Virtual handbell quarter peals

If ever there was a time to promote handbells then now must be it. The absence of challenging tower bell ringing has led to bubbles of handbell ringing/teaching forming across the country involving both newish and very experienced ringers. Ringing simulator software as well as Ringing Room, Handbell Stadium and socially distanced handbells are all useful tools. Wouldn’t it be great if out of this horrible period, handbell ringing enjoyed a resurgence which led to more handbell groups ringing in the coming years. Groups which will improve people’s understanding of method structure as well as experiencing the joy of ringing handbells for its own sake.

The Learning the Ropes Handbell scheme is a progressive learning scheme, underpinned with learning and teaching resources. Each level is completed by ringing one or more quarter peals. The number one objective of the scheme is to promote handbell ringing and so we must ask if socially distanced handbell quarter peals are the only way of measuring success. Cue a consultation exercise, inside and outside ART.

Everyone agreed that ringing on Handbell Stadium is as close as you can get to the real thing:

  • It requires all the same skills as real ringing as it only supports motion controllers and not keyboard presses.
  • It requires real ringers and does not ring any of the bells.
  • It requires intense concentration and does not benefit from the physical prompt available to ‘real’ ringing (e.g. pointing and waving of bells!)

So, Handbell Stadium quarter peals will be accepted as evidence of level completion.

Again, when it came to ringing simulators such as Abel, Virtual Belfry and Beltower, there was agreement that performances couldn’t be accepted because “you should definitely be ringing with humans, not just you and the computer.”

Which brings us to two-handed quarter peals rung in Ringing Room using keystrokes. Again, you’re ringing with humans, not just the computer, but there isn’t the physical distinction between the handstroke and backstroke that you get with motion controllers. Set against this is the fact that motion controllers are currently unavailable, so by not recognising performances rung in Ringing Room we’d be stopping new handbell ringers from progressing through the scheme. Surely not an acceptable outcome when we’re looking to promote handbell ringing. So, handbell quarter peals rung on Ringing Room using keystrokes will also be accepted.

What was particularly persuasive were observations from those who’d “rung quarter peals on Handbell Stadium, Ringing Room with controllers, and Ringing Room without controllers, all double handed. All of these have been harder than ringing with real people in front of you swinging real handbells up and down. I say this speaking as someone who learnt to ring handbells with real bells.”

For someone who has learnt handbells virtually that of course isn't necessarily true and they find it more difficult to ring real handbells with real people, finding it distracting just because they aren’t used to it! This has led to a final requirement that to complete the LtR Handbells scheme, at least one quarter peal should be rung with real people and real bells. This was felt sufficient to demonstrate good handbell technique and the ability to ring in the same room as others.

Not necessarily a purist’s solution, but definitely a pragmatic one. One that recognises people’s achievements and promotes and encourages handbell ringing. A real positive that might come out of this horrible situation.

» Learning the Ropes Handbells logbook


Lesley Belcher, ART Chair