Twenty-three Spliced All the Work, a Milestone in North American Ringing

December 16, 2015
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The peal of twenty-three spliced surprise major rung at Raleigh on 12 December, the first such peal by a North American band, was the culmination of an effort set in motion over three years earlier.

In the past fifty years ringing a peal of twenty-three spliced, all the work, has become a right of passage to the loftiest realms of eight bell ringing. The reason for "twenty-three" is that such a peal is in some sense the largest number of ordinary surprise methods you can squeeze with all the work into a normal length peal. That is, in ringing such a peal every ringer rings each of the seven leads of each of the twenty-three methods exactly once. Compositions for such peals are typically of a radically different sort than most peals of spliced, being seven parts, with the tenors parted or reversed for the majority of the peal, breaking many of the implicit assumptions surprise ringers take advantage of the help keep themselves right. The first such peals were composed by Richard Parker and Norman Smith in the 1960s, and Smith's in particular has proved enduringly popular with advanced ringers able to ring it. In recent decades an ever wider variety of such compositions has become available.

With an email message on 19 October 2012, things were set in motion to ring a series of peals, starting with fewer methods, and building eventually to twenty-three, with an all North American band. Nearly all the peals were on the same seven part plan to give the band experience ringing this unfamiliar style of peal.

To ring such peals with all North American ringers requires drawing band members from a variety of different towers, and to share the travel pain around, the plan was to move the venue around, generally planning one or two attempts over the course of a weekend each time. In the end we made attempts at nine different towers: Boston (Advent), Boston (Old North), Frederick, New York, Northampton, Philadelphia (St Mark's), Philadelphia (St Martin's), Pittsburgh and Raleigh. We are most grateful to all those towers for making us so welcome.

A statistic probably unimaginable to those used to ringing in the UK is that over 100,000 miles were traveled by the ringers in these attempts, by car, airplane, train and bus, over the course of this endeavor.

All the existing series of peal compositions would have required starting with methods unfamiliar to the band. But by starting with the so-called standard eight plus Glasgow, Belfast, Cornwall, Cassiobury and Lessness we'd be ringing methods that most of our initial band had rung to peals, or at least quarters, in the past, and yet was still as varied and interesting as anything containing the so-called standard eight could be. To this we added Ashtead as a method that is easy to learn, popular in other peals of spliced, and sufficiently different than any of the others to ensure further interest and variety. So a bespoke, seven-part composition of these fourteen methods was assembled for the occasion. Our initial attempt was to be at Frederick on 10 February 2013. In a foreshadowing of the scheduling difficulties to come, a blizzard whacked the entire northeast US on 10 February.

So what was supposed to be our second attempt, on 18 May 2013 in Pittsburgh, ended up being our initial attempt. In further foreshadowing it came to grief, but we did feel we'd learned a lot about ringing this style of composition, and eventually we successfully rang a long quarter, 1,632 Spliced Surprise Major, in all fourteen methods, though necessarily not all the work, using a reduction of the peal we'd been attempting. It was conducted by Tim Barnes, who was quickly dragged into the role of our designated conductor for nearly all our attempts, and in the end did call all our successful ones.

Even before our first successful peal we started running into problems with ringers having to drop by the wayside with other commitments, or difficulties scheduling mutually practical dates or locations. With a slight change in personnel, we finally scored our first successful peal, of those fourteen methods, at Frederick on 8 September 2013.

Over the course of the series ringers regularly entered and left the band, though a core of the original band did remain and ring in most of the attempts. In the end fifteen ringers rang an inside bell in one or more of our eight successful peals: Tim Barnes, John Danaher, Ross Finbow, Ed Futcher, Elaine Hansen, Duncan Large, Don Morrison, Cally Perry, Quilla Roth, Emily Russell, Mike Schulte, Beth Sinclair, Maurice Southworth, Andrew Tyler and Dale Winter. A further seven ringers rang the treble to one or more of our attempts, and/or rang inside to one or more of our failed attempts: Rick DuPuy, Mike Harrison, Chapman Knott, John Mabe, Jenny Mackley, Cecily Rock and Alex Taft. All these folks have our thanks, and were big contributors to this project, too.

