The curriculum of the Regina Bell Ringer Tower Bell Training Course is designed to produce a professional tower bell ringer. The course operates primarily in the experiential and cognitive domains of education.
Rounds are a very simple practice of tower bell ringing. The technique involved is very elementary. New apprentices begin by attempting to play one round. As this playing of one round is perfected, a task of being able to play 12 perfect rounds is given to the apprentice. This is usually accomplished in the time of one month to one year. The 12 perfect rounds means that the rounds will be joined together in perfect rhythm and the tempo of the first round will be that of the last round.
Many towers practice new music on handbells. This saves their audience from hearing the unpolished forms of their repertoire. Tower bell apprentices are expected to be proficient in the very basic techniques of handbell playing, in order to participate with other tower bell ringers in the situation of practicing on handbells. There are two benchmarks for handbell playing. One benchmark is known as playing one handbell which is equivalent to performing with the handbell choir five times or obtaining the level zero handbell apprentice designation. The second benchmark in handbell playing is known as playing two handbells. This is equivalent to performing 20 times with the handbell choir or having a designation of level one handbell apprentice. The ultimate objective of this part of the training course is to have confidence that the bell ringer can shift the music from the tower situation to that of a handbell situation and give professional leadership in doing so.
In order to establish an attitude of care and respect for the bells, the polishing of each handbell owned by the Regina Bell ringers at least once is expected by the tower bell ringers. Tower bell ringers will receive questions about the care, polishing and maintenance of handbells. Therefore, they should be familiar with the handling of the bells.
There are four benchmarks in the maintenance program of the tower bell ringer. First of which is proving to the bell ringers that they are able to sustain a cleaning program within the tower ringing room. This is important for a bell ringer since the interface to the public is often made through the ringing room and cleanliness of that room is important for tower bell image. In addition, if the tower bell ringing room is not clean, those sharing that space with the ringer are unable to function due to clutter and disorganization. When the bell ringers are convinced that the attitude and abilities of the bell ringer are sufficient to keep the tower room clean, then that benchmark is achieved.
The second benchmark is one of cleaning the tower bells. This is a maintenance program which involves removal of the pollution (usually acidic) from the bells with soap and water, then applying a thin film of oil to the outer portions of the bell to protect them for the next year from the pollutants. This process is very laborious and time consuming, as well as requiring a certain degree of skill to get close to the bells. Cleaning at least 8 out of the 12 bells will provide a completion of this benchmark.
When a bell becomes dysfunctional due to something wrong with the mechanics of the instrument, the bell ringer is expected to repair it. This includes the replacing of ropes, sleeves, and un-jamming of pulleys and joints. This benchmark is achieved when the bell ringers are convinced that the apprentice can correct any malfunction within the bell's ringing mechanism.
The final benchmark in maintenance is one of creativity and development. The apprentice is expected to improve the tower with some improvement project. In the past, projects have been ones of building catwalks, installing ladders, insulating the walls, and installing elaborate antique woodwork within the tower. Improvement project should be approved by the bell ringers before they are begun.
There are traditions associated with the playing at a wedding. These traditions are the wedding rounds and wedding clashes. The apprentice should be aware of these traditions both when they are performed and how they are performed. In addition to these traditional activities, the apprentice should have a repertoire of at least 20 selections which are appropriate for wedding use. A bell ringer will usually have apprentices assist at weddings several times before being convinced that the apprentice is of the caliber required to perform at a wedding by their self.
Tolling is performed primarily in funeral situations and only at the discretion of the bell ringer and upon request of some party involved in the funeral situation. A tolling tradition exists within the group, that of tolling the bell once for every day that a monarch has reigned upon their death provided that they are reigning at the time of their death. Tolling is also done on Good Friday for 1/2 hour. The apprentice must prove that they must be able to show that they can alter the ringing mechanisms on the bells for the tolling situation and return the mechanism back to its normal clocking situation in order to have accomplished this benchmark.
The production of a concert program is expected to be a skill found in any of the tower bell ringers. This skill must be perfected enough that they are able to guide their apprentices in the production of such a program. This means that biographical notes on the ringer or apprentice must be apprentice must be prepared and the organization of musical selections, with the appropriate documentation attached to them, is available for the typist to prepare a program. The other portion of this benchmark is the distribution of the programs. Distribution of tower bell programs is a difficult job and the art of doing this task is only learned after many hours of experience. Therefore, both creation and distribution of programs are looked for in this benchmark.
One of the jobs that tower bell ringers are regularly called upon to do is give a tour of the bell tower. The Regina Bell ringers expect those giving the tour of the bell tower to be aware of:
The singing song system is one in which the junior bell apprentice plays one bell while other bell ringers play the remaining bells in the song. In order to work as a team, the numbers and notes of the song are sung out primarily by the junior bell ringer. There are 2 objectives in this exercise. One is to introduce the junior bell ringer into ringing techniques slowly so that our audience is not disrupted with poor playing and secondly the bell ringer becomes part of the team of tower bell ringers.
This is a series of 10 assignments designed to teach the intermediate apprentice the basic techniques of interval series and those of rhythm. A passing grade of approximately 70% is expected for these assignments, since they are to prepare the apprentice psychologically for the bell ringer exam which is much more demanding both technically and intellectually on them.
The passing grade for the bell ringer exam is 100%, acknowledged by 2 different examiners. The bell ringer exam comes in 3 parts. Part 1 is the assignment of 12 musical selections that the bell ringer must learn. The selections are usually chosen by a group effort. The second part is a collection of choices. Every active bell ringer, who is not the primary teacher of the apprentice, gives the apprentice one song to learn. The apprentice's teacher gives him an alternative to that song to learn of approximately the same degree of difficulty. The apprentice is expected to practice both songs, but only needs to obtain perfection on one out of each pair. The third part of the exam is playing of a change with each of the other bell ringers. When each bell ringer is satisfied that he can be a good team player in changes with the apprentice, he will pass him on that section of the exam.
There is no time limit on the exam.
There is a certain amount of theory needed to transpose and transcribe music to the tower bells. The concept of key signatures (circle of fifths) is needed in order to transpose music into the key of "c". Once music is in the key of "c", then the simple transcription of musical notation is all that's required. This is all the basic theory that is needed for a tower bell ringer. It is equivalent to the theory needed to pass the level 1 handbell exam augmented with the knowledge of tower bell notation.
Tower bell ringers are expected to know the basic rules of hand bell notation. In order to prove that they know these rules, one transcription from choral music to handbell music is expected.
There are many change patterns. Knowledge of the plain hunt change is all that is required of the tower bell apprentice. In order to prove that they have this knowledge, 4 to 6 changes must be written out. The plain hunt change could be used in all examples, but other change patterns are encouraged.
Two pieces of music must be arranged for tower bells, one of which must not be originally in the key of "C" major or "A" minor.
Since bell ringing is loosely associated with the rest of the musical community, it is important that some historical perspective of the music industry be gained by the professional bell ringer. In order to establish historical perspective on bell music, the following tasks are assigned. Write a small essay paper on a composer and his contributions to music, which lived and worked prior to 1750.
Write an essay on a composer that lived and worked after 1750 (in the case of Bach one paper can not serve as both assignments).
It is important that the bell ringers have in their mind about 10 historical facts regarding the development of bells. Usually, these facts are brought out as the bell ringers give the tours, yet many times it is not possible to evaluate a historical knowledge of bells unless an assignment is given. An assignment on the history of bells in the form of an essay or time line can be used as an evaluation.
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Revised: August 18, 2005