In early 1983, the Cathedral Ringing Society, which had been founded in October 1963 after the installation of the Cathedral bells, was renamed and reorganized as The Washington Ringing Society (WRS) in recognition of the new bells installed at the Old Post Office Tower. This organization is based in Washington DC and is dedicated to English change ringing. Members of the WRS range from age 15 to 80 and come from many different walks of life that include teachers, computer programmers, lawyers, students, doctors, archivists, and musicians.
Below is a brief video that shows members of the WRS ringing at the Cathedral and describes change ringing.
What does it take to be a ringer?
Mostly it takes time and persistence. Keep in mind that ringing looks deceptively easy. To make any progress in ringing requires time--regular attendance at practices in the tower, as well as some time spent outside the tower studying. On average, new ringers should expect it to take a year or longer to become comfortable handling a bell. The more time spent studying and at practices, the faster progress is made.
Do you need a background in music?
No. Ringers come from many backgrounds and professions--teachers, accountants, engineers, mathematicians, lawyers, students, archivists, and more.
How old do you need to be to ring?
Age is less a limitation than size and hand/arm strength. While some towers with lighter bells than ours have taught children aged 6 – 8, in Washington we usually don’t teach people younger than 12 or 13. At the other extreme, it is not at all unusual for people to continue ringing into their 80s and 90s, though people do not often begin ringing at that age.
How do I learn to be a change ringer?
WRS runs an intensive entry-level class once or twice a year for people in the DC area interested in becoming ringers. People who complete the class then attend WRS weekly practices to continue to develop their ringing skills. Contact the Education Officer (link below) if you are interested in receiving a notification next time we hold a class.
- Size - You must be tall enough to reach the sally (standing on a box to do so is okay), and your hands must be large enough to comfortably hold the rope.
- Strength - It does not take a lot of strength to ring but it does require a basic level of physical fitness. Keep in mind that ringers also stand for long periods of time.
- Proximity to a tower - As a new ringer, it is important that the tower be fairly close either to your work or home. In order to make progress you will need to attend practice on a regular basis. Long commutes to the tower may make it difficult to attend practices regularly.
Change ringing is a form of bell ringing in which a set of bells (generally 6 – 12) sounds in changing rhythmic sequences (called “methods”) rather than in tunes. It originated in England in the 17th century and is still primarily practiced in the United Kingdom and former British Colonies. The bells are rung by a group of trained ringers, each of whom rings one bell by pulling on a rope that swings the bell in a 360 degree arc from mouth-upward position to mouth-upward position each time it sounds. Since it takes about 2 seconds for a bell to complete its swing, tune ringing, which requires more frequent note repetition, is not possible on change ringing bells. Rather the bells ring continuously in always changing, non-repeating orders.
Change ringing sounds very different from the type of ringing most Americans are used to hearing – tunes played on chimes or carillons (pronounced car-a-lon). With chimes and carillons, the bells are fixed and are struck by mechanical hammers. They may be rung by a single individual who plays the bells from a console or keyboard to which the hammers are connected. Some chimes have been automated and don’t even need a person to play them.
Here are several additional resources if you are interested in learning more about change ringing: