Compositions of the Decade 2000-2009 - 5 - Major
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.
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 www.ringing.org<http://www.ringing.org>, including seeding it with a lively mix of his own compositions. Meanwhile Michael Wilby's www.compositions.org.uk<http://www.compositions.org.uk>, 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 - +(x18.104.22.168.5x22.214.171.124.6x126.96.36.199.4x188.8.131.52.3), 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 (http://ringing.org/main/pages/printable?id=853&collection=peals), by me containing between 65-89 / 96 runs rows (eg http://www.cantabgold.net/users/pje24/earis23.html), 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 (http://www.bellringers.org/pipermail/ringing-theory_bellringers.net/2009-September/003031.html)
It combines a clever design structure with nice methods to produce a supreme composition.
5152 Spliced S Major (14  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 -8234567