Change ringing is a style of tower bell ringing that started in England around the end of the 16th century, but the bell that you ring has been around for millennia, right?
Right, and from what I always understood, bells were rung for certain purposes. Either for church service, or to announce the time, or for deaths—nine rings for a man, six for a woman, three for a child. You can look to Fabian Stedman [the “father of change ringing,” who published the first book on change ringing, Tintinnalogia, in 1668. The “Stedman method” is still rung by ringers today].
Do you remember where/when it was that you first rang?
St. Martin-in-the-Fields in Philadelphia, which at the time was the only ringable tower in Philadelphia. My husband, Bruce, was a bell ringer—he was British. He learned back in England, in his town, when he was teenager. The bells in Philadelphia were put in around 1980. Bruce and I met in 1982, and just before we got married in 1984, I got to see him ring in England, and that’s how I was introduced. I started ringing back in Philadelphia shortly after, following a grant I had won on campanology [the scientific and musical study of bells].
How often do you get to ring today?
Here in Philadelphia I only get to ring about twice a week. We just don’t have the manpower. Bruce and I have rung in every tower in North America. I myself have rung in over 3,500 towers—every tower in the United Kingdom, towers in Africa, all over. At some points during tours—Bruce and I used to run tours in the UK—we would ring in eight towers in one day. Here in North America you’d be lucky to be able to ring at four to five.
How many North American Guild of Change Ringers members are there and how many do you expect to join at the meeting this week?
There’s roughly 450 of us. A lot of members see ringing as a service to their church. The last in-person meeting was 2019 up in Boston. Boston has a very big base of ringers. Over 100 people attended that year. This year it’s our 50th anniversary of the North American Guild, but with COVID still lingering we’re expecting a smaller turnout of about 80 people, including a few founding members.
What would you say members of the guild are most looking forward to at next week’s meeting here in Raleigh?
That is a difficult question! There are as many answers as there are attendees. Some are looking forward to the ringing course, others the ringing peals, some are eager to ring things they can’t ring at their own towers. For myself, and probably quite a few others, just being in person again after two years and catching up with many ringing friends.
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