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For over 1,200 years,
church bells have called the faithful to worship,
helped us to celebrate triumph and tragedy.
But the fact that they're one of the largest
and loudest musical instruments in the world
is often overlooked.
This is something musical innovator Charles Hazlewood
wants to change.
There's something about the sound of bells.
Even as a very small child
hearing them from our village church,
you get this amazing unearthly,
ghostly, sort of ethereal, sound.
The sense of the music
kind of coming almost as if it were out of the earth.
If I'm honest with you,
I'm really sad about the fact that there's only one
grand piece of symphonic music I can think of
that really exploits the potential
of towers near and far in a performance
and that's the 1812 Overture.
I mean, the reasons why you don't find
more church or tower bell pealing in orchestral music is pretty obvious.
You can't exactly take an orchestra to a tower
and you can't bring the tower into the concert hall.
But they're such a powerfully evocative part
of Englishness, the English landscape,
and they're great carriers of drama.
What I want to see is if we can go right back
to ground zero, as it were,
with these amazing ancient instruments
and really make some fabulous music.
With a track record of
innovative and exciting performances,
Charles wants to see if church bells can be used to make original music in their own right.
I'd love to hear what would happen if you had a three-note chord.
These things have never been done, Charles. You're pushing barriers!
Charles is going to immerse himself
in the world of bells and bell-ringing.
He will discover what can and can't be achieved
with these neglected musical instruments.
It's like Heath Robinson comes from the bell tower, isn't it?
At the end of it all,
Charles hopes to bring different worlds together
in a unique piece of music
the like of which has never been heard before.
Conductor Charles Hazlewood
has given himself the challenge of devising and mounting
a piece of music just for bells.
And as the stage for his unique musical adventure,
he has chosen the Market Square
in the centre of Cambridge.
When I came up with this scheme, I was very clear about
the thing we needed, a central space like this
and close by,
working bell towers.
That may sound like an easy thing to deliver. It's not at all.
In fact in the UK, at least 50%
of all churches that have got towers,
don't have bells, either that work or maybe have been removed.
I've searched the country, ending up in Cambridge,
because here in this wonderful square,
we've three working bell towers. Fantastic!
Over there is Great St Mary.
Just round the corner there you've got St Edward's
and then just over there, St Andrew the Great.
All three towers in magnificent working condition.
Great St Mary's, overlooking the Market Square,
has dominated bell-ringing in Cambridge for over 300 years.
Here in the Middle Ages,
the university bell-ringer would ring the start
and end of meals, lectures and prayers.
And it was here the Westminster Chimes were invented,
the tunes Big Ben strikes every quarter-hour.
-Nice to meet you.
-Good to meet you.
David Pipe is the ringing master here at Great St Mary's
and George Unsworth is the ringing secretary.
They have offered to help Charles in his musical adventure.
I love the sound in between the strikes
-when the bell is on the move.
Their first task is to help Charles understand the basics
of how bell-ringing actually works.
A bell has two strokes to it. We have a hand stroke,
where you are holding onto
the furry bit called the sally, and the back stroke.
The most important thing is that
what happens to this after you've pulled it.
It goes through the ceiling, through that rather small hole there.
If you're still holding it while it goes through that hole...
Let's face it, we've all seen those cartoons!
This is it. This is for real.
BELL PEALS ONCE
No. It's not coming yet. Put your arms down.
-Right, you ready now?
-Hungry for it!
Here it comes.
And pull...that's it.
The bells here weigh up to a tonne
and swing with huge momentum.
There we go.
Charles must pull with just enough force to ease the bell
off its upright position and propel it around a full circle.
-You could feel it, then?
-Right on the calfs!
You pulled quite hard, then.
The other factor is timing.
The ringer should pull just as the bell reaches the top of its swing.
Pull too soon or too late and he risks losing control.
Oh. Let go.
So what happened there? I pull it to come down, is it?
-It didn't go up.
-You were pushing it up, effectively.
You held on a little bit. How are the hands?
All right. Slightly shooting pain up the back,
I must say, but there we are.
All in a day's work.
In the Middle Ages, bells were swung from side to side,
by a rope attached onto or near the head of the bell.
It was the Reformation that changed everything.
In a wave of anti-Catholic iconoclasm,
church fixtures and fittings were destroyed up and down the country.
As the nation's bells were recast and rehung,
craftsmen took advantage of the latest technology
and mounted their bells on wheels.
Now ringers could control the timing of the bell,
the direct result was change-ringing,
the sound of bells being played one after another
that we hear every Sunday morning.
Change ringing quickly became
a hugely popular secular hobby.
Groups sprang up in almost every town and city
vying with each other for recognition.
There are now about 40,000 ringers across the country,
but amazingly, the wheel mechanism and change-ringing
never took root on the continent
where they still use the medieval system.
