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Inside a Bell Tower: Change Ringing at UChicago’s 17th century Mitchell Bell Tower.

Inside a Bell Tower: Change Ringing at UChicago’s 17th century Mitchell Bell Tower.


[BELL RINGING] I need to oil these bearings
about every month or so. These have old-style
plain bearings, so it’s just a post that holds
the bell in place and rotates. Modern bells would
have ball bearings. And they go a lot smoother and
don’t require the maintenance. They make the bells
a lot easier to ring. But that should
do it for a while. [BELL RINGING] Change ringing
started in England in about the 17th century. They discovered a way
to have the bells move in a full circle. That full-circle
ringing is what leads to change ringing, it’s
combination of slightly physical activity, a
lot of mental activity, and a lot of working together. Each step isn’t really a
difficult one to figure out. But you cannot let
your mind wander, and you have to stick with it. But I enjoy that
part of it very much. I was drawn to change
ringing because of my interest in music. I’m studying music
and computer science. The bells provide an interesting
combination of music and math that I found appealing. I really like the
patterns that go into it and how the patterns can
manifest themselves musically. [BELLS RINGING] It takes a couple
seconds for the bell to swing all the way around. So you can’t ring normal music. What you can do, though,
is you have a set of bells, and they ring one
after the other. So you can kind of have a
continuous ribbon of sound. And that gets kind of
boring if– you can’t just have the same order. So the English said, well,
let’s spice things up. What if we have a pair
of bells switch places? And every single time the
bells ring, every two seconds, they’re going to ring
in a different order. Change ringing involves
ringing a set of tuned bells in a series of permutations
called changes. And the way it would go is
all the bells would ring. And then the order would change. And that would be
a new permutation. Every row is every
second and a half, or so. So there’s a small,
concise set of rules that somebody would remember. And that will generate up to
hours of unique permutations. When somebody’s ringing,
they’re focusing on the path of their
bell and making it fit in with everybody else. The people here are
learning to control the bell and starting to dabble in change
ringing just a little bit. So they don’t know
how glorious it is. And I do. And I’m trying lead
them to that glory. I was interested
in how they did it. It intrigued the heck out of me. But I couldn’t figure it out. Ultimately, I
decided the only way I was going to figure
it out was to learn it. And Chicago has the
closest bell tower. I can’t say I was real excited
about driving, basically seven hours every
Saturday, but I’ve been doing it every week since
the beginning of the year. There’s only about,
I think, 50 or so change ringing bell
towers in the US. There’s several
on the East Coast. And there are three
in the Midwest. Mitchell Tower is a replica
of Magdalen Tower in Oxford, England, so the bell tower
here is strong enough to house the bells, which
isn’t a given for most towers. The bells were
dedicated in 1908. The bells are a memorial
to Alice Freeman Palmer, who was the
first dean of women here at the university. I’ve been ringing
here since about 1985. And my kids ring and my wife. I met my wife through ringing. Somehow change ringing really
leads to deep friendships. It’s that you’re
depending on each other and trusting each other. It has something that
extends beyond change ringing that I think is very meaningful. It’s a very close-knit
community, a very good change from my study at UChicago. [BELLS RINGING] Is it an art form? People ask me if it’s music. And I don’t know
how to answer that. I mean, it’s just
a beautiful sound. Some people have
said it isn’t music. But it is. It’s an unusual kind of music. And it’s kind of mathematical. It’s open for debate whether
it’s music, whether it’s art. [BELLS RINGING]

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3 thoughts on “Inside a Bell Tower: Change Ringing at UChicago’s 17th century Mitchell Bell Tower.

  1. Change ringing has always been Anglo Saxon and many would think that don't ring would assume that people who ring are somehow church going people when they normally are not.
    it is nice to see a Chinese American in the band. I do know of other rings of different ethnicity and I hope that it really becomes multicultural. To strive for excellence in change ringing is great and it put you in a state of mindfulness

  2. That is amazing there is 50 towers in the US to change ringing. This is a very good English tradition. I learned to chang ringing a few years after I moved to UK and I love it.

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