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A Wonderful Week for the Orleans Tower!

Cape Cod change ringers mark 1st anniversary of installation with return visit from bell hanger / first instructor Neil Thomas.

by Br. Anthony Kanaga and Sr. Seana Shannon

When Neil Thomas of Whitechapel Bell Foundry arrived in Orleans, Cape Cod, in August of 2009, little did he know that as soon as he had completed the job of hanging our beautiful ring of 10 bells, he would have a following of thirty-five people interested in learning how to change ring - thirty-five people who had never pulled a bell and certainly had never even heard of sallies, tails, doubles or bobs. After a week of beginner bell instruction, Neil returned home to England, leaving us in various states of ability. Some of us were now able to ring both a hand and tail stroke alone, some could only ring one stroke alone, and two of our lot had been designated to learn how to ring the bells up and down, so at least someone could get the bells set for the rest of us to ring! We were left in the capable hands of Ed Futcher, of Boston, and Greg Russell, of New York, to continue our teaching. Little did we know what kind of a journey we had all just set out on in learning this craft, but Neil’s zealous passion had been instilled in this band of ringers and the fire had been sparked in each of us to keep learning all we could.

We have been studying hard over this past year – we can ring rounds, we now know that a hunt is not referring to horses and hounds, and Bob Doubles has just become our new friend (or nemesis, for some of us). The ringers of Boston and New York have become our great friends in the world of bells, having persevered with us, taking us where we are at and helping to push each of us further down the road of learning to change ring. Some of us just rang our first Quarter Peals this past August and other new ringers who have joined in the past couple of months can now ring rounds. We have had two Full Peals rung on our bells (not by us, although our own Br . Matthew was able to tenor behind on the first one) this past summer and had numerous bell ringing visitors who have been eager to help us in any way possible. Suffice it to say that the passion for bells is still thriving here in Orleans and after a year of learning we were so grateful to be able to bring our first teacher back for a visit!

Neil Thomas, this time along with his wife Nikki, just came for a week long visit in September. We had been trying for a while to make a visit happen and were thrilled that this had finally worked out. We are very grateful to the NAGCR for the Grant they so generously approved to help us bring Neil and Nikki over. Two of us met them at Logan airport on Thursday evening, September 9th, and they arrived in Orleans just in time to settle in for a good night’s sleep before being overwhelmed with a week of bell instruction. It was so wonderful to see Neil again, and meet Nikki for the first time, on Friday morning as a group of us met at the tower at nine o’clock to show them what we could do. We each grabbed a rope and pulled off for rounds on ten as Neil and Nikki watched. As we stood, Neil exclaimed that it was amazing to see ten of us able to all ring by ourselves and ring rounds – as the last he had seen of us, we were far from being able to do that! It was a proud moment - both for students and teacher. This was going to be a good week!

The week was perfect, with beautiful September weather and great teachers. We already had known that Neil was a great teacher from our first experience with him a year ago...but teamed up with his wife Nikki, they made a fantastic pair. They had creative and exciting approaches to many things, whether it was methods that were new to us, such as Cloister Bob Doubles or Treble Bob Hunt, or learning how to have better striking in rounds and the methods that we already knew, like Plain Hunt and Plain Bob Doubles. The schedule was very full, with different groups of us ringing with Neil and Nikki for a total of about 9 hours a day. The thing that seemed so remarkable to many of us was the way that they worked with groups of us that had such a mixture of different ability levels, using exercises that involved everyone, but gave each person a challenge. So, several of us would be practicing our dodging or call changes, while the others worked on keeping steady striking. Or we would do unconventional exercises, like turning around, and ringing with our backs to each other so as to ring more by ear and less by sight. We also worked on a very interesting exercise (which was also very physically challenging for the heavier bells) where we would ring rounds for a handstroke and a backstroke, and then stand the bell while the tenor kept ringing for two blows, then pull off again to repeat the exercise. One of the exciting things for us was to be able to put all that we had learned from the day into our ringing after the daily Vespers service.

We all found ourselves fascinated when Neil would talk about the sound of the bells, and how it has already changed since he installed them a year ago. He said they had already settled out quite a bit, and would continue to do so. The bells are sounding more like they will eventually sound when they finish settling, and they are really getting their “true voice” as he put it. Neil also commented on the fine work of our Steeple Keeper, Brother Thomas Tonne, who has kept everything in tip-top shape since the bells were installed. Speaking of tip-top shape, we also had a visit during the week from some of the people that have kept us ringers in good shape this past year, including Ed Futcher and several of the other Boston ringers. They came for the day on Saturday, working with our advanced group of ringers in the morning, with our group of high school ringers after lunch, and then with our intermediate and beginning ringers later in the day.

We were all glad to have our fearless instructors be able to have a little bit of “down time” to enjoy some of the scenic parts of Cape Cod, as they went canoeing in the Town Cove, enjoyed a lobster dinner, and had a cookout in the local State Park with all of us ringers. We had an ice cream sundae party to send them off when it was time for them to depart. As a gift for all they have done for us, we gave each of them one of our tower ringing shirts so that they can always feel like they’re a part of our band. We won’t really be able to sufficiently thank them for all they have done to inspire us, but we are so grateful for their visit, and are looking forward to seeing them the next time they “cross the pond” again.

Posted Sep 25, 2010


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