The Tower Handbook

8.8: Striking competitions

a: What is a striking competition?

It is a ringing competition where the team that produces the best striking wins. Most associations and districts hold them and your tower will be invited [78] to enter a band or bands. In most competitions the test piece lasts about ten minutes. This is long enough to settle down to good steady ringing, but not too onerous. Each team rings in turn on the same bells. Usually you can choose the method [79].

The judge is usually an experienced ringer from outside the district. He or she normally counts all the 'faults' in the ringing, and the team with fewest faults wins. At the end, the judge gives the score and normally comments on the ringing. Judges' comments can be perceptive and helpful, but if the judge says something uncomplimentary about your ringing, don't take it personally [80]. Most judges try not to give offence, but they too are under a lot of pressure and can sometimes make an unguarded remark.

In most areas striking competitions involve ringing changes, but in Devon where call change ringing is the norm, their competitions are based on call changes. In most method ringing competitions the bells are stood before and after the test piece, but in Devon call change ringing the bells start and end down, with the rise and fall as part of the performance.

b: What is a fault?

Ideally, you should produce evenly spaced ringing with no one bell getting too close to the one in front (clipping) or too close to the one behind (wide, slow or late). The gap at handstroke lead should be always the same, no matter who is leading. For each significant irregularity the judge will award a fault. In practice, the number of faults itself does not tell you a lot, since it depends on where the judge draws the line between an 'acceptable blemish' and a 'fault'. This is the hardest part of judging such a competition, and judges must do it consistently for all teams. See section 3.4 on good striking.

c: Are striking competitions only for expert bands?

Very few are. Most are intended for all towers in the district, and their aim is to encourage better striking by Sunday service bands. This would not work if only the better ones bothered to enter. Only one team can win, and there are probably a few towers in your district vying with each other for the top position. But the rest should still enter and concentrate on doing as well as possible. You never know, one time your team might oust one of the 'top dogs'. Most competition rules are designed to encourage as wide an entry as possible.

d: Should we enter a striking competition?

Yes, if enough of your ringers can make the time available and are willing to have a go. Don't expect too much, then if you do well you will feel good. Share your success with the congregation at one of your services the following Sunday. Even if you don't win, you may learn something from the judges comments, but the main benefit from competing is to improve your ringing which should come from attention to striking while preparing for the big day, and which hopefully will carry over into your regular ringing.

e: Can we train for a contest?

Yes. How much you do depends on how keen you all are. Here are some ideas. Pick your team early and then ring regularly together, ideally once a week. Practise the chosen method and really concentrate on the striking. Use a tape recorder to listen to it, or get your other ringers to listen and give their comments. Some teams ring a quarter peal a couple of weeks before, so the method really feels familiar. A few days before (and ideally on the morning of the competition), practise the test piece exactly as you will ring it, including the specified length of rounds beforehand. For these later practices, try to ring on bells similar to the competition bells. Local custom may bar ringing on the actual bells for a week or two before the competition, so make sure all your team has rung there beforehand and knows what they are like.

On the day, get to the tower with plenty of spare time [81]. You won't ring at your best if you are rushed. Listen to the other bands. If the bells are difficult it helps to know which ones have the problems before you start. Beware of hanging around too long in the churchyard in cool weather. If your arms are cold, you will find accurate handling more difficult.

f: How should we place our band for a striking competition?

The tenor and treble are the most prominent bells. Judges find them easier to pick out. Also their imperfections have a bigger impact on how good the ringing sounds. So if possible put your best strikers on these two bells. They need not be your best method ringers. Put your weakest ringers in the middle bells which are often easier to ring and where the ear is more tolerant of minor imperfections. The main exception to this simple rule is odd struck bells. In a strange tower, you may not know which they are, so the result is a bit of a lottery, but try to find out about the bells beforehand. You will not do well with your weakest ringer on an odd struck bell, and he or she will feel really miserable if the bell proves too much and the striking suffers as a result.

g: What method should we ring in a striking competition?

Some organisers specify the method so you have no choice. Some rules say 'the most advanced method you can strike well'. This is unenforceable, but sets the right spirit. You compete on striking, not on ability to ring fancy methods. Don't ring anything difficult enough to cause mistakes and distract you from the striking. That may mean Bob Doubles (or call changes if the rules allow it). But if you have an experienced band, and can ring Surprise methods well, then do so. Ringing Cambridge well could be more satisfying than 'playing safe' with Bob Doubles. Some bands even find they ring better like this. Ringing a long way below your ability can lead to laziness and hence mistakes.

h: Should striking contests be taken so seriously?

Yes and no. Striking is important, and anything that can help us to strike better is worth taking seriously. Your district striking competition is only a means to an end. It is intended to be friendly rivalry, not a bitter contest.

Apart from your local competition, there are some regional and national ones that are very competitive, for example the National 12 Bell Contest. You should not enter such a contest lightly.

i: What is a knock out striking contest?

It is not a one day affair. And it's not like the picture. All the towers in the district are paired off for a set of first round matches. The winners from those go on to compete in a second round, and so on until the final. A knock out contest needs a lot of organisation and is most successful in large districts with many active bands that would swamp a normal one day contest.

With fewer keen towers, it is less successful. Many towers are quickly eliminated and can lose interest. Many may go through to the next round by default without competing, because their opponents called off.

j: What is a striking ladder?

A scheme where bands compete in two way striking competitions and progress up or down a list depending on who wins. It is not limited to one competition a year, and any band (in the district say) can challenge a band one or two places above it in the list. So most contests are between well matched teams, especially if the contest takes place at the home tower of the lower team. The more active bands can take part in more matches. Competing teams agree venue, method, number of bells and method of judging between themselves. They may bring in a judge from another tower or record both pieces of ringing and have all the participants judge them.

k: What is a hat contest?

It is a striking competition where names for the teams are drawn from a hat. Or you choose conductors who then pick names for their teams from the hat. You can hold one any time (eg on a tower outing). It is a light hearted event in which all present can take part. Don't confuse this modern form of event with the historical practice of ringing for hats (see glossary).

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