Methods do not resemble the tunes typically played on a carillon or the jangle of European-style church bell ringing but instead are the majestic pealing that is associated with great English state ceremonies as well as humble village weddings.
When the wheel and pulley method of ringing tower bells was introduced in England in the late 17th century, the ringers rang rounds, a descending major scale with the treble as the highest bell and the tenor as the lowest. Playing the scale over and over soon became tiresome, so the English invented change ringing – a way of ringing bells in various mathematical patterns. Each pattern is called a change (what mathematicians call a permutation). To prevent bells from coming back into rounds, hundreds of methods – each with its own name – have been invented.
All methods are governed by 5 rules:
- The ringing always begins and ends with rounds – ringing the scale from highest to lowest bell.
- Each bell must be played once, but not more than once, in each change.
- From one change to the next, a bell can move no more than one position in its order of ringing. Therefore, from one change to the next, a bell will ring either on the same beat, one beat earlier, or one beat later.
- A change cannot be repeated and no two changes can be alike.
- Each change is rung with a steady beat.
In the ringing room, ringers stand in a circle, one behind each rope. The person ringing the lightest bell, the Treble, calls out the traditional alert: “Look to!” Then as she starts her pull, “Treble’s going!” and finally as the bell begins to swing downward, “She’s gone!” Each other bell is then pulled off in rapid succession creating the mesmerizing sound of a descending scale, repeated over and over again, known as Rounds.
The ringer who has been designated the conductor will soon announce the method to be rung by calling out, for example, “Go, Grandsire Triples.” The sequence of sounds will change from the descending scale to continually shifting orders while keeping to the steady, even rhythm until the sequence naturally returns to Rounds again.
[information courtesy of the North American Guild of Change Ringers, Wikipedia, and “Change Ringing Handbells Come to America” by Martha Lynn Thompson]