Project Pickled Egg - Part 7

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Superlative Surprise Major

Three of the so-called Standard 8 are not going to make it in Project Pickled Egg, but before opening the lid of the dustbin here is a method which I think makes the cut.

In the early consultation there wasn’t a bad word said about Superlative and it scores pretty well against the criteria set for larder selection.

• There is familiarity of Cambridge/Yorkshire structures making it not too difficult to learn

• It is a classic structure in its own right

• The plain course includes a crowd-pleasing Queens, and is a good generator of music in other courses.

• It introduces the concept of a double method (rotational symmetry in the blue line), and of non-coursing bells meeting at the back

• Superlative emphasizes the importance of learning place bell starts well, as a couple can catch you out, e.g. 5ths place bell

• The five pull dodge across the half lead is good for learning how to count dodges, and for trying to see where the half lead is

I asked on my PPE Facebook group what features of Superlative were useful to people who have been learning Surprise Major methods more recently than my original collaborators. The answers were a bit different although the non-coursing pairs at the back was noted. What a few people said was that it introduces you to turning round other than at the front and back, i.e. going up to 56 places and coming back down without getting up into 78. The unfamiliarity of this is borne out by this being the point where most mistakes occur!

Superlative is a very old method and was considered to be a classic over 100 years ago. In the 1941 Ringing World discussion on Standard Methods the following is noted: “The great revival of ringing toward the end of the [19th] century added Double Norwich, and the three Surprise Methods – Cambridge Superlative and London – all of which had been known for long, but had not been taken into general use.”

Pitman included Superlative in his classic one-part compositions, with his 4 Spliced (CSLB) being one of the most rung and respected compositions of all time. When the Nottingham 8 was conceived as an alternative/replacement set of methods, its creators didn’t think the elements of this classic composition could be omitted. In easier compositions of spliced the inclusion of Superlative provides some excellent variety and musical options, as well as a certain frisson for 5ths place bell (will they or won’t they remember to make 6ths!)

As an early method to learn, with Cambridge and Yorkshire already under your belt, Superlative is a good next step, with enough that is familiar to help you, including the lead end order, a couple of new concepts to grasp, and a rewarding result that goes in some great cakes. Superlative makes it.

A quick note on double methods. If when you are first learning a double method like Superlative, a smart alec says you only need to learn a quarter of it – take no notice. Learn it like you normally would but look at the symmetry and let it help your understanding of the method. The double feature is definitely helpful but don’t initially see it as any sort of short cut.

A concept that will be introduced in Project Pickled Egg, starting now, is the ‘try also’ section. This is a feature borrowed from the Good Beer Guide which presents some additional pub recommendations alongside the main featured entries. ‘Try also’ methods aren’t going to be part of the main recommended learning path and core group, but are worth looking at by bands seeking something a bit different at a particular level, maybe a quarter peal excursion.

Based on the methods introduced so far, the first ‘try also’ on offer is Painswick Surprise Major. This is a method particularly favoured by well-known Ringing World columnist and method guru AJ Barnfield, Painswick is a mixture of Yorkshire and Superlative and so is relatively easy to learn if you have those two ingredients already. Mixing the two is a good flavour combination (have I been watching too much Masterchef?) and arguably better than either on its own.

Furthermore, AJB suggests the following particularly good quarter peal composition:

(Before, 5ths, 4ths, Before, Home) x3. Part end 4235678

which generates 128 four-bell runs, 22 five-bell runs, 9 six-bell runs, 4 seven-bell runs, 38 four-bell runs off the front, 54 four-bell runs at the back, 18 '*5678's, 18 '*8765's, 12 '8765*'s and 12 '5678*'s. What’s not to like?