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A different approach to special lengths

 Ringers like numbers – it seems to be in our DNA. We are musicians who describe our music with numbers, and what other musician would count the number of ‘bars’ among a work’s most important properties?

When we ring to celebrate a special event we often try to make a numerical link between the event and the performance. Some of the links are subtle and only make sense to a ringer – like ringing a peal of 5060 for a 60th anniversary (but a 5040 for a 40th would hardly special). More obvious to the layman are date touches, like a 2018 for New Year’s Day 2018, a 1918 to mark the end of the First World War, or an 800 for the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta.

But these traditional approaches impose quite severe constraints on what is possible in terms of length and method. For example, CompLib has only one peal of 5075 Major, a rather complicated peal of spliced Bristol & Double Norwich, and there are no 5075s of Triples. Date touches too can be quite tricky. Apart from the ‘golden years’ like 2016, composing a date touch often means using a funny start and/or a bit of an unusual method, tacked onto an otherwise conventional piece of composition.

I wanted to ring something special on my 75th birthday. A peal would have been nice but not all of the ringers I had in mind were keen on that. A quarter would have been easy but a bit too ordinary. In any case I wanted the length to be special. On my 70th we rang a 1943 (the year I was born) but the composition I produced for that had the less desirable qualities described above, and I wasn’t keen to repeat it.

Then one of the band suggested ringing 75 leads. That gets the special number in without ruling out any methods, and makes composition much easier. For Surprise Major it gives 2400 – in the happy medium between a peal and a quarter. The obvious method for us was Yorkshire since we wanted to score. I couldn’t find a 2400 anywhere, so I needed to produce one, and rather than start from scratch I thought it would be more sensible to take an existing peal and shorten it in some way.

I had a three part in mind, and did a bit of arithmetic to see how many short courses would be needed to fit the required length. Happily it needed just one Before in each part. I had previously called Pitstow’s 3 part peal (W3HW3HB2Hx3) so I started with that, intending to leave out some blocks of 3H and/or to replace some of them with 2SH. In the event the simplest solution worked. Omitting every block of 3H gives an exact 3 part 2400. So that’s what we rang – followed of course by birthday cake. I’m not aware of this approach to creating special length performances being used before, but since it appears to be a lot more flexible than the traditional approaches, perhaps more people would like to try it. If it does catch on, I’m not sure what we will call the performances – neither date touch nor peal nor quarter – but no doubt someone will come up with a suitable name.

This one didn’t quite make it to count as a half peal either, but if I do another for my 80th that will get comfortably over the line.

  This article was published in The Ringing World on 7 December 2018, alongside the report of the performance 

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