Online Ringing (March 2020) – Hilarity Ensues

March 29, 2020
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While we wait to hear more from Tom Farthing about his group’s success in ringing Plain Bob Major online from 4 locations (Hard to Say, USA) on March 28, 2020, here’s my tale of some DC area ringers’ attempts at online ringing on March 26, 2020.

Being the IT neophyte that I am, I had never heard of Zoom, the 9-year-old online video conferencing platform, until just a few days ago. Now it seems much of the ringing world (including WRS) is embracing it as a means of holding non-ringing meetings and get-togethers. Our handbell group decided it would be worth seeing how well it could function for our sometimes-weekly Wednesday handbell meeting. The answer is a resoundingly definite: Well, it depends.

First Quilla and I had a short session to see how handbells sounded and looked. We eventually got through a course of Plain Bob Minimus and it wasn't too bad. True, there was a delay between the 1-2 and 3-4 pairs (producing that not unfamiliar “galump, pause, galump” rhythm we sometimes achieve in tower when the change separates into pairs of bells), but once we spread out each pair (ga, pause, lump, pause, ga, pause, lump, pause, etc.), all-in-all, not too horrible. [Don’t ask about the handstroke pause!]

Following numerous emails to determine whether we could achieve an octave amongst the 4 of us who had sets of handbells (one in A, one in D, and two and a half in C), that evening, six of us ‘Zoomed.” Quilla had expected that the delay would cause more havoc on larger number of bells, and in this she was absolutely correct. Not only was there a distinct video lag, it was very hard to hear some bells, especially at handstroke, when the bell was ringing away from laptop/iPad etc. It wasn’t just that one person’s bells were hard to hear, but more that one of a pair (usually the second to ring) was nearly (or totally) inaudible. And which one(s) were hard to hear varied from ringer to ringer. And THIS was just ringing ROUNDS!

As having 2 bells each was quite hard work, we went to one bell each and got through plain hunt on 4. Then we put our bells to one side and just decided to say our place as we hunted up and down. This was not too bad. We even managed to "ring" plain hunt on 6 in this manner. However, we found that at least some of us seemed to occasionally lose track of which stroke we were on. To make each stroke clear, and as icing on the cake, we decided to stand up at handstrokes and sit down for backstrokes. This ensured that we got some sort of aerobic exercise along with our increasing level of mirth (hysteria?). [Now known as “The Ringing Squat” - which, if synchronized with the s-l-o-w ringing that network latency seems to require, should provide a good workout for your quads – this may be a way for handbell ringers to compete with tower ringers in the “Is ringing a sport” competition.] To end, three brave souls did plain hunt on 6 on thumbs, saying the places as they "rang".

Technical Details: At some point in all this we experimented with changing some of the “Advanced” audio settings in Zoom. It seemed like setting “Echo Cancellation” to “aggressive” made a little difference, as may have changing “Suppress intermittent Background Noise” from “auto” to “moderate” or “aggressive.” However, we didn’t think to turn on the “Show in-meeting option to ‘Enable Original Sound’ from microphone,” which is apparently recommended if you’re doing music over Zoom (in an online lesson, for example). As far as video placement on the screen goes: it seemed everyone's screen showed a different placement of ringers. Once you start ringing this is not much of a problem, but it can be a bit off-putting at first.

Participants in this hilarity were: Quilla "Killa" Roth, Ann "Chinese Ball" Martin; Neville "Buster" Withington; Lian "I'm looking awfully pale" von Wantoch; Rick "wake me up" DuPuy; and myself, Sue “Can we stop now" O'Neill.

What happens when some "socially distanced" casual handbell ringers try to ring "together" via Zoom?