Compositions of the Decade 6 - Caters

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A Review by Philip Earis - continued

It’s hard to know what to say about Caters. And whilst you could interpret that as I don’t know what I’m saying about Caters, there is some clear evidence suggesting that there isn’t in fact much new to say. The stage is really rather moribund in many regards. Whether a cause, an effect or both, it undoubtedly remains dominated by Stedman and Grandsire.

You just have to look at some of the key indicators of innovation:

  • There hasn’t been a meaningful long length of Caters since March 1990.
  • There have been only 7 new Caters methods rung in the past decade. 6 of these are non-descript simple plain methods. Only one is of note – the cyclic and rotationally symmetric principle Flada, rung in Oxford in 2004. Things like Differentials, hybrids and so on all seems to have passed Caters by completely.
  • There has only really been one peal of spliced Caters in the past decade. And the emergence of spliced Caters and Royal has only gone to show it’s not easy to achieve a synergistic effect.
  • There has been only one handbell peal in the past five years that wasn’t Stedman or Grandsire. And that was Plain Bob.

Indeed, looking at peals.co.uk we see that whilst the total number of peals of Caters seems to have gone up around 10% in the past decade, around 98% of 9-bell peals are either Stedman or Grandsire (with Plain Bob, Erin and Double Norwich making up nearly all the rest)

It almost seems like Caters has turned into a dead zone. It is the stage people ring for a safe peal score or when royal seems a bit tricky, rather than something to be pursued and developed in its own right. This is a great shame, because Caters has so many possibilities and potential.

The case for the defence

The likely defence against my argument of stagnation is that innovation, music, excitement and so on can be obtained within the framework of Grandsire or Stedman. Even leaving aside my personal views on the musical qualities and potential of Stedman (the Irish joke about the traveller seeking directions comes to mind), this seems a bit of a bogus response – you don’t find similar arguments at even-bell stages.

Grandsire Caters clearly has many advantages, but even simple but attractive related methods like Double Grandsire (1 peal in the past 25 years) don’t seem to be in the canon.

Running away

So what’s been going on in Stedman Caters compositions? Well, the vast majority of compositions still seem to be shuffling deck-chairs on the titanic. You can re-arrange courses of 56s, 65s, so-called “tittums” (3 consecutive bells coursing – I ask you!) until the cows come home, indeed John Hyden has, but the end result is still the same.

Perhaps I’m being unfair. Caters has not been completely immune from trends on other number. The rounds -> queens transition on 10 bells is glorious, especially in methods with coursing music, and has been exploited in elegant multi-part Caters compositions for the first time: a real highlight of the decade. There remains much more scope for related developments.

More generally, there have been very welcome moves towards more bespoke compositions, incorporating cyclic music, and so on. Indeed, on the positive side and for the first time in the centuries Stedman has been rung, the little bells haven’t been completely dropped from the musical equation. This must count as progress.

It’s perhaps a sign of how bad things were in the past that the footnote to Mark Davies’ 2003 composition of 5055 Stedman Caters (no. 2) says, “Believed to be the first performance of a little-bell composition in Stedman's principle”. Any increase of music has got to be a good thing.

Call of the wild

The problem is that Stedman disrupts the coursing order, meaning transitions between musical blocks tend to feel forced, and involve lots of bobs, and even when you get there the effect is fleeting anyway. “Chase the row” is the description I give to some of the complex multi-call compositions. Calls can really disrupt the rhythm of ringing. And whilst you can go 25 minutes in a peal of Surprise Maximus without a call, you’ll be lucky to go 25 seconds in many of the complex bespoke peals of Stedman.

The progress in Stedman compositions (with parallels in Grandsire) has come from various directions – David Hull, Mark Eccleston, Rob Lee, Mark Davies, and so on. But is still feels to me at times that people are trying to answer the wrong questions, with the wrong method as a tool.

Mark has been a bit of an evangelist for Caters compositions, especially Grandsire. He invented Flada Caters, and is fizzing with other ideas. In a December 2005 message to the theory list he talked about some of his creations, finishing: “About time some more of these were rung, and not just invented...” I couldn’t agree more.


1) 54-part Erin Caters – Ander Holroyd – rung May 2003 / November 2004

This is a fantastic composition in 54-part form, combining a cyclic nine-part structure with the rounds -> queens "magnificent six" transposition, ie:

1234567890 (rounds)
----------
1357924680 (queens)
1594837260 (reverse tittums)
1987654320 (reverse rounds)
1864297530 (reverse queens)
1627384950 (tittums)
1234567890 (rounds)

Erin is the ideal method here, as the regular, unbroken coursing means 5 plain sixes of the method takes you straight from rounds to a “backrounds” six, allowing the method to maximise the music whilst reducing the number of calls.

 5022 Erin Caters
 123456789
 ---------
 982713456    a
 516273849    b
 891234567   5c
 ---------
 9-part
 
 a = 1s.6.9s.10.12s (12)
 b = 2.3.4.5.6.8s.9.10 (11)
 c = 1s.6s.9s.10.12s.13 (14)
 18 ea -1234 -4321 -2345 -5432 -3456 -6543 -4567 -7654 -5678 -8765 -6789 -9876;
 18 ea -1357 -2468 -3579; 15 ea -7531 -8642 -9753; 96 -68

The following variation, the first to be composed and rung, has an even simpler calling at the expense of marginally less music.

