebody reasonably experienced on the leading bell of the treble to know what speed to raise the bell’s in peal. Then it’s just a question of, as I say, practice makes perfect. I noticed on many occasions that when method ringers raise bells, they tend to go a lot slower than call change ringers. We tend to raise them quite quickly, but there’s no right or wrong speed, and I don’t think I’ve got any sort of concrete advice on tips, as it were, it’s just a question of, I very often jokingly say, you follow the one in front of you, you can’t go wrong. But yes, as long as people have got the rudiments of raising a bell, letting out the calls as the bell gets slower, it’s just a question of knowing how much and how little to pull to keep your bell in place and follow the one in front of you.

Cathy: Next question is, in method ringing there are challenges in learning and executing the methods. What are the challenges for advanced call change ringers?

Jon: With call changes, it’s mostly about the increased number of bells and I daresay there’s a certain amount of that with scientific ringing as well. But because of everything is all down to accuracy, it’s about fitting more into the same space, if you like. So the margin for error becomes smaller and smaller the more bells you got. So that’s probably the challenge. Obviously the rising and lowering is a key part, an integral part of what we do. Debateable. Some folks find one harder than the other, just down to the individual I think.

Cathy: So. There’s a real emphasis on accurate call change ringing.

Jon: It’s 100%. Yeah, yeah. Everything is about rhythm. Everything is about rate accuracy. That’s exactly what it is really. You could go beyond that. If you listen to some of the very top teams, before the pandemic I would say because that’s obviously had to have a big effect. But I don’t know about artistic style sort of thing. But listening going to the Devon major back along, you could listen to the some of the teams and you could hear a difference almost in style. I listened to Eggbuckland in their prime. It was an ease and there was a musicality and I’d say the same about Dunsford and I don’t want to be dissing anybody. But on the other hand, if I would listen to a North Devon side sometimes and I’d find it really hard and really percussive, yes it was very accurate, very good ringing. But as a musician of me, I’d find it quite percussive. As I say, it was all a little bit like if you could get what I mean. But yes, it is 100% about accuracy. It’s exactly that.

Cathy: Ian, you wanted to say something.

Ian: Just add a little thing about achieving this accuracy. What I found a great help is the use of a simulator in the past, when you can get five other bells that are absolutely spot on in their place, and then you get one person ringing the simulator bell. If there’s any slight inaccuracy there, they know it’s them.

Cathy: So we’ve had a little bit of talk about calling up and down. Could you just remind us what the difference is between calling up and down?

Dee: When you’re calling, call changes. The common practice is to swap pairs of bells. So if you’re ringing one, two, three, four, five, six, the next change would be one, three, two, four, five, six. So you swapped the two and the three over. Now, if you’re calling down, you say three to treble or three follows treble. But if you’re calling up, you say two after three. So the bell you’re calling moves up the change. If you’re calling up and the bell if you’re calling down, the bell moves down the change, but you’re still having the same you still ending up with the same change in the end.

Cathy: And there’s no standard for this then across the country.

Dee: Not in my experience, Ian.

Ian: Yes, as far as Devon ringing call changes, I’m not aware of any call change tower that calls down. Every change tower that I’m aware of would call up. And the logic for us behind that is that you call the two bells that are involved in the change. In other words, two to three, two follows three. Whereas if you’re calling down the change would be three to one. That means a bell that hasn’t been referred to up until now. It’s got to change, i.e. two.

Dee: There are some towers, so for example, you’re aiming to ring the change Queen’s, they’ll call it one way. So for example, they’ll call it up to Queens and then they’ll call it back down to rounds.

Cathy: Right? Sounds confusing.

Dee: But I think on the whole towers have a sort of the way that they do it and that’s it. And it was interesting to hear Ian saying that definitely you always call up in Devon, right?

Cathy: Clare, did you want to say something?

Clare: Yeah, I think that it’s, it’s often quite an emotive subject as well, that of whether, of what’s best, whether calling up or calling down is best. And I think anecdotally that the majority of places call bells up, but it may only be a small majority. So there’s a significant minority who call bells down. But what can happen with learners if they visit a tower where they’re calling in a different way from how they would normally expect the call changes to happen in their own tower? They get a sudden knock to their confidence because they think, Oh, I thought I could ring call changes. And it’s all completely different. And I think that whichever way you use, you’ll probably be a, a big advocate for how much more logical it seems to do it that way than, than the other. Personally I call changes up and always have done but it does actually help you to have an understanding of the other way as well, because then you’re not all at sea when you go to a new tower.

Cathy: Ian, I was going to ask you, the Devon call change ringing videos that we see on YouTube are amazing. Is all Devon call change ringing like that.

Ian: I think the majority of the YouTube clips that you see would be a mixture of different ringers from different towers. Occasionally you would get that quality ringing from a host tower, in other words, all the home ringers. But I think I would be right in saying that the majority of YouTube clips that you referring to or perhaps some of the more experienced ringers in the county.

