Bell ringers have had bad press for too long. Quasimodo started it all, Marty Feldman didn’t help just by hunchback association, and Macbeth filled our youthful imagination with foreboding, the sound of the bells summoning us to heaven – or to hell. But Trinity Church is in the process of changing all that. There are no bats in the belfry in this most illustrious of New York churches. Bell ringing here is considered an art, not an adjective. And with the only set of 12 tuned bells in the country – courtesy of a British benefactor who named each bell after a favorite ringer, Manhattan has an orchestra with heavenly a-peal.
Becoming a bell ringer takes practice – count on a three year internship – but at Trinity it also requires fitness. First you need the legs to climb the 100 steps winding high into the bell tower. Then you need a good golf-stick grip for the rope, strength to balance up to a tonne of bronze belling, and most importantly a big heart that will keep you on beat and supply you with a generous spirit. Bell ringing is all about team work. And that’s not just keeping rhythm when the musical sequences change, it is also about the so-called ‘deodorant moments’ of familiarity, as the gravitational swing of the bell unceremoniously takes your arms up, up, up. No wonder friends ring together, fathers and daughters ring together, and everyone heads to the pub together at the end.
The ringing of the bells is as welcoming as the bellringers themselves. A very patient veteran walked me through the mechanics of the ringing, or at least tried to. His pleas for me to listen to my bell so as to understand the timing & speed required for pulling the ‘sally’ were as earnest as his attempts to explain the difference between a Reverse Bob and a Spliced Surprise. The musical scores may remain a mystery to me, but the good news is that the sound emanating from the bell chamber is electronically controlled through adjustable baffles. So even though I couldn’t identify the wayward sound of my own bell, neither could anyone else. My reputation remains intact and I have even been invited back. Miracles never cease! The next time you need one, contact David so you can join the party, and the privilege, of ringing the bells at Trinity…
Very interesting story Gabrielle and kudos to you for getting involved in such a difficult but wonderful art. My interest in bell ringing has been piqued by watching episodes of the British comedy/drama Agatha Raisin where devoted local parishioners are hard at work trying to develop their bell ringing skills. It gives viewers a little bit of insight into just how much is involved. I don’t know how you suss out fascinating little stories like this. let alone get so thick into the action, but thanks so much.
Thank you Sandy. I encountered the bell ringing through the Baroque concert I went to at Trinity. But I didn’t ever imagine that I would be able to join in with the bellringers myself – and that I would be given such a great welcome. I will have to have a look at the Agatha Raisin series, it may help me develop a rhythm for my next visit to the bell tower…
Gabrielle you are so fabulous! I look forward to hearing your bell ringing one day!
“I’m gonna ring dem bells…..” great story! 🙂
Very interesting story …thank you. 😚
How absolutely fabulous– I do hope you continue– will be fit and bring joy to the neighbourhood– not much more one could ask from an activity!!!
I loved your story on Bell Ringing …very entertaining.
Interesting to know it is the only tower with a set of tuned bells in the US.
I am a bell ringer in Orange New South Wales Australia & have been ringing for about 8 years .
We have a set of 8 bells in our tower at Holy Trinity Anglican Church .
It is a rewarding activity with an endless amount of learning opportunities.
Good thing about it is on Sunday mornings we ring the bells above the congregation as they arrive then go for coffee none of us go to Church.
Actually Libby – I stand corrected about Trinity having the only set of tuned bells in the US. They have the only set of twelve tuned bells. But nevertheless, it is not as big a thing here as it is in Australia or England. Good for you for being a ringer! And hilarious that you ring the bells above the congregation and then go off for a coffee… Sounds heavenly!