Compositions of the Decade 2000-2009 - 5 - Major

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A Review by Philip Earis - continued

Quite simply, things have got better and better for eight bell compositions over the decade.

It may be a slight caricature, but for the last quarter of the 20th century much (most?) 8-bell ringing was objectionable. There was a preponderance of mediocre compositions and bad methods.

Single Method Madness

The problems were acute for many single method peals. Misguided preconceptions led to a fixation on "surprise" methods, on bad methods with familiar overworks and non-descript underworks (indeed many awful new rung methods were simply selected because they had an unrung notation), on keeping the tenors together, on avoiding 87s at backstroke, and on CRU-based compositions (often 3-parts).

The advent of software like BYROC both typified the problem and made things worse - instead of being a tool to allow better possibilities, it was built with pre-conceptions about desired outputs, and actually exacerbated the problem.

Spliced Surprise

Sadly, when bands also ventured into spliced major ringing it was like a race to the bottom. The so-called "standard 8" seemed to be the default option, with occasional forays into Pitman's series. Prior to the current decade, I'm struggling to think of a single spliced major composition that has significant musical, as opposed to historic or challenging, merit.

A Decade of Improvement

So how have things changed in the past decade? Well, happily there has been an improvement across the board. Whilst 8-bell ringing is still predominately based on treble-dodging major, people are not so obsessed with surprise. Delight methods (and good delight methods) seem much more common.

Looking at the methods that people ring, the overall number of peals has been stable. However, towerbell peals of Rutland, Lincolnshire and Pudsey Major (a barometer for mediocrity) are down 25%, 11% and 31% respectively over the current decade compared with the 1990s.

A very tangible advance has been in composition for single method peals. The meritless three-part seems a lot less common these days, whilst the bespoke one part containing lots of runs has been on the up. BYROC feels very anachronistic - the vastly superior SMC32 seems to be used much more frequently, giving genuinely worthwhile results. Congratulations must go to Mark Davies and Graham John, its architects.

The Extent of Hull

One of the main drivers for progress over the decade has been David Hull. He has produced consistently great new methods and compositions, which have been very influential. The problem with trying to pick out "compositions of the decade" is that it's hard to reflect a consistent high-quality body of work - there perhaps isn't any one particular Hull single-method composition that stands out (though I do like the look of his 5152 no.2 of Superlative).

So whilst I haven't included anything of his on the list below, I think homage to the un-specified Hull 1-part composition should be paid. Consider it item (0) on the list.

New composers like Alan Reading have also come onto the scene, again consistently delivering neat and "tuned" compositions. More generally, many of the compositions I have selected below come from relatively young composers. This must be healthy for ringing.

A Tangled Web

Another notable feature of the ringing decade has been the continued rise of computers for generating and the internet for storing and sharing ringing information. Don Morrison - surely the decade's most prolific composer - deserves much credit for his ongoing work with<>, including seeding it with a lively mix of his own compositions. Meanwhile Michael Wilby's<>, populated by a high-powered more select stable of composers, has been a consistently excellent resource.

This notwithstanding, compositions remain scattered across the web in an ad-hoc way. I repeat my desire for a more stable, consistent repository, and it is hoped the Graham John's recent efforts at spearheading a comprehensive new database will bear fruit in the months and years to come.

A New Generation of Spliced Compositions

In parallel to the developments with single-method peal developments over the decade, another huge theme has been with advances with spliced major. It has been a superb decade for spliced major - a real golden age. Clever thinking and eager peal bands have pushed back limits of length and complexity. Indeed, it has been arguably the first time in history of ringing where long-length attempts have really involved cutting edge multi-method compositions.

Enhanced computer power has helped here, and not always new software. Philip Saddleton's SCAMP has played a part in several of my selected compositions, whilst many other composers have used their own customised tool-kits to produce innovative new compositions in familiar sets of methods, as we shall see.

Thinking away from the most cutting edge, there has been an across-the-board shift in spliced major ringing. Moving away from the over-emphasis on ringing "8-spliced", the decade has seen a clear branching out into more exciting terrain. As a crude indicator of this, by comparing the current decade to the 1990s we see that the number of peals of 8-spliced has dropped by 19%, whilst the number of peals of 23-spliced has risen by more than 29%.

Scope for Further Progress

Despite the rosy optimism, we are not in the promised land yet. Trends are evident, but there remains a lot of intransigence and ignorance. There have still been 700 peals of Rutland Major rung in the past decade. Plain, alliance and treble place methods are still neglected. Different types of symmetries and lead heads (including cyclic methods) continue to have much potential. Near the beginning of the decade Philip Saddleton produced a method with double offset symmetry which remains unrung - +(x4., which shows both the progress of the past decade, and the change in attitudes that is still needed.

Onwards and upwards...

1)12-spliced major (cyclic 7-part palindrome with all 96 runs) - Rob Lee - February 2009

The decade has seen huge progress in the development of spliced major compositions. A key factor has been using cyclic 7-part constructions, both to get all-the-work and to ensure that music in any one part is multiplied across all the parts.

Right at the end of 1999 David Hull produced his cyclic 23-spliced composition - this set a new benchmark, containing 40 of the 96 possible run-rows of each type (ie 5678xxxx, 8765xxxx, xxxx5678, xxxx8765).

A fair few composers have turned to the cyclic construction to produce new compositions in familiar groups of methods like Smiths and Chandlers 23-spliced, as we shall later in this article.