5076 Erin Caters
123456789
---------
738495162   a
975318642   b
198765432   b
615948372   b
468135792   b
345678912   b
---------
9-part

(a) =  s1.s6.s9.10.s12.13 (14 sixes)
(b) =  s1.6.s9.10.14.15 (16 sixes)

2) Flada Caters – Mark B Davies – May 2004

This article is meant to focus on compositions more than methods, though it’s the method that is the star of the show here.

Flada: 3.1.3.1.3.569.1.569.1.5.9.145.9.145.7.9.7.9.7 = 234567891

The principle - devised by Tom Hinton - combines cyclic leadheads with rotational symmetry to great effect. It was one of a string of great cyclic methods rung near the beginning of the decade.

The division has 19 changes, leading to the interesting consequence that adjacent divisions are rung on opposite strokes.

The method is cleverly structured to include reverse runs round the half-division. A cyclic method can’t have “normal” palindromic symmetry (at least, not without being started away from the symmetry point), but can make use of either rotational (eg Anglia Cyclic) or Glide (eg Double Resurrection) symmetry.

Indeed, somewhat strangely Flada almost resembles a glide-symmetric cyclic method (which automatically includes the property of reverse runs round the half-lead).

The composition itself is functional, even slightly disappointing in that I don’t think it really maximally exploits the generous opportunities the method provides. It keeps the back bells fixed, missing out on the big reverse-run courses, as well as the tittums / queens transition:

5130 Flada Caters

123456  1 2 4 5 9
-----------------
341256  s       -
541326  - s     2
145236  -       -
415236          s
142536    s     s
241356  -     4 -
-----------------
124563  - s s   s
415263  s s     s
542163  s s     s
521436  s s s
245163      s   -
524136  s   s   s
543216  -     4
-----------------
325416  s       -
235416          s
235461      s
324561    s     s
325461    s
234516    s s   s
432156  -       -
234165  s s s   -
321456    s s   s
123456  s s     -
-----------------


That said, there’s fantastic scope for further examples.

3) The emergence of the little bell runs… - Mark Eccleston, David Hull et al. – various

As mentioned in the introduction of this article, the welcome shift towards little bell music in Stedman and Grandsire continues.

No one composition jumps out to my mind as the definitive example of a “composition of the decade” – the cyclic sections in the 2008 composition below are meant to be a typical illustrative example:

5004 Stedman Caters
Mark R Eccleston 

123456789 
---------
123456798   s9.11-16            (16)  
2413        s1.6.s8.s12.16            |
4321        s1.6.s8.s12.16            |
3142        s1.6.s8.s12.16            |
---------                             |
123457698   s1.6.s8.s10.s12.16        |
2413        6.8.s10.16.18             |
4321        6.8.s10.16.18             |
3142        6.8.s10.16.18             | 
---------                             | A
123465789   1.2.3.5.12          (20)  |
2413        6.s8.16                   |
4321        6.s8.16                   |
3142        6.s8.16                   |
---------                             |
123465879   6.s8.s12.16               |
2413        s4.s9.s14.18.19     (20)  |
4321        s4.s9.s14.18.19     (20)  |
---------
312987654   s3.s5.6.8.11.s13.15 (16)
3219        y
291876543   x                   (16)
2198        y
189765432   x                   (16)
1987        y
978654321   x                   (16)
9876        y
---------
123457689   s1.3.7-10.12        (12)
---------
132456798   2.4.7-9.11.s13.14   (14)
---------
423165879     A
---------
798123456   3.5.9-11.13.15-19   (20)
7891        z
819234567   x                   (16)
8912        z
921345678   x                   (16)
9123        z
132456789   x                   (16)
1234        z
---------
  
x = 6.8.s11.13.14
y = s3.s10.14.s17
z = s3.14
Start with rounds as the last row of a quick six
Contains all near misses; 24 each 56798s, 65789s, 56789s; 
6 each 987654s, 876543s, 765432s, 654321s, 123456s, 234567s, 345678s, 456789s.

Clarrification: There were also compositions involving similar cyclic transitions shortly before this. One example would be 5050 Stedman Caters composed by Richard Grimmett, rung at St Paul's, Birmingham on 26/2/2007 - http://www.campanophile.co.uk/view.aspx?47667


Addition: MBD felt a "defining example of a little-bell Grandsire Caters composition" should also be included here, as it "is probably a better method than Stedman to exhibit the little bells to good effect". I agree entirely, (though without the qualification of the word "probably"), and so am happy to oblige. MBD writes, "David Hull was (I believe) the first to compose little-bell peals in Grandsire, and he has several fantastic peals in this mould...I was inspired by David's example to pursue simpler variants more appropriate to my conducting abilities, and in 2003 produced this effort, which sadly remains unrung. I think it's worthwhile. I have rung most of the courses and transitions in shorter lengths, and they are more wonderful than you might think"

