During this period where we are not able to physically ring together, ringers are increasingly turning to online, virtual practices to develop their ringing skills and keep in touch. Although nobody has yet formed a Virtual Guild or Cyberspace Association, online ringers are developing new friendships with ringers they wouldn’t have so easily had the opportunity to ring with in real life.
In this article, two tower and handbell ringers share their account of virtual ringing and offer advice on how to get started.
Lesley Boyle describes how she’s been busier than ever, ringing during lockdown.
‘When can we next ring together?’ ‘Actually we’re busy every night – maybe at the end of the week – Friday, and then we’re already ringing at 5.30 so it will have to be after that …’
This is not a quote from the pre lockdown days – this was me earlier this evening talking to someone in Surrey and someone else in Staffordshire about whether we could meet to ring ‘handbells’ together in five days’ time. I’ve never been so busy – this evening we had two attempts at quarter peals on two different platforms and managed, with a great deal of concentration, to score one of them.
I’m an experienced handbell ringer and I’m lucky to know a lot of other handbell ringers, some of whom have put their ingenuity to the test to develop some really exciting virtual ringing platforms. I want to encourage you to have a go at one of these and seize the opportunity out of this restriction imposed upon us all to practise ringing, a single ‘tower bell’ or a pair of handbells, in a different way, and maybe with different people. Part of what we enjoy in our hobby
is ringing with each other.
These virtual ringing platforms let us indulge without the hassle of leaving our houses or fear of what it all sounds like to the general public! And it offers us the chance to offer teaching on topics which are often difficult and time consuming to cover adequately in the tower.
Missing the social side of ringing or want to keep in touch with your band?
If you want to ring with other people you have some new fun and exciting options, all developed since ‘lock down’. Many thanks to all the clever people in our ringing community for putting their energy and efforts into doing this!
For all of these you need a voice channel – a way of communicating with each other over distance. This can be whatever you are used to, maybe Microsoft Teams, Facebook Messenger, Google Meet or Zoom.
Many people are using Zoom and getting on very well with it. It has a 40minute limit on using the free version but actually that is a pretty good amount of time. If someone has a paid account (approx. £12/ month) then they can set up the meeting and everyone then benefits from unlimited meeting time.
Discord is another option that is commonly used by the gaming community (my son uses it) and I like it because you can appear to talk over each other more naturally.
One of the most popular platforms which is very simple to access is Ringing Room. Lesley says:
I would say that this has become the most popular platform since it is so simple. Ringing Room has now been used by countless towers and ad hoc bands holding virtual practices across the web. You simply press computer keys to ring the bells. It requires no downloading or set up expertise. You can also try ‘two in hand’ handbell touches with participants in multiple locations. The handbell ringer can simply assign two bells to themselves and click the left and right arrow keys to ring them.
Or it has been enabled to work with the Graham John action controllers with some nifty programming by Robert Johnston adapting the Handbell Manager driver to work with Ringing Room.
If you haven’t tried Ringing Room yet, Nigel Mellor has some top tips for getting started.
When first entering Ringing Room, the organiser should create a ‘Ringing Room’ which will then be given a number ID. This number should then be shared using the voice or chat channel on Discord.
Once the Ringing Room has been created other ringers may join it. They will be asked to enter their name which will then be displayed in the Ringing Room. From this point whoever is organising the ringing should ask ringers to assign themselves to a specific bell(s).
Pressing SHIFT and a number will both assign the bell to the ringer and place the bell at the bottom of the screen. There is a help screen on the Ringing Room website.
The ringer should press the number associated with the bell they have been assigned to ring the bell, left and right arrow keys also work. Although using a mouse click will work, it is slower and can disrupt the striking.
It is likely that it will take a few goes using Ringing Room for your band to become used to it but it is worth persevering as it does become easier. One of the current downsides is the noise created when users press the keyboard – if pressed too hard it can be distracting.
One way we have overcome this keyboard distraction is using motion sensors. Some users of Abel will have them, and they work by sending the keyboard stroke to Abel by using a separate piece of software, Handbell Manager. Handbell Manager has been modified to allow it to be used with Ringing Room and Muster and this new version is expected to be released soon on Graham John’s website. There has also been a recent software development to allow an Android phone to be used as a motion sensor.
If you just want to practise methods alone for the time being
Lesley Boyle suggests that solo ringing with computer simulators could be for you.
