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Long Thirds and Sevenths in Pittsburgh

by Rob Bannister

President Obama hosts leaders from 19 of the world's largest economies plus the European Union in Pittsburgh later this week to tackle problems including the global financial crisis, climate change, and energy security. Two months ago, delegates from North America gathered in Pittsburgh with similarly ambitious goals: Plain Bob Triples, Plain Bob Major, and Grandsire Triples. We came for the 2009 Change Ringing Course at Southminster Presbyterian Church, led by Don Morrison.

Don organized the July 31-August 2 course for those working on improving their skills at ringing on eight bells, concentrating on ringing well these basic methods. The six students who attended the weekend course included Ted Clark of Birmingham, Sue DeVuyst of Rochester, Sawyer Gosnell of Atlanta, Connie Engle and Don Johnes, both of Hendersonville, and me (of Miami/DC). The only prerequisites for course registration were (1) comfort ringing Plain Bob Doubles or Minor or Grandsire Doubles; (2) comfort hunting on seven and/or eight; and (3) having rung at least two tower bell quarters (on any number of bells), including at least one inside.

To keep the course accessible, costs were kept at a minimum: Don and Betty hosted a barbecue dinner on Friday night, a light breakfast and lunch was provided at the tower on Saturday and Sunday, and members of the Pittsburgh Guild of Change Ringers (including parents thereof!) offered homestays not only to all of the students but also to each of the helpers. No small feat given the number of helpers who traveled to Pittsburgh to lend their support: Bob Aldinger of Hendersonville, Lyn Barnett and Bill Buckner of Atlanta, Dianne Cermak and Cally Perry of Boston, and Eric Jacobson of New Castle. The Olympic village of the weekend was the home of Don Morrison and Betty Boyd (God bless 'em) where Bill, Lyn, Ted, Cally, and I stayed. Amazingly, the eight of us (don't forget Esther!) shared one shower (though not at the same time) without incident-I guess all the dodging practice at the tower came in handy.

The ringing kicked off with a 3-hour session on Friday night. This was my first time ringing in Pittsburgh, and I needed to adjust a bit to how closely the bells are rung to one another. After finishing my first touch, I had the same feeling you get after a roller coaster ride or a downhill ski run on a black diamond trail-I wanted to do it again right away! After all, it was a Friday night, we were all students and helpers, with no wedding parties or congregations to impress, so it was the perfect environment to relax and enjoy the ringing.

There were no blackboards or printed materials this weekend-- students were expected to master the theory of both Plain Bob and Grandsire, including calls, before the course. In my usual fashion, I left the studying for where I pass the treble to the 4-hour drive from DC to Pittsburgh (especially when I could only find country music on the radio). Instead of classroom-style learning, the entire course proper was spent on practical ringing exercises in the tower, so everyone had plenty of rope time. Don also scheduled several quarter peal attempts throughout the weekend, and all of the students rang in at least one successful quarter peal, including the first quarter peal of Grandsire Triples for three of the students and the first inside on eight tower bells (Plain Bob Triples) for another. Standing behind was also popular. Behind the coconut layer cake (rope sight improves with a mouth full of icing)-thank you, Dianne and Uptown Coffee.

Like the other students, I really appreciate the work that Don, Betty, Nick, Mary, and all of the Pittsburgh ringers, as well as all the helpers, put into this course. I don't think I've ever enjoyed ringing as much as I did this weekend. There were many long stretches when I just felt like everything was falling into place-I was making my dodges, hearing my bell, seeing where I passed the treble, not rushing my leads, and feeling the rhythm. My confidence improved. Don and the helpers created the ideal environment to make this happen and patient and expert instruction while we rang methods over and over until we got them right.

Now, July seems long ago and Pittsburgh far away. More often than not, I come home from practice, kicking myself for screwing up one thing or another. At such times, all I need to do is have myself a piece of coconut layer cake and reminisce about my first quarter of Grandsire Triples in Pittsburgh, and life is good again.

Posted Sep 22, 2009

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