5075 Grandsire Caters, comp MBD

23456789  1 2 3 4 5
-------------------
32654987  -   -   S
63254978  - S -
-------------------
35462       - -   S            |
65432     S          6 leads   | A
53264       - -   S            |
43256     S     S              |
-------------------
34256879  -   - -
23456978  -   - S
43652        A*
24356     - - S
42356879  -   - -
23546     S       -
62345978  -   -      6 leads
24563       - -   S
-------------------
32465879  -   -      6 leads   |
43265     - - -                | B
24365     - - -                | 
-------------------
34562        A*
34265978     B
-------------------
56432       - -      6 leads
63254879    S -   S
-------------------

Repeat, omitting first two courses.
A* = A with bob for s4
Rounds in last course of final B block

Contains:
28 courses of little-bell music
22 56/65 course ends
Rollercoaster


4) The extent of Grandsire Caters – Philip Saddleton

I’m cautious about including the example below, because extents of Grandsire Caters were first published in the 19th Century, I believe. Philip’s composition below seems very logical, though, and I think was first published in 2004 (no doubt he’ll tell me if this is not the case).

Philip described in his inimitable pared-down style how to generate this from first principles in a June 2006 message to this list:

These are examples of systems of hunts, the basis of many extents. More generally:

  • find a block where a subset of the bells occupy each possible combination of positions (WHWH)
  • find a calling that does not disturb this subset, but cycles the remaining bells - this gives an equivalent block for a larger subset (WHWx3)
  • repeat as necessary, with a calling that fixes one more bell at each step (WHWx3 sH)
362880 Grandsire Caters

23456789   1  3  4
------------------
43628579   -  -  s |  |  |
63847259   -  -  s |  |  |
38765429   -  -  - |  |  |
87532649   -  -  - |A |  |
57284369   -  -  s |  |  |
27456839   -  -  s |  |  |
47623589   -  -  s |  |  |
------------------    |  |
67348259   -  -  s |  |C |
37865429   -  -  s |  |  |
78532649   -  -  - |  |  |
85274369   -  -  - |B |  |
52486739   -  -  - |  |  |E
42653879   -  -  s |  |  |
62347589   -  -  s |  |  |
------------------    |  |
76234       2B        |  |
43625789    2A        |  |
------------------       |
63542        C           |
------------------       |
57263489     A     |     |
63572       4B     |D    |
54263789     A     |     |
------------------       |
35426       2D           |
------------------
25364       3C     |F
42536       2D     |
------------------
24356       2F
------------------
45326        E     |
54236       2F     |G
43256        E     |
------------------
324          G
------------------
Repeat


5) Spliced Caters (4/5m) – Don Morrison – first rung March 2008

Perhaps indicating the paucity of source material to select from, I think this (and its sister 4m composition) are probably the only examples of spliced Caters produced in the decade. Even then, the novelty is a bit doubtful – I think Steve Coaker may have come up with something similar in the mid 1990s.

Anyway, whilst it’s hard to get genuinely excited about this – both the choice of methods, music, and method transitions – there is some interest here. It’s better than a kick in the teeth…

5,051 Spliced Caters (5m)
Erin
  123456789  4  5  6
  241397568    (a)  
  31942      -     - |
  41923      -  2  - |A
  39124      -  -    |
  23914         s  - |
  14923         A    |B
  41329        2B   
Stedman
  413297568  6  8  15  16
  214365798      (b)
  132465     s      -
  341265     s      -
  423165     s      -
  241365     s  s   -   3
  432165     s      -
  314265     s      -
  123465     s      -   (+ a single at 19)
Double Norwich Court Bob
 (123465978) 1  3  5  7
  135462978  s     s
   42365        s  2*
   24365     s     -
   34265        s
   43265     s     -
   32465        s  s
   63425     s     -  s
Grandsire
   63425978  1  2  3  4
   56324     -  -  s
   35624     -  -  -
   43526     -  -  s
   54326     -  -  -
   35426     -  -  -
   63524     -  -  s
   36524879  -     -  -
   43625     -  -  s
   64325     -  -  -
   46523     -  -  s  s
Plain Bob
   46523879  W  M  H
   54362     -  -  4
   24365        -  2+
Round at handstroke eight leads after the final call.
(a) = s1.2.s4.5.6.s8 (8 sixes)
(b) = s1.3.5.6.s10.12.14.17
2* = s -;
4 = s - s -;
2+ = - s.
Bobs in Double Norwich are place notation 3 instead of 5 as the treble hunts from 2 to 1; singles are place notation 345  instead of 5 as the treble hunts from 2 to 1.
 
Note on the Double Norwich start: A Stedman single is called at the
very end of the Stedman block (this is indicated above as at 19 in the Stedman, though if Stedman were continuing to be rung  after this it would be at 1 in the following course), taking effect during the change into Double Norwich, thus:
213647589  last six of Stedman
231465798
321647589
312465798
132647589  single called
123465798
214356798  start of Double Norwich
241537689
425136798
452317689
543271698
etc.  
Contains 1,080 Stedman, 1,074 Erin, 1,008 Double Norwich Court Bob, 1,007 Plain Bob and 882 Grandsire
4 changes of  method, atw

See Also