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Getting into peal ringing

Page history last edited by R H Johnston 8 years, 10 months ago

How do I start peal ringing?

Ringing culture generally allows anyone who can ring tower bells to turn up at a tower bell practice and, with a few exceptions - usually towers with heavy, difficult or large numbers of bells -, they are invited to ring.  That is not the case with bands that ring peals or quarter peals, for the rather obvious reason that you have to have the correct number of people to ring the performance and that has to be arranged in advance.

Breaking into quarter peal ringing is not usually too difficult, because a lot of towers ring quarter peals for practice or for special occasions, so someone who wants to ring one can usually do so by attaching themselves to a tower that rings such quarter peals, at least as a very regular practice attender.

Peal ringing is quite differently organised.  A few towers arrange peals mainly for their members and hangers on, but that is not very common.  Most peal bands revolve around a peal organiser who arranges the peals.  Usually but not always, the arranger is a peal conductor.  The consequence is that whether someone gets invited into a peal attempt depends very largely on who you know, and whether they recognise you as being a suitable person to ring in the peals they organise, and moreover that the people that usually ring in the band will regard you as being good enough to ring with them..

Even for an established peal ringer, breaking into an existing regular peal band is therefore difficult, but peals are normally organised on a who you know basis for good reasons.

A peal takes a long time.  No one wants to thrash about for 3 hours with someone who isn't up to the task, or have to stop and so waste a peal opportunity at a tower where peals are infrequent.  

The main barrier to invitation isn't (usually) what you can ring, but how well and how reliably you can ring.  Someone who can't strike well or keep in place in a short piece of ringing will generally get steadily worse as the ringing time lengthens.

Potential peal ringers need to demonstrate that they can ring well first, initially by how they ring in touches, and then in quarter peals - to prove stamina.  Obviously you need to do this where there are peal conductors or peal organisers watching you.  Make use of social opportunities to talk about peals to such people and ask what they think of you, and if appropriate, what you need to do to improve in order to reach the required standard to be invited into one. The District Ringing Master may have contacts, and may be able to help or advise.

If at all possible find an experienced peal ringer or better still a peal conductor who is willing to mentor you, and arrange peal ringing opportunities for you.  Most people who get into an existing regular peal band achieve it through such a mentor.  Once you are ringing peals reasonably frequently other ringers see what you can do and are likely to ask you to ring peals.

Peal bands ring at different standards - you need to start with a low level one first.  Use Bellboard to look at the regular peal bands in your area.  What they ring is some (though not infallible) indicator of their standard, and the likelihood of their supporting a novice.  It is like playing any other team sport: you have to start playing for a team in a low division.  There is usually overlap of people between peal bands at different standards, and that provides the ladder to promotion.

Do recognise the implications of your wanting to ring with a regular band.  In a regular peal band, giving a newcomer a rope means some regular does not ring.  The initial stages of forming a relationship with such a band means being readily available to fill in when someone regular can't ring because they are ill or not available.  If you ring well, in time you will get higher up the reserve list.  If someone drops out of the band, and you are at the top, you will probably then become a regular member.

Getting onto the reserve list is a matter of discussing peal riging with the organiser and leaving the strong impression that you would like to ring in a peal.  If an opportunity to ring a peal comes up try your hardest to accept, and if you turn down an opportunity, it is less likely you will be asked another time.  You may end up ringing peals you don't fancy much but that is the only way to get any peals at all.  if you perform well, then you are more likely to be asked the next time, not least because a lot of next peals are largely organised in the pub after the peal - so make sure you go to any after peal social activity.

It is all to easy to lose your place in a band by not being available - inevitably someone else has to take your place, and they may end up replacing you permanently.  This means in general that you have to be willing to ring as frequently as the peal band rings peals, even though if you are on the reserve list you will only ring on some of those occasions.  Almost inevitably, most good peal ringers end up ringing rather more peals than they'd ideally like, but the alternative is that you typically end up not ringing many if any.  

It isn't easy to find bands that will let you ring a few a year, when you'd like them to, unless you arrange your own.  But arranging your own peals does not generally work well unless you are a conductor, and have a wide circle of peal ringers who respect you - it is much better to find a mentor to arrange your peals.

First pealers

Some conductors make a point of organising peals for first timers.  Use Bellboard to find out who they are likely to be. There are plenty of peals of "simpler things" being rung and there are usually some "first pealers" each week.  

If a ringer is fortunate enough to learn to ring in a tower with a more advanced band then the chances are that their tutor or mentor (who may or may not be the Tower Master) will be closely involved in arranging their first quarter attempt and hopefully, in due course, their first peal attempt - usually, for many of the reasons above only once they are judged to be well and truly ready for it.

If you learned to a ring in a tower that operates at a much more basic level and where the ringers don't get out and about much to attempt quarters or peals (or even know people who do), then the chances are that you are going to have to exercise your initiative and go and attach yourself to a tower with members that can help you to progress with these things - which may mean considerable time, effort, travel and commitment.  They will only put sustained effort into you if you show the requisite level of commitment and loyalty back in supporting their service ringing and attending their practices.

It is quite difficult for a "novice free-lancer" (particularly a mature learner) to break into peal ringing - unless they have truly exceptional natural talent - in the absence of guidance and support from experienced mentors who take a keen interest in getting them up to the required basic standard. All the local association training days, ringing courses and branch practices in the world are unlikely to get you up to that standard alone (which doesn't mean they have no value). You have to ring regularly - every week - with people who ring to that standard.

Virtually all "top ringers" are willing to put very considerable time and effort into 'bringing on' new peal ringers - but the conditions for that to happen have to be right. If you look at your local Association Annual Report you will see who the people are in your area who regularly ring peals and, with a bit of further research in the report, you should be able to deduce the towers where they are members of the band. You can then visit their practices and meet them ...

You will not find many (if any) regular peal bands nowadays that ring a lot of peals which only ring below surprise level.  That's partly because if you ring a lot of peals your standard improves and you want to do ring something more interesting.  In fact it may even be that ringing the lower level stuff isn't rung as well because people then don't concentrate.

There is another reason.  On the whole, these days, method ringing novices don't achieve satisfactory bell control and striking until after they have mastered the easy surprise methods, and that is why peal ringing tends to start at that point.  The reason for this is that it is only at the stage of development that the ringer must change the speed of the bell very frequently, and unless the bell control is good, any attempt to ring such methods typically collapses.  Whereas, in simple plain methods based on hunting, novices typically slur the dodges, and fudge the speed changes at the front and back, which peal ringers don't like.

Initially you may find it easier to get into a band that are ringing surprise minor on 6.  Where such ringing occurs, the ringers are often a subset of one of the bands that rings fancy stuff on higher numbers.  

If you want to make progress towards peal ringing I would particularly emphasise the need to be regularly ringing with people at peal standard and in their towers.  Only then will you find out what good ringing feels like, and learn how to do it.

In most cases, you can't become a good peal ringer by staying in the tower you first learned in because the ringing standard is too low, and you can only learn to ring well if the other ringers are better than you are.

Just like peal bands, there is a similar hierarchy of towers - this is a reality, though often it is not openly admitted - and if you want to ring well you have to move towers and work your way up the "divisions" of those as well as your standard improves.  But don't overdo it, as you will not be welcome if your standard of ringing is far below the level that tower expects.  

[This paper is based on material created for the "change ringers" email list, and acknowledges the inclusion of some material originally created by Robert Lewis]


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