However, since David Hull's composition, particular attention has been given to increasing the run-count up to the ideal maximum of 96. Various compositions were put together by for example Don Morrison containing 55 / 96 run rows (, by me containing between 65-89 / 96 runs rows (eg, and by Alan Reading, who ultimately got all 96 runs in both 6-method and 23-method compositions.

However, the shining light of all of these is Rob Lee's palindromic 12-method composition which he produced earlier in 2009, and about which I expounded at length in September (

It combines a clever design structure with nice methods to produce a supreme composition.

  5152 Spliced S Major (14 [12] methods)
  2345678 Straker's Passage S
  3527486 Speedball S
  4263857 Revolver S
  6482735 Speedball S
  7856342 Straker's Passage S
 -7864523 Zonda S
  3526478 Taunton S
  4283756 Panamera S
  8472635 Helium S
  6758342 Xanadu S
 -5678342 Tattersalls S
  6854723 Bolonium S
  2347856 Uracco S
 -4237856 Evora S
  8364527 Evora S
 -7568234 Uracco S
  6725483 Jovium S
  3482567 Tattersalls S
 -3426875 Xanadu S
  2384567 Bridgwater S
  8253746 Panamera S
  5872634 Taunton S
  6745382 Zonda S

2) 22400 Spliced Surprise Major (100m atw) - Paul Needham - Rung October 2005

Simon Linford promised the College Youths that before his year as Master was over, there would be several ground-breaking Society ringing performances. Like JFK's pledge to put a man on the moon, this promise left a bit of work for other people to fill in some of the details...

Paul Needham fully succeeded in meeting Simon's challenge to produce an appropriate 100 method all-the-work peal of major. Unlike Philip Saddleton, who had previously turned his hand to the problem, Paul cleverly started with Norman Smith's familiar 23-spliced as a template, and then expanded by inserting additional methods into the framework.

His composition contains all 12 leadhead groups, all of Smith's methods, and all but two of Chandler's 23-spliced methods also. There is no "trick" to the new methods used, nor use of multiple trivial variations.

Instead, we just see new rows inserted using a wide range of regular methods that will accommodate them. Many of the methods used are amongst the "falsest" ever rung, though this is of no consequence in a multi-spliced peal.

The composition has pushed back boundaries in several regards, and its influence will be felt in years to come.

  12345678 Yorkshire
- 13578264 Uxbridge
- 12735486 Go
  13247658 Old Kent Road
- 13275486 Whitechapel Road
  12538764 Kings Cross
- 15864273 Angel
- 16584273 Euston Road
- 18654273 Pentonville Road
- 12586347 Just Visiting
  13872456 Pall Mall
- 18256347 Electric
  13578426 White Hall
  16427835 Northumberland Avenue
- 15826347 Marylebone Station
  14763825 Bow Street
- 17325486 Cornwall
  14267835 Double Dublin
  16482573 Bristol
  18654327 Whalley
- 13586742 Watford
  18375264 London
  17823456 Tavistock
  15634827 Glasgow
  16452378 Cambridge
- 14278635 Mulcaster
- 17428635 Willesden
- 15627348 Marlborough Street
  12536874 Vine Street
- 12567348 Free Parking
  17458236 Strand£220
  13682457 Fleet Street
- 16257348 Esplanade
  13586427 Sussex
- 12748635 Cassiobury
- 18356742 Lindum
  15873264 Superlative
- 18364527 Mont du Jubile
- 16834527 Newcastle
  18462375 Glamorgan
  12745836 Essex
  15376284 Columbium
- 13684527 Wembley
- 15836742 Rutland
- 17358264 Jersey
  18634725 Preston
  14265873 Ipswich
- 17386542 Trafalgar Square
  13674825 Fenchurch Street Station
- 14258673 Leicester Square
  18723465 Coventry Street
- 15428673 Waterworks
- 12548673 Piccalilli
  15827436 Go To Jail
- 18736542 Regent Street
  14265738 Oxford Street
- 13876542 Cray
  15723486 Ashtead
- 18642357 Kingwood
  17354286 Northampton
- 12573648 Hertfordshire
- 17253648 Ebeneezer
- 18657423 Spilsby
  12374658 Beaumont Hill
- 13458267 Belfast
- 15348267 Hertford
- 14538267 Sonning
- 15867423 Tellurium
  18752634 Buckfastleigh
  14635287 Eggybread
  12374865 Moulton
- 16587423 Aldenham
- 15723648 Corbiere
- 13486725 Yeading
- 18346725 Antioch
- 12574683 Lonestar
- 12548736 Chertsey
- 14258736 Maufont
- 15428736 Claybrooke
- 17254683 Sir Isaac Newton
- 12483765 Bond 007
- 18243765 Liverpool Street Station
- 14823765 Chesterfield
- 15724683 Lulworth
- 14836725 Lincoln
- 18625473 Lamoye
- 12865473 Petersfield
- 14628357 Ardotalia
- 12468357 Isle Of Wight
  18547236 Park Lane
- 16248357 Malpas
  13476528 Amersham
- 16285473 Richmond
- 14862357 Herefordshire
  12587436 Newlyn
  13674582 Oxney
- 16482357 Lincolnshire
- 14257638 Ditchling
- 15427638 Hereford
- 12547638 Pudsey
- 15738264

See Also