This is great for a learner who is on their own or who just wants to dip their toe in the water, or who just needs a bit of time and space to become familiar with ringing on a computer. Simulators such as Abel (abelsim.co.uk) for computer or Mobel for iPhone or (just released) Android have a lot of functionality but even so are simple to use for someone just starting out. Other computerbased ringing simulators are available – search the web for Virtual Belfry or Beltower. Also check out tadhill.co.uk and ringing.org.
These programs will ring anything you like with you – check out Call Changes, or learning exercises in Abel, or ring Original on any number on your phone. Secrets to help with success: slow the speed right down by changing the peal speed to 4 hours 30 mins to begin with. You can speed it up later. On the File menu you’ll find the Learning Exercises your students will already be familiar with. ART’s YouTube channel has got some excellent videos giving you a quick guide on a number of topics with more coming soon, so subscribe to the ringingteachers channel at https://www.youtube.com/user/ ringingteachers
If you’re already familiar with Abel as a front end app, take a look at Muster
Muster is the latest virtual ringing platform and has been designed to work with Abel as the frontend application. The principle of operation is similar to Ringing Room allowing remote users to ring bells with keystrokes or motion sensors. Abel in this case is not being used for ringers to ring with (i.e. you do not select a method to ring) but just to create the moving image and sound of a ringing bell. Our initial testing showed that we could ring a little faster than the other two simulators, however it did suffer from what appeared to be Internet buffering, with bells ringing on top of one another occasionally. It is, though, in the very early stages of development and I expect there to be further improvements. The big advantage and attractiveness of Muster is the familiarity of the Abel interface and the lower latency than Ringing Room and Handbell Stadium.
If you’re keen to try something new and have always wanted to develop your handbell ringing, pop along and visit Handbell Stadium (developed by Graham John). Nigel feels this is going to especially benefit ringers who have quite a visual approach to ringing.
As the name implies, this platform is designed to simulate handbell ringing. It expects each participant to ring two bells and to use a pair of action controllers. These are mandatory. They are available from Graham John who sources them from a manufacturer in the US and has just taken delivery of another consignment, so if you’re seriously interested in handbell training, bag yourself a pair quickly before they all go.
Graham can provide them for £27.50 a pair including P&P. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange this. You’ll be able to use them with Abel and Ringing Room as well. Perhaps this is more for the serious handbell ringer but who knows who might get bitten by the bug if they are introduced to it?
Graham is organising open practices so that you can find other people to ring with, and it is amazing to find yourself ringing handbells with someone from the US and someone in France. These tend to be on Mondays and Fridays at 8.30pm (UK time) and everyone is made welcome. Go to the Discord ‘Changeringing’ channel first to see who’s there. Make sure you have downloaded the 2D or 3D software – the links are available from discordapp.com.
What about quarter peals or other online performances?
Nigel tells us about a couple of virtual quarters he has rung recently, one of Plain Bob Minor in Ringing Room and the other using the 2D version of Handbell Stadium. Both have been slow (42 minutes for Ringing Room and 50 minutes for Handbell Stadium) compared to normal quarter peals on handbells. Handbell Stadium was possibly slower than Ringing Room due to the way the 2D graphics work. One other variable that needs to be taken into account when ringing longer lengths is the reliability of the Internet connection. Whilst ringing both quarter peals we did experience one or two instances of bells appearing to rush or ring on top of one another. One could blame this on the ringers, but it was clearly the Internet connection causing it for some of the cases of bad striking!
I should also note that this review is current as at the time of writing as all these virtual ringing platforms are still under development and constantly evolving. Whilst we are locked out of churches and prevented from ringing with our friends, these virtual ringing solutions certainly merit trying. It will require a few hours of investment in your time to become used to them, but well worth it in the end.
Finally, some more words of practical advice from Lesley on how to get started:
Practical things you can do
All of these programs work best if you’re on the best possible internet connection. So you may find that things work better if you plug an Ethernet cable into your router rather than using your house wifi. One person in my tower got his internet supply upgraded as he’s in social isolation so needs it for all sorts of things including ringing. Now’s the time to do it!
If you are going to get a group of people to ring on (I suggest) Ringing Room, first plan a whole session just to get everyone up and running. Set up the Zoom meeting (or whatever you are using to communicate – you don’t need the video part to be running but it is nice to see everyone’s face). One person has to set up the Ringing Room in advance and acquire the ID. You then supply that ID number via Zoom chat to every subsequent visitor to the tower. When everyone is there, you click on a rope to ‘assign ringer’ to each bell. Focus on counting your place and listening to the whole row – both these skills are invaluable later on in the actual tower. Err n the side of simplicity. Have fun!