Cathy: And what is the state of ringing in Devon? Could you give me a brief indication?

Jon: I think it varies in different areas. For example, we had a first serious competition yesterday since the return from COVID, and we had seven teams enter a competition that would normally attract twelve to fourteen. So I think, as I said in a little speech I made yesterday, we’re in what I view as an experimental year really with getting back to ringing. There are some towers that are extremely lucky and got most, if not all, the ringers they had before the first lockdown back. But equally, there are many towers that are struggling for numbers for various reasons, some age-related, some people who may have been struggling before the lockdown and use this as a legitimate perhaps, reason not to pick it up again. So it’s a bit of a mixed bag, really as far as county-wide, as it were in Devon, there are towers that are okay-ish, but there are others who are struggling.

Cathy: But you had a striking competition with seven teams. Did you say?

Jon: Yes, we did.

Cathy: How did that go?

Jon: Okay. There was a simultaneous competition going on in North Devon and South Devon. And we both had seven entries. So you could say there were fourteen teams taking part in the competition yesterday and there are qualifying rounds. So the first five from South Devon and the first five from North Devon would go into what we call rather confusingly for method ringers is the major final. But we’re still talking about six bells and then the second five from each qualifier would go into a minor final. So yes, I think we’re a little bit low on entries because of the slow and cautious return to ringing.

Cathy: Or when people have got through the advanced call change ringing scheme, maybe they’ll want to try and enter your competitions.

Ian: Let’s hope so.

Cathy: Clare what stage are the pilots in for the ART scheme? Has it come out of the pilot phase?

Clare: Yes, it has. So the pilot scheme ran from sort of August to December last year and then we took some feedback from the pilot schemes and then we tweaked various things and we spent quite a lot of time getting some new resources together to support the scheme and in fact it’s virtually ready to go. We’re in May now as we’re recording this, but by the end of the month we’re certainly hoping to have launched the scheme. And in fact, the logbook, the progress logbook that everybody gets when they enrol on the scheme is already available in the art shop. So it’s imminent.

Cathy: Dee did you want to say something?

Dee: I was was just going to say that the progress we’re sending off an order next week for the progress logbooks.

Cathy: So if somebody listening thinks this would be a good idea in their local area, what would they do?

Clare: It’s very similar to how people get onto the original Learning the Ropes scheme. New ringers can be registered on the learning the rope scheme by their teachers, their ART teachers. Anybody can purchase a logbook from the ART shop and any teacher who’s familiar with the Learning the Ropes scheme, you can register your learners in exactly the same way, and in fact they can do either or both schemes. So levels one and level two are absolutely comparable. And you could go as far as level two and then decide to branch off to the call changes scheme and certificates and badges are available for people once they’ve achieved each level. So it’s as easy as it is to use the originals.

Cathy: Is there anything else anybody wanted to cover?

Dee: Particularly on the advanced call changes the resources are really, speaking as a tower captain, the resources are really good. You think, “Oh, how am I going to explain this?” or “How can I get my ringers to understand certain aspects?” And if you go onto the ART website, there are some excellent resources now.

Cathy: Do you know what the web page is for that Dee?

Dee: So it will be accessed through the ART home page, and under the resources tab. It will be accessible there through call changes toolbox probably, and there’ll be some choices there for where to go.

Cathy: Ian, Was there anything else you wanted to add?

Ian: Just to say that it’s something that the Devon Association actively trying to get more and more people involved with ART and get teachers on courses, etc, etc, because it’s something that could be better represented shall I say, in Devon call changes. There are one or two, including Jon of course, who’s ART qualified. There’s a lot that’s not. And as Chair of the Association, I’m actively trying to get more and more people interested and involved.

Cathy: Anything else that anybody else wanted to say?

Clare: I was just going to say to Ian, it was very daunting trying to put together a scheme where you’re not an expert yourself in Devon call changes but trying to open that out to the rest of the ringing fraternity, if you like. So I’m very pleased to hear Ian saying those things about wanting to use it.

Cathy: Jon, is there anything else that you wanted to add?

Jon: It’s very good to hear Clare taking things and like you say, you’re using them maybe in a slightly different way. If I’m speaking with my musicians head on because like Ian I’m a musician, I would probably controversially I’m sure, say that call changes with open handstroke lead should be consigned to hell. But I wouldn’t want to say that they can’t do it because it’s about encouraging ringing, and it’s there’s nothing set in stone, is the way I look at it.

Cathy: Thanks to my guests Clare McArdle, Dee Smith, Jon Bint, Ian Avery for introducing us to ART’s new Advanced Call Changes Scheme and its links with Devon call changes. If you’ve enjoyed this episode then please share it. This podcast was put together by a team. Special thanks go to Anne Tansley-Thomas, Emily Roderick, John Gwynne, Emily Watts, Lesley Belcher and the Society of the Cambridge Youths for the recording of their ringing.

[Bells ringing rounds]