In the end we rang eight successful peals, and lost even more attempts. Many of our failed attempts were followed by quarters, and, in one case, even a half peal . As our band kept mutating, to accommodate the influx of new members many of the attempts, both successful and failed, were of fewer than fourteen methods. Despite the challenges of distance, time between attempts, and changing cast, there was sufficient learning taking place that we remained confident we'd get to twenty-three eventually. We extended the bespoke composition by adding considerably more varied and interesting, and in many cases difficult, methods than is typical of those in the commonly rung Smith's peal, and deliberately added a few that had been first rung and named in North America. We also aimed at including all twelve of the possible lead end orders, a property lacking from both of the most popular twenty-three spliced compositions, reaching that goal in our first nineteen methods. The nine additional methods were Tavistock, Advent, Lancashire, Cray, Buckfastleigh, Deva, Sussex, Masurium and Alabama.

When practical, we generally took to ringing a quarter or other touch, such as the first part of the peal, before the first peal attempt on a weekend, taking a refreshment break before the peal attempt proper. This worked well, particularly when we finally went for twenty-three: uncharacteristically, we got it at our first attempt for all twenty-three!

The Raleigh ringers made us especially welcome the weekend of 12-13 December. They laid on an extra practice Friday night, so those of us arriving early enough could ring with the local band, which was great fun. And Saturday night, as a celebration it turned out, though it might have been an opportunity to drown our sorrows, John and Walker Mabe opened their home to us for a wonderful party, to which all the local ringers came as well. The dinner that couldn't be beat included the largest pot pie any of us had ever seen! And on Sunday the opportunity was taken of having half of our band augment the Sunday service ringing, while the other half helped give a presentation to the adult Sunday School class about ringing.

Our eight successful peals were:

Most of us, as well as several others, are gathering again in New York in January to make several further attempts at twenty-three spliced, to enable many of those who have worked toward this goal, but were unable to join us in Raleigh, to ring it, too. Beyond that, plans are hazy, but we will likely attempt variants of the peal, at least once those currently walking about with a stunned look from all the studying they've done so far have recovered a bit. One possibility is to ring a cyclic part end peal with the same methods. Such a peal is currently quite fashionable, and rewards the more complex construction (with even more tenors parted) with exciting music. Another possibility to ring an each lead different arrangement. Since we've included the so-called standard eight, everyone rang one lead, thirds place bell of Cambridge, Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and Superlative, four times. The choice of methods in our bespoke peal was carefully chosen that if we replace Cambridge, Yorkshire and Lincolnshire by three other methods (Smith's requires replacing four methods) we can make it each lead different. And in doing so we spread out the possible lead end orders even more, and make things even a little more challenging!

This has been a major (ahem) accomplishment for North American ringing, and we thank all the towers that made us so welcome, and all the ringers that have helped us along the way but were unable to be part of the peal in Raleigh, for making it possible!

Update: we were successful in New York on 18 January 2016, with three more of out number successfully ringing a peal of all twenty-three methods, but still hope to ring it at least one more time in the near future with a few more folks that have been frequent participants in the project, but were unable to join us in New York.

Further update: with a peal at Old North Church, Boston on 20 November 2016 we both added another of our ringers to those with whom we've rung twenty-three spliced, and extended the peal to be each lead different. The original peal, like the most commonly rung peal of twenty-three, includes all of the so-called standard eight surprise major methods, and thus necessarily includes some methods that have leads that are same as corresponding leads of other methods. So we removed the arguably simplest methods, Cambridge, Yorkshire and Linconshire, and replaced them with three more varied methods, Capricorn, Chesterfield and Stanton, making it each lead different. That is, every ringer of a working bell essentially has to know a single line of length 5,152, with each of the 161 leads different from the others.

The tale may not be over yet, either. Plans are in the beginning stages of bringing more North American ringers along, starting with fewer methods working up to the same, each lead different twenty-three, but using an even more interesting, and musical, series of compositions using cyclic part heads. Stay tuned.

The peal of twenty-three spliced surprise major rung at Raleigh on 12 December, the first such peal by a North American band, was the culmination of an effort set in motion over three years earlier. This has been a major (ahem) accomplishment for North American ringing, and we thank all the towers that made us so welcome, and all the ringers that have helped us along the way but were unable to be part of the peal in Raleigh, for making it possible!