Project Pickled Egg - Part 6

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Cornwall Surprise Major

The first two method suggestions for Project Pickled Egg might have seemed a bit dull - Cambridge and Yorkshire are in the current Standard 8 and are the two Surprise Major methods most ringers learn first. Yorkshire made it into the larder on merit and strong underlying fundamentals, whereas leaving Cambridge out was just too difficult, despite some passionate arguments for doing so. Whether Cambridge is the best method to learn first though is another matter.

In the 1941 Ringing World debate on Standard Methods, an unnamed correspondent (the entire series of articles was strangely unattributed) put forward the case for Cornwall Surprise, which had been first rung at Helmingham in Suffolk five years earlier. They drew attention to its many qualities: “it has most of the good features we hope for in a method except difficulty.” Yet the progress of Surprise Major continued without paying much attention to Cornwall for some reason, and it didn’t make it into the 8 Spliced compositions which cemented the Standard 8. Cornwall made it into the Nottingham 8, AJB’s suggested 12, and is one of the first methods in Norman Smith’s 23 Spliced progression.

Arguments for Cornwall’s inclusion based on the selection criteria are:

• Good useful above work

• New lead end order

• Musical in plain course

• Relatively well known and already used by composers

• CPS – esoteric point but with practical consequences for the ease of producing compositions

• Often quite helpful in spliced and a good music generator

• Relatively easy to learn (arguably easier than Cambridge) so a good payback in terms of development value

• Excellent for getting ringers to think about how a method is constructed

• Very easy to ring and keep right by its construction, being dominated by treble bob hunting on four on the front and the back, with just a few other bits to learn.

• Easier ropesight on the front than Cambridge-above methods since groups of bells mostly tend to stay in the correct coursing order.

• Tends to be easier to learn to strike well.

• Excellent method for novice conductors to learn to keep others right, since course bells work together so much throughout

• Introduces ringers to a plain hunt lead end in an easier method than Bristol, which may help erase the fear of 8ths place lead ends

• Could be used to introduce 6ths place Bobs (see below) so this is not a shock later on

• The “Probably Easiest Possible Quarter” (6 calls on 2-3-4) works, is as easy to call and keep straight as is probably possible for any Surprise method, and is full of music

No method was more universally acclaimed amongst the early contributors to this project than Cornwall. Don Morrison argued that it should be learned first, and that ringers who have followed this alternative path in North America have done quite well at it and have found it easier than Cambridge-above methods.

If one was to suggest a pathway into Surprise Major that might be easier than learning Cambridge Minor and then Cambridge Major, it would be to ring Kent Minor, then Norwich, then Cornwall, perhaps with some Double Norwich thrown in. Kent Minor is I think a vital step in learning to treble bob and is often overlooked just because it is not a highly regarded method in its own right. I was taught to ring Kent not because it was going to be part of my regular future repertoire, but because it was teaching me to ring treble dodging methods, just as the dreaded ‘Exercises’ book accompanied nice pieces by Bach and Mozart.

For all its merit, and experienced ringers’ belief that it should be easy, not everyone agrees. One of the problems cited is that the various different features of the blue line can be confused with those in Lessness (often learned around the same time). More experienced ringers who don’t see why this should be the case, but may just be wrong! Some place bells are not particularly memorable or distinctive, compared with Cambridge.

We are now ringing Cornwall regularly in the St Martin’s Guild, and although it is well liked, it is not found to be any easier that other right place methods yet, perhaps due to unfamiliarity. It may well be a case of Cornwall being easier to ring once learned, rather than easier to ring initially. It has proved a good addition to the early Surprise Major repertoire.

In short conclusion, Cornwall is a great method, and deserves its place for enough reasons.

A final note on 6ths place bobs, and that quarter peal composition included above. In Plain Bob and Surprise methods, the Bob is made in 4ths place, with two bells in 2nds and 3rds place swapping, and those above 4ths unaffected. In 8ths place methods, more bells are affected by 4ths place Bobs, i.e. all the four bells above 4ths place rather than just the two below, which makes them more difficult for inexperienced bands.

There is a way round this by using 6ths place Bobs – this was the norm in ‘the olden days’ but has fallen out of fashion. A Bob made in 6ths causes the bells in 7ths and 8ths place to dodge when they otherwise wouldn’t, and the bells below 6ths to be unaffected. There are therefore twice as many unaffected bells, and half as many affected ones, if you use a 6ths place Bob.

6ths place calls are still made relative to the unaffected tenor, and are made when the tenor is running out to become 3rds place bell (denoted as Out or O), and when the tenor is running in to become 2nds place bell (denoted as In or I). Those are the equivalent of Home and Wrong. So this quarter peal composition comprises six calls made when the tenor is running out, one course apart, and comprising six calls in total. The only bells affected by the calls are 2 3 and 4.

If you want to know more about this please feel free to join the Project Pickled Egg discussion group on Facebook and ask me!