Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Music of Joy - Change Ringing

A few years ago, a friend of mine moved to NYC and joined the Trinity Change Ringers.  When Jeremy told me he had made the change from choir member to church bell ringer, I was a little perplexed.  He had such a lovely tenor voice, and an amazing understanding of music; I did not see any benefit to having him pulling a rope instead.

And I told him so.

He asked me if I had ever heard of change ringing; I had to answer that I had not.  He shared a New York Times article with me and gave me insight into the amazing cascade of ringing church bells, and the difficult nature of making the music.  And of course, I geeked out about it and started reading.

"The 'music' consists of cascades of bell strikes, called rows or pulls.  Variations in the order are introduced according to strict rules.  About five minutes of ringing is called a touch.  A full peal has 5,000 individual sequences.  Skillful ringing is like a steady stream of sand; poor ringing like clumps of earth".

I gotta say, that description does not make it sound much better.  Fortunately, the internets are filled with videos of amazing things (amazing things are not always good, just so you know - don't go looking for good things when you google 'Miranda Sings').  But then I listened to some, and was amazed.  Each of the notes, rung over and over again, with a pattern that defies expectation, and repeating in such a long loop that it is hard to even know that there is a repeating pattern.

Infinite variations. Each note, in isolation, providing just a toll. But together, instead of the expected cacophony, pure beauty.

The bells begin with a descending scale.  But then as the different rhythms for each bell continue, the character of the sound changes.  Listen to a little bit of it (or the whole thing, if you'd like!), but skip to about 3:00 to see how the sound changes.

I found myself thinking about that bell ringing and the beauty of the sound when I was in our church service a week ago.  One of the beloved members of the church was accepting a new job as minister of families out of state.  She had been involved with the children's ministry, and also with a ministry called Jacob's Ladder, which is a service to help adolescents and young adults with intellectual disabilities by helping them develop tools for adulthood.

The children sang.  The Jacob's Ladder youth played handbells.

My first thought was to expect cacophony.  Decades ago I played handbells in a youth bell choir, and quickly discovered how easy it was to botch a piece totally by playing at the wrong time.  Shortly after the first performance, I decided handbells might not be my way to fame and fortune.

As I listened to the bell ringers, however, I was amazed.  The sound was glorious.

Finally, the thought occurred to me that the out-of-time rhythm that  each of the players joyfully produced was, in essence, a form of change ringing.  Each of the ringers played their part of the chord in a rhythm that expressed their heart in a new way.  They started more or less together, cut off more or less together, and in between, they rang those bells.

Infinite variations. Each note, in isolation, providing just a toll.  But together, instead of the expected cacophony, pure beauty.

The end result was a beautiful experience.  One that touched me and reminded me of something important - that everyone has their note to play.  That where I expect dischord and tension, there is often beauty. 

And where I cannot find the beauty, it might just be because I haven't waited long enough to hear the pattern, and see the beauty. 

It also reminded me that I can play a melody by myself.  But that real joy and beauty comes from letting my note be joined with others, playing as imperfectly as I do, and with enthusiasm that brings joy with it, and make amazing music.  The music of the spheres.  Music of joy. 

I think I am going to listen for that beauty this week.  See if I can't listen for the change ringing in my life, and bring some much needed change.

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