Change ringers sound giant bells with precision

Change ringing does sound good. The typical bell tower in the United States is attached to an Episcopal Church (with a few exceptions) and has eight tuned bells that form a diatonic scale. Some towers have 10 (the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., for example) or even 12 bells (Trinity Wall Street).

Invariably, the bells ”” giant instruments cast in a foundry ”” are procured from England. Many are very old. They are mounted in a manner that enables them to rest in the upright position and turn a little more than 360 degrees when rung. A rope is attached to a big wheel in such a way that pulling it gets the bell going in both directions.

A ‘stay,’ or rigid piece of wood, projects from the bell’s crossbeam and reaches the ‘slider,’ another piece of wood fixed at one end but able to slide a little to and fro at the other end. A properly struck bell has just enough momentum to get it back into the upright position with each pull of the rope. The stay reaches the slider, preventing the metal tonnage of the bell from continuing in the same direction. Another pull on the rope and the bell comes ’round the other way.

David Porter, tower captain at Grace Episcopal Church, is teaching me the hand stroke. The hand stroke and back stroke together cause a complete two-dong ring. A circle of practiced ringers can achieve ‘perfect striking’ with even and orderly strokes. The rings of the bells overhead should be evenly spaced. It requires concentration and adroit maneuvering.

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, Episcopal Church (TEC), Music, Parish Ministry, TEC Parishes

10 comments on “Change ringers sound giant bells with precision

  1. Dilbertnomore says:

    When done right, there is nothing like it.

  2. Choir Stall says:

    It is said that the best change ringers possess two qualities:
    1. Shut out those around and concentrate on yourself,
    2. Be deaf to all but your own sound.
    Sound like anyone that you know of? Among those meeting right now..somewhere in the southern U.S….near Mexico?

  3. larswife says:

    My dear #2, that certain place … “somewhere in the southern U.S.” … is still a good 9-10 hours away from “near Mexico.” It’s a BIG state (wink).

  4. slanehill says:

    Decades ago, I remember being at General Seminary when change ringing was being done. David Hurd rushed across the quad in a panic demanding to know “what the hell is that noise?”
    Given David Hurd’s influence on the 1982 Hymnal, perhaps this is a comment on the diminishing of our Anglican heritage.

  5. slanehill says:

    Just read the actual link.
    Sigh. To dream. I am putting Charleston on my mental list of places to visit before I die (my “bucket list”) & I’m pulling out my copy of “The Nine Tailors” to re-read.

  6. Philip Snyder says:

    For those interested, my parish, St. James Dallas, has one “change” of six bells. We host an annual “Bell Ringing festival” where bell ringers come to help us learn how to ring better. I am in awe of the skill and beauty that is change-ringing.

    Phil Snyder

  7. Choir Stall says:

    # 4:
    Hooowwwww TRUE! The Anglican heritage of majesty and heart seems lacking in the “new” Hymnal 1982. Lots of hymns are vastly removed from intelligibility and are rarely used – not even in cathedrals, but they made the Committee of poets and tinkerers happy. No fingerprints can be found on the pages of many of these hymns quite simply because they are NOT praiseworthy. Insert your own author(ess). Hymns of Majesty and of the Heart should be improved in the NEXT Hymnal, but it probably won’t be. Just lots of elitist creations and politically correct offerings will come. We should be like the Catholics in this respect. We should have a BCP, and then 3 Official Hymnals (the three of which should have a common core of present standards and then the balance of the books should emphasize their particular themes: 1. more hymns of the heart, 2. more ethnic-specific hymns, and then 3. another hymnal that the tinkerers put together in Committee).
    …AND PLEASE: Take a cue from the Methodists (who had Westminster Abbey as consultants in their 1989 Hymnal). Make the Psalms chant-worthy by adding actual pointings above syllables.

