Change Ringing on Our Tower Bells
Welcome to our website entry. As a potential visitor to our tower, whether to ring (welcome!) or to watch us ringing and learn what it’s about, we will greet you warmly, take you upstairs to see the bells, show you how we raise and ring the bells, and answer all your questions. The sound of church bells has become an iconic symbol of worship in the Christian Church, informing hearers that a service is about to start, and inviting worshipers. That is particularly true in England, where the art of change ringing was developed in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (every second village in England has a bell tower, and towns and cities have several). The custom has spread around the world, mostly to places where the British had colonies. Rochester’s Church of the Ascension is pleased and proud to have such a set of bells, installed in its tower in 2015.
There are many things that make these bells a unique feature in the Rochester community. They are beautifully tuned, but because of the manner in which they hang, they do not ring tunes, they ring changes on the order of the bells. When the bells are well rung by experienced ringers, the result for listeners is a beautiful musical experience, although change ringing is not usually considered a performance art. Unlike a carillon or a chime, at which a lone person pulls or pushes or otherwise manipulates a large keyboard to ring a tune, a peal of change-ringing bells requires one person per bell. Each person pulls on a rope that hangs down from the bell chamber, on a floor above the ringing chamber. In Ascension's tower, the ringing chamber is at ground level, so it is easy to watch the ringers. There are ten bells at Ascension hung for change ringing (defined as the ringing of sets of church bells or handbells in a constantly varying order; see Wikipedia for basic and general information: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Change_ringing.) Because of considerations of safety and volume, people cannot see the bells as they actually ring, but here is a brief clip of Ascension's ten bells swinging and sounding forth:
"Bristol Royal" rung on Ascension's Tower Bells
From here in western New York, the nearest similar change-ringing bell tower is in Toronto, Canada (175 miles away); and if we stay in this country, the nearest are in Pittsburgh (300 miles), Kent School, Kent, CT (also about 300 miles), New York City (340 miles), and Philadelphia (350 miles). For more information about change ringing at other bell towers in North America, see www.nagcr.org. For more information about ringing and bells worldwide, see www.cccbr.org.uk.
Chris and Helen Haller, the major donors of the bells, selected the persons to be honored by having a bell named after them. Some are very personal choices, some are notable Rochester names, and some are notable national, international, or bell-ringing people. Our lightest bell, “Trudy”, weighs 375 pounds, and the heaviest, “Martin”, weighs 1267 pounds. That may sound intimidating to non-ringers, but the fact is that they are well counter-balanced and swing on modern bearings, so that it does not take unusual effort to ring them. Anyone weighing over about a hundred pounds can ring most bells. Each of our bells is inscribed with the name of the person honored, and one or two appropriate lines from Stanza 106 of “In Memoriam” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
Chris Haller reading “In Memoriam” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
The expert workers at Whitechapel Bell Foundry in London, England (a firm with centuries of experience) drew up the plans, cast and tuned the bells, and made the frame and fittings that enable them to swing. Everything was shipped to Church of the Ascension, and installed in the waiting church tower. The Ceremony of Blessing and Dedication took place on November 21, 2015, with The Right Reverend Prince G. Singh, Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of Rochester, presiding, and our Rector at the time, The Rev. Dahn Gandell, welcoming those attending. Here is a video showing highlights of some of those events:
The arrival, installation, and dedication of the ten bells at Church of the Ascension
When at least three ringers are available, we ring the bells before and after the 10:15 AM Sunday service. We are fortunate to have a computer-actuated chiming mechanism also in place, that can chime changes before the service if fewer ringers are available. We have practices twice a week, for an hour and a half after the service on Sundays, and on Friday evenings between 6:30 and 8 PM. Yes, it takes plenty of practice to learn to ring and to improve and advance our skills. This is what change ringing looks like:
Chris Haller, Helen Haller and the English bell hanger, Neil Thomas, ringing on the first day the bells were rung
If you are considering a visit to ring or to watch the ringing, please check with Chris Haller (585-203-7457; firstname.lastname@example.org) to confirm that ringing will take place on your proposed date. Also call Chris if you think you are interested in learning to ring; a series of one-on-one lessons can be arranged at mutual convenience, to make you ready to ring with our band in the regular practices.