Josef “Jeff” Sipek

Change Ringing - The Changes

We have seen what a bell tower set up for change ringing looks like; we have looked at the mechanics of ringing a single bell and what it sounds like if you ring the bells in what is called rounds (all bells ring one after each other in order of pitch, starting with the treble and ending with the tenor).

Ringing rounds is good practice, but ringing would be really boring if that was all there was. Someone at some point decided that it’d be fun for one of the ringers to be a conductor, and direct the other ringers to do the most obvious thing — swap around. So, for example, suppose we have 6 bells, the treble is the first, and the tenor is the last. First, we get rounds by ringing all of them in numerical order:


Then, the conductor makes a call telling two bells to change around. For example, say that the conductor says: 5 to 3. This tells the person ringing bell number 5 that the next hand stroke (I completely skipped over this part in the previous post, but bell strikes come in pairs: hand stroke, and back stroke) he should follow the bell number 3. In other words, the new order will be:


You can see that in addition to the 5 changing place, the 4 had to move too! Now, it is following the 5.

Until the next call, the bells go in this order. Then the conductor may say something like: 3 to 1, or 3 to treble. Just as before, 2 bells move. This time, it is the 2 and the 3, yielding:


Let’s have another call…5 to 3. Now, we have:


This pattern (all odd bells in increasing order, followed by all even bells in increasing order) is called Queens. There are many such patterns.

Ringing traditionally starts in rounds, and ends in rounds. So, let’s have a few calls and return the bells to rounds.

3 to the lead (this means that 3 will be the first bell) 315246
4 to 5 315426
4 to the treble 314526
2 to 4 314256
treble lead 134256
2 to 3 132456
rounds next 123456

There we have it. We’re back in rounds. There was nothing special about the order of these changes. Well, there is one rule: the bells that are changing places must be adjacent. So, for example, if we start in rounds, we can’t do 4 to the treble. Why is that? These bells are heavy, and especially the heavier ones (>10 Wikipedia article: cwt) will not move that far easily. Remember, this is bell ringing, not wrestling.

Change Ringing - The Mechanics

A while back, I described the Trinity bell tower, and as I promised here is the follow up post that talks about change ringing itself. This post is going to describe the process of ringing a single bell.

Let’s start from the beginning. In a tower, there are several bells (12 at Trinity) of various pitches (tuned to make them sound pleasant).

Trinity’s Tenor

Each bell has a head stock (red in the above photo), and a wheel for the rope. A person uses the rope to make the wheel turn, which in turn makes the bell itself move.

The headstock and the bearings are designed in such a way that the bell can freely turn 360 degrees. This might sound unsafe, and it can be. So do not just assume that you can handle it without proper supervision. There is something called a stay, which prevents the bell from going more than ~380 degrees, but it is just a piece of wood — wood can (and does) break.

The bells start off in the most unlikely position — up side down! That is, they open upward. When a tiny bit of energy is applied on the rope (by pulling), the bell goes off balance and thanks to physics, swings all the way around stopping more or less right at the top again. At some point during the swing, the clapper strikes the bell, and everyone in the neighborhood knows that someone is ringing.

Here is a great animation that I found on the internet that shows exactly what happens:

Change Ringing

Now comes the hard part :) Since you have multiple bells, you can ring them in various orders. Suppose you label the treble as bell number 1, the tenor as 12, and all the other bells in the obvious way. You could ring them one at a time, one right after another (you want to have 12 people, one per bell). Easy enough, right? Well… go ahead an look at this video of some ringing at Trinity:

What do you think? Pretty cool, eh? There isn’t much time between each bell strike, and you want to make sure that you make your bell sound at the right time.

You might have noticed that right before the end of the video, the pattern changed. More on this in the next post.

What does it look like when the bells are moving? Well, there’s is another video. This one is about how the bells were made, and all the other good stuff. It opens with a shot of the bells swinging around:

Anyway, that’s it for the mechanics of ringing a bell, you will have to wait for the next post to find out about the patterns. I will try to write it before the 2010 is over ;)

AGM @ Trinity

This past week, Trinity Church (previous post) hosted the AGM.

As a result, the NY Times wrote an article about the event and change ringing.

Neat, I just found out that the ringers at Trinity have a new website.

Trinity Church @ New York, New York

This past Monday, it was a year since I was introduced to a very interesting (and a very English) activity — change ringing. Wikipedia’s Wikipedia article: article has a good summary:

Change ringing is the art of ringing a set of tuned bells in a series of mathematical patterns called “changes”. It differs from many other forms of campanology (such as carillon ringing) in that no attempt is made to produce a conventional melody.

Trinity was the first bell tower set up for change ringing that I went to (I think there are about 40 or 50 in all of North America). The bell tower is part of the Trinity church on the intersection of Broadway and Wall St in NYC. Here’s a link that has information about the bells at Trinity. I’ll probably include most of it here, as well as “borrow” some of the photos. (If I don’t say where I got a particular photo, it’s because I took it myself.)

Wall St & Broadway

I tried taking a photo of the church further down the street, but it didn’t go all that well (it was late afternoon, so the church walls were in a shadow, and the sky behind it was bright). So, here’s someone else’s photo that’s from the same perspective as the one I was trying to make:
Trinity tower from Wall Street

Trinity is one of only two towers in North America that has 12 bells (the other is St. James’ Cathedral in Toronto). All the other towers in North America have less (8 bells being the most common). The practice of change ringing is originally from England, and there 12 bells is pretty normal.

These are the “specs” for the Trinity bells (all cast by Taylors, Eayre & Smith in 2006):

Bell Weight Diameter Note
Treble 4-2-11 25 9/16” A
2 5-0-5 26 5/8” G
3 4-3-9 26 3/4” F#
4 5-0-1 28” E
5 5-1-23 29 3/8” D
6 5-3-14 30 5/8” C#
7 6-2-24 32 1/2” B
8 7-3-16 34 7/8” A
9 9-2-10 37 7/8” G
10 12-1-21 41 1/8” F#
11 16-3-9 45 1/2” E
Tenor 23-3-17 51” D

The weight is represented by a triple of numbers. The first is the number of Wikipedia article: hundredweights (1 cwt = 112lbs = approx. 50kg); the second number is the number of quarters (0.25 cwt = 28lbs = 12.7kg); and the third number is the number of pounds (1lb = 0.454kg). So, for example, the tenor is 2677lbs = 1214kg (23*112 + 3*28 + 17 = 2677).

For comparison, the Wikipedia article: Liberty Bell (as recast by Pass and Stowe in 1753) is 18-2-8 (2080 lbs; 943 kg).

Alright, let’s head upstairs into the ringing room. (photo taken from flick).


Inside the tower, the ropes to control 12 bells (or however many a change ringing tower may have) are arranged in a circle, so that if a person stands near each rope, they can see all the other ropes easily.

This is what the Trinity ringing room looks like (also taken from flickr):

Ringing Room

You can see the ropes hanging from the ceiling. They are at the back-stroke (more on this later), therefore you can’t see much of them.

Each rope goes though the ceiling, to a wooden wheel that’s affixed to the bell. The whole assembly looks like (this is the tenor from Trinity while still at the foundry):

Trinity’s Tenor

You can easily see the wheel, and the (red) headstock. When a person pulls on the rope, it turns the wheel, which in turn moves the bell.

Anyway, that’s it for the introduction to the Trinity Church bell tower. You’ll have to wait for the next post to learn more about change ringing itself. :P

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