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250 peals at The Advent

by Don Morrison

A peal of Bristol Surprise Major was rung at The Church of the Advent, Boston on 7 June, the 250th peal on the bells. The Advent is the first North American tower to reach this number, and by a wide margin: only three other North American towers have passed 100, and none have yet reached 150.

The bells of The Advent were installed in 1900, then were sadly silent for much of the twentieth century, but became home to an active North American band in the early 1970s. While several attempts were lost by a British band at The Advent earlier, the first peal on the bells was not rung until after the bells were rehung in 1976. That first peal was rung by the Sunday service band on 22 November 1977. Because of concern for the neighbors peals remained rare for several years, but the addition of sound control enabled peal ringing to become frequent in the 1980s. On 31 July 1988 it became the first North American tower to reach 100 peals, with a peal of a difficult new surprise major method, Advent Surprise Major, rung by the Sunday service band. The 150th peal was rung on 2 August 1992, in memory of Bill Theobald, who was well known to many North American ringers.

At 19cwt they have never been easy bells to ring peals on; particularly in the hot summer, since there is no air conditioning, with little hope of it ever becoming practical. But the acoustics since the bells were rehung is a boon to ringing good peals: the lack of much resonance inside makes the bells crystal clear to the ringers, and so the striking actually sounds noticeably better to those listening outside than even to the ringers themselves!

Besides the many ringers who have lived and been trained in Boston, the ready availability of the bells has brought many visiting North American ringers to attempt peals there, and many have accomplished notable personal firsts there. The tower has also been home to some major accomplishments in North American ringing. On 27 May 1988 the Sunday service band rang the first peal, ever, of the standard eight surprise major spliced at the half-lead, In 1991 peals were rung in each of the twelve surprise major methods named after the months, each in its eponymous month. Not only have more peals been rung at The Advent than any other North American tower, but more varied ones, including a wide variety of different surprise and delight methods, often the first peals of them in North America, as well as many peals of spliced. Also noteworthy is that nearly all the peals rung at The Advent have been by predominantly North American bands, unlike many other towers, where many of the peals have been rung by bands visiting from overseas.

In late 2013 Eddie Futcher started planning a special attempt to be the 250th, and a weekend in late May was picked as the target. Invited to take part were the three ringers who have rung over 100 peals on the bells: Geoff Davies (160, before the 250th), Linda Woodford (154), and Don Morrison (135). All had rung in the first peal on the bells, which Geoff called, in the 100th on the bells, and in the first half-lead eight spliced; and Don and Linda had rung in all the months, all of which Don had called. As late May rolled around it transpired that the 250th would also be Eddie's own 100th on the bells; Eddie had called the 100th peal on the bells, the half-lead eight spliced, and most of the more complex peals that have been rung on them. Sadly Linda, now living in Kalamazoo, barely rings peals any longer, and would be unable to join us; though Don was able to make the trip from Pittsburgh, it being his first attempt on the bells since he'd moved away from Boston nine years before. Rounding out the band were five long term Boston ringers, most of whom had rung in many of the major accomplishments in the tower, and collectively had accounted for well over 200 of the ropes in peals at The Advent: Maurice Southworth (fifth on the all time list with 90 peals on the bells), Elaine Hansen, Laura Dickerson, Cally Perry and John Danaher. The method was to be a reprise of that for the 100th peal, Advent Surprise Major, with Eddie calling it.

Just a few days before the attempt, though, disaster struck: Eddie damaged his back badly. Those who have been through the ordeal understand how excruciating that is, and how impossible it makes peal ringing. Fortunately Alex Taft from Washington was able to make the trip on just a few days notice to bail us out, and even kindly hauled the challenging tenor around. Maurice Southworth capably stepped in to call the peal. Given all the turmoil it was wisely decided to ring Bristol instead of the more complex Advent Surprise; a particularly apposite choice as Bristol was the method rung for the 150th on the bells.

[Photo by Dianne Cermak]

Posted Jun 30, 2014

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