Saturday 17 September 2016 was a special day. Not only was it special, it was the first day of its kind - the ART Learning the Ropes Masterclass. Following up on the successful launch of the ART awards scheme last year, ART Awards Leader, Stephanie Warboys, masterminded and hosted a day of intensive development for nine invited students. All of the students had completed the Learning the Ropes scheme - the ART training scheme comprising five skill levels, from bell handling to ringing inside to Plain Bob and Little Bob Minor, and all had progressed beyond, completing modules of the LtR Plus “follow on” scheme. ART awards winners Rose Horton (young conductor) and Thomas Monks (outstanding progress) were amongst the delegates who arrived in Birmingham ready for a taste of ringing history, tradition and excellence that members of St Martin’s Guild continue to uphold.
Over coffee and registration, the students were introduced to the ringers who would be looking after them throughout the day. Stephanie Warboys, Mark Eccleston, Arthur Reeves, Phil Ramsbottom, Jack Page, Tracy Stevens,Andrew Else and Clare McArdle, were at their disposal to mentor them and coach them in method learning, striking and listening skills.
The opening session focused on listening skills. Stephanie explained that the keystone to Birmingham’s continued success at national level was the ringers’ willingness to discuss striking and that even the most experienced ringers were not exempt from correction, in fact, they welcome it. The students were to expect feedback of this sort today. A series of video clips of 6-bell ringing was played and students had to identify the faults.
They discussed their thoughts with their mentors and then volunteered their answers. Very few of the video clips had to be replayed. The session concluded with some thoughts on conducting and an introduction to Stedman by Mark Eccleston. Although regarded by many as a bit of a Birmingham speciality, Stephanie extolled the virtues of the principle by its easy extension, making it an excellent pathway to ringing on higher numbers. Stedman was to be one of the feature methods for the students for the day.
The rest of the day was spent at three of Birmingham’s best towers, all within walking distance, for three practical sessions. The first was St Philip’s Cathedral. Notable for their crystal clear acoustics, the bells are widely recognised as one of the finest rings in the country and with almost 2,000 peals rung there since their augmentation in 1949 the tower is considered to be a “finishing school” for 12 - bell ringers. The session started on the middle six and students chose the method or methods they wanted to concentrate on. Several of them rang their first blows in Stedman whilst some of the others chose Cambridge as their method to focus on
Towards the end of the session the students were all given the opportunity to test their listening skills and their ability to get their backstrokes up as they rang rounds and call changes on twelve.For some this was the first opportunity they had had to ring on twelve.
The second of the three towers was St Paul’s in the Jewellery Quarter. The ten bells were installed in 2005 as part of the 250th anniversary celebrations of the St Martin’s Guild. Equipped with a purpose built school room, the tower is used as the headquarters of The Birmingham School of Bell Ringing. Weekly two-hour training sessions are held here and at three other Guild towers on Saturdays. On this week, however, the School session at St Paul’s had been given over to the Masterclass.
Lunch was taken “on the hoof” in the school-room below, whilst the students cracked on and their learning and development continued. Students that had started looking at Stedman Doubles, some for the first time, moved on to ringing it with singles and then put into practice the theory of extending to higher numbers. In three turns one student rang Stedman Doubles (for the first time), an affected touch and then Stedman Triples. Another student got as far as Caters. The students who had chosen to focus on Cambridge were introduced to the concept of ringing by rules and put all of their place-bell learning to good use by ringing Primrose. It was a revelation to many of them that by plain hunting across the lead ends they had a whole new method under their belts. Again the session ended with opportunities to ring on higher numbers and this time students were given the chance to ring methods. For some, this was Plain Hunt, but for one or two it was Stedman.
The last tower of the day was St Martin’s. Home to the world's first ring of sixteen, St Martin's has a long tradition of change-ringing on higher numbers. It was the first tower to record 100 peals of Stedman Cinques. Stephanie made sure to point out significant peal boards to the students, including the first peal of Orion Surprise Maximus and the first peal on sixteen bells. Before the ringing began the students got the chance to get up close to the National Twelve Bell Striking Contest trophy. Students were presented with certificates by Arthur Reeves, St Martin’s Guild Ringing Master, and they were all photographed with the coveted trophy in the foreground.
To begin with all of the students were given the opportunity to ring rounds and call-changes on sixteen - a first for all (except the two students who lived locally). This was definitely a highlight, as several students commented that it was their best experience of the day in their feedback. Then there were more opportunities for students to try their hand ringing on twelve. One of the high points of the day, lifting the atmosphere (if it could be
lifted any more) came as two of the students achieved a course of Stedman Cinques.