  8. Mark Johnson says:

    I happen to love the hymnody of David Hurd – I find his hymns to be among the best at matching the texts. That’s not even including the many fine contributions he made to the hymnal such as “There is a balm in Gilead.” And, regarding the “fingerprints” that are difficult to find in the Hymnal 1982 – have you ever sung any of the hymns of Calvin Hampton? I can scarcely get through some of his hymns without tearing up – hymns that I have sung all my life to other tunes suddenly strike me with their words; words that are often lost when set to substandard Victorian melodies. Exactly how many times does the Bible tell us to “Sing to the Lord an OLD song”?
    Back on topic though – change ringing is fun and glorious, much more difficult than it seems though. I’ve only experienced a few places in the U.S. where the people really “get” how to do it right. It often becomes a cluster of discordant tri-tones if the ringers aren’t well trained.

  9. Choir Stall says:

    Good points # 8, but we have a problem:
    TEC isn’t experiencing biological growth. We need to convert / grow from outside our “cradle” Episcopalians, which means that we must accomodate (with careful reason) to American culture. We should retain our majestic hymns, and sprinkle in more heart hymns (How Great Thou Art, Great Is Thy Faithfulness, He Lives, etc.) in order to touch upon experiences of those who may be looking for a good bridge Church between Protestant and Catholic. (Wait, I thought that Anglicanism WAS that type of Church). Committees are typically professionals with agendas. Note how some very beautiful words in 1982 are now married to pointless tunes: “For the Beauty of the Earth” is one. Why change a pleasing melody into its present form? To showcase a tune-maker. And “Jesus Calls Us O’er the Tumult”. Now married to a tune that few sing VS. the old tune that more sang. Committees should remember that they serve to enable praise, not receive it. The people in the pew WILL sing theologically sound and aesthetically pleasing hymns….if they are in the Hymnal. I still say that there are lots in inaccessible hymns that don’t even sound good in cathedrals with professional singers, much less with a parish of 30 in attendance. It shouldn’t be that way.

  10. Mark Johnson says:

    #9, you’ve got some information incorrect. David Evans, who composed the “new” tune to “For the beauty of the earth” (new being relative since he composed it in 1927) was British and had nothing to do with the Hymnal 1982 being put together. He was not a member of the committee. Although, he was a member of the music advisory committee to Westminster Abbey at one time (this is for the individual above who noted how great the Methodist Hymnal was in using the Abbey’s input). I’m surprised to read someone on this blog arguing that we should give in to American culture more. I agree in many aspects, but not on this topic. I don’t think our church’s music should be similar to the music we hear on the radio (my apologies to The Purpose Driven Life author who feels differently). The tune Dix, which you reference as the old tune, is well known indeed. However, it starts by accenting the first word of the phrase which isn’t how the text of “For the beauty of the earth” sounds. Is the important word “for” or is it “beauty”. The “new” tune puts it on “beauty.” Regarding “Jesus Calls Us” — again, the “new” tune you reference is actually the “old” tune (#550). It’s taken from Southern Harmony and thus from Shapenote hymnals — not exactly “cradle” Episcopalian music. It precedes the creation of the tune sung in many Baptist and Methodist churches to the same text. I, of course, actually prefer David Hurd’s setting which is hymn #549 – admittedly, not a familiar hymn to most. But, the long notes of the tune seem to perfectly coincide with the right words of the text. That’s one benefit to new hymn tunes – they can more carefully be coordinated with an existing text. So many previous hymnals were compiled by merely matching tunes to texts that worked out syllable-wise, despite the fact that they often destroy the meaning of the text.

    I want to be inspired and yet also challenged in church. For the same reason that I’d be offended if I walked into a church and rather than having nice art on the walls, they hung “dogs playing poker” — even if they made it religious somehow (dogs praying the rosary) — cheap art is cheap art. Why not just put plastic flowers on the altar rather than real ones? Doesn’t God deserve our finest prayer and praise that we can muster? When I consider the innumerable blessings in my own life, I’m convinced I owe God more! I’m often offended by choirmasters and organists who assume that I’m an ignorant person in the pew who can’t handle learning a new hymn tune. People shouldn’t sell their congregations (or themselves) short. The “old” beloved tunes were “new” once! I like the old stuff too, I promise you. But, I don’t believe that there isn’t room for the canon of hymnody to continue to grow.