Project Pickled Egg - Part 18

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Glasgow Surprise Major

Over the next three weeks I am going to consider two methods which are often uttered in the same breath, a breath which may instill fear or wonder in equal measure. They are two methods that are often considered to be the next two after the ‘Standard 8’. I am of course talking about Glasgow and Belfast.

Although they are often linked, and I expect there are more compositions of spliced that have both in rather than one, they are very different animals. For the purpose of Project Pickled Egg they need to be considered separately as there is no good argument for treating them as a pair.

Glasgow is not a ‘middle aged’ method – first pealed in 1947 and certainly very challenging then. It went on to be included in Norman Smith’s 23 Spliced as one of the more difficult methods in the composition, and then it was teamed up with Bristol, London and Belfast in Roddy Horton’s all the work one part composition ‘Horton’s 4’, which has become one of the classic compositions, a target and badge of honour for many a band and conductor.

Glasgow was the first difficult method I learned, as it was introduced into my local association probably in the early 1980s. Learning it represented my breakthrough into the upper echelons of the Society, getting to ring in the ‘top touch’, the touch featuring all those ringers who I aspired to be like. And it was like nothing I had seen before. It has some bits of work that are like London, points which seemed to come in weird places for instance point fifths and back from the front, odd places like the 5ths after passing the treble on the way out, dodges in 45 (!) rather than the conventional 34 or 56, and bobs which were a recipe for disaster.

That’s the key feature of Glasgow when you first see it – the lack of familiarity with what has gone before. You are clutching at straws trying to piece it together from things you already know, even if you had been following the Project Pickled Egg path and had a solid grounding in methods of different types. Although it has Plain Bob lead end order, defined as Group G, it doesn’t really feel like that because it is an 8ths place method, and the 45 dodge at the lead that causes you to become 4ths or 5ths place bell may have you thinking you are going in the wrong direction.

The above work is actually one which is used a lot in methods on higher numbers. It is one of the classics. Unfortunately, the basic structure (more usually referred to as Strathclyde above from the Maximus variant) doesn’t actually become obvious when you only ring it on 8! The structure features a fishtail immediately, e.g. 7ths place bell does 878 and then goes down, 8ths place bell does 787 and goes out, and then the bells above plain hunt wrong until the treble is in 56, when they do another fishtail, then set off in the right direction again. This formula is interrupted by any bell that meets the treble before the treble gets to 56. Unfortunately in Glasgow Major, no bells get to do the second of the two fishtails because there isn’t room above the treble. The pure structure is not apparent until you ring the Royal extension (Clyde) or the Maximus extension (Strathclyde).

So there is no doubt Glasgow presents a significant challenge the first time you see it or ring it. But is it any good? Is it worth the effort? Does it make it into the Project Pickled Egg larder?

Firstly I am going to spell out the original PPE tests, as it has been a while, and then consider Glasgow against them.

  1. It should be musical in the plain course
    Well it isn’t particularly, although it provides variety. Not a shocker but nothing special. A band ringing a quarter peal of this for the first time is so worried and is concentrating so hard that any music in the composition probably won’t get noticed! I don’t think any band tries to ring a musical composition of Glasgow.
  2. It should introduce a useful new skill, technique or concept, and hence be progressive
    It does introduce some new skills, but we can debate how useful those skills are.
  3. It should not have limiting falseness
    Not a reason for excluding it
  4. Some familiarity is helpful
    OK on this one - there are lots of ringers who know Glasgow which makes it quite accessible for the learner. So if you are just looking to include a difficult method, one which quite a lot of ringers know already aids adoption

None of that is compelling so we need to consider the bigger picture.

Experienced ringers point to the 45 half lead dodge as an important feature that is worth getting used to. Indeed, doing a half lead dodge that is not in 12, 34 or 56 is different, and does happen in more difficult methods. However, when I first learned Glasgow I had no idea that the dodge in 45 was at the half lead, and I don’t know if it would have helped me or not. The 45 dodge at the lead end was more obvious, but that isn’t actually a very common feature in other methods. What it does introduce that is new is the concept of a ‘normal’ 4ths place bob causing bells to do things that seem very different.

For those who have mastered ringing the methods, Glasgow becomes a very interesting method in Spliced. It adds variety, difficulty, interest, spice, risk, a useful lead order, different musical possibilities. Composers like it, and some say that although it isn’t particularly musical in its own right, it can help bring out the best in a composition.

In summary, the arguments in favour of included Glasgow in PPE as a method recommended to be learned:

  • It is a useful above work (though not obviously expressed on 8)
  • Group G - not previously encountered
  • Unusual blue line with many new features
  • 4-5 dodge at the half lead is a key feature and very worth knowing
  • The bobs demonstrate that not all 4ths place bobs are created equal
  • Works well in spliced
  • Included in Smiths 23 and Hortons 4 compositions (and many other more difficult comps)
  • Gateway to more difficult methods

Arguments against

  • Does not meet the original PPE criteria particularly in not being a musical plain course
  • Lack of music off the front
  • There may be better options that achieve the same, but without the familiarity

Finally, Glasgow carries emotional and historic attachment which could be considered an argument for including it.

Although there are more arguments for than against, Glasgow is still only really getting included because the new features it introduces, and familiarity of the method, means it is an accessible way of introducing something very different and difficult. Like Cambridge and London, it is not getting in on merit. That leads one to ask whether there is a method that fulfils the same criteria, but in the extensive discussion group debate there were no compelling candidates.

Another debate amongst those on the PPE discussion group was whether the list of methods needs to go this far. Do we need aspirational ‘marquee methods’ that might be seen as the end goal of the Project, or should the Project remain as a set of foundations after which followers will be able to ring and learn almost anything, including Glasgow (and Belfast). If it is only about finding a difficult method to finish with there would definitely be better candidates than Glasgow.

After much debate in the Facebook discussion group, I launched a poll – a sort of ‘In / Out’ referendum which has proved such a good way of making critical decisions. Unfortunately after a few people had voted, I introduced a third choice – ‘something like Glasgow but not Glasgow’ – and muddied the water. A new referendum was suggested!

I am not going to conclude on Glasgow yet. Next week I am going to look at Belfast, and in the meantime, let this smoulder and then post the poll again. It will be the people’s vote.

References