The ringers of Great St Mary's
belong to the Cambridge Youths,
one of the oldest ringing societies in the world.
There's been change-ringing in this room
since at least 1724.
So what's going to happen,
is that Patrick, behind us, will start calling pairs of bells to swap
and gradually swapping the pairs of bells
will produce a different sequence,
and it's one that's called Whittingtons.
7 to 11.
As nice as it may sound to the ear,
no-one in this room is trying to make music.
The bells are numbered 1 to 12 from the highest to the lowest,
and the ringers swap the order they're rung in
to create ever-changing sequences of notes.
So that's number eight
and number nine. Yeah?
Dah-dah dah-dah dum!
8 to 11.
This is called change-ringing,
a system that has barely altered in over 350 years,
and although it's simple in theory,
it requires furious concentration.
It's the raw material Charles has to work with.
Bravo. That was amazing!
Turn again, Whittington, I do believe. Incredible!
Musically speaking, let's face it, bells haven't much to recommend them.
They can only play loud.
They can only play on beats.
They can't even do dotted rhythms or syncopations.
They certainly can't pick out melody.
Plus, bell-ringers don't think in the same way
as a musician like me.
They don't think even in terms of tunes or melody.
They're thinking in terms of numbers.
8 to 11.
So that's a challenge, for me as much as for them,
to find some common ground in the middle.
We don't want to end up with something
which sounds like an artful experiment.
We've got to end up with something
which is just bloody good music.
Charles is starting to understand the musical constraints
of church bells and change-ringing,
but more challenges lie ahead.
I've come to the top of the tower at Great St Mary's
to get the lie of the land,
to see where my various musical components
are going to be.
So the Market Square's down there.
Beyond that you see the tower of St Andrew the Great, tower number two.
Then over here, St Edward's.
I've never conducted anything where the individual
musical elements are this far apart before.
I simply have no idea if I'm going to be able to make it work.
One thing that will greatly help create a harmonious piece of music,
is if the bells of the different churches
are in tune with each other.
Great St Mary's has a modern ring of 12 bells,
beautifully tuned in the key of D major.
Charles' second church is St Andrew the Great.
Rebuilt in 1842, the medieval church on this site
used to guard one of the gateways to the old city.
Four to five.
Now, the University Guild of Ringers
hold their practice sessions here every Thursday night.
Bravo, guys! Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant!
They don't seem that loud, the bells outside.
Are there windows or...
There's large wooden sheets over the, all the louvres
because there's a college over the road.
We've heavily dampened the sound of the bells.
Do you think you'd be allowed to take those off?
They're fairly permanent.
If you can't remove the baffles, you can't remove them.
-You've got eight bells here?
Eight bells. Nice descending major scale,
about A major, I'd say, roughly.
The authority in these believes they're in G.
That's open to dispute.
Yeah, well, I suppose it depends on what part of the country you're from.
G or A, any ringing here
won't be in tune with the D major bells at Great St Mary's.
Charles' final church is St Edward's,
just off the southwest corner of the Market Square.
St Edward's holds a unique place in English history.
Here in 1525,
standing in what is now called the Latimer Pulpit,
Robert Barnes gave one of the first sermons
of the English Reformation.
Here Charles will be working with tower captain Ali Finn.
So we go through the tower door, here.
Ali first became involved with the church in 1994,
as part of a restoration effort to save its original medieval bells.
They're amazingly old! They look almost like Grecian urns.
Yes! So this is the base of the old frame,
the actual oak frame that the bells were hanging in,
which, as you can see, is quite fragile.
It's lovely you've been able to keep it,
the original structure.
All the bells here are 17th century or earlier,
but Sancta Anna, cast in 1470,
is one of the oldest ringable bells in the county.
It's a bit narrow as you come through here.
And here we are, on the gallery.
What a great view!
You can see everything going on down there and they can see you at work.
Yes, yeah. And you often catch the, er, little children,
especially down in the corner there,
they're looking up to see how the sound's being made
and all the people pulling on these ropes.
At St Ed's,
Charles has a ring of six bells in the scale of D major.
They should match Great St Mary's perfectly,
but they were cast over a period of 200 years,
when bell technology was in its infancy.
BELL RESOUNDS REPEATEDLY
-That's the tenor.
-OK, that's roughly an A. Very nice.
So now the oldest one.
BELL PEALS A TINNIER NOTE
A very bright B!
One thing that's really interesting about these bells,
and more than at Great St Mary's,
is when the clapper rests on the bell, it damps it very fast.
You don't get that ringing on.
BELL CHIMES WITH A CLEARER NOTE
This one will probably sound louder cos it's nearer the door.
Charles has now heard all the bells at his disposal
and no one set matches another.
Nothing on this project is turning out as he had expected.
Before I set out on this journey of discovery into bells
I had some, I think, what were actually
totally outlandish notions of what might be possible.
I thought in my mind it would be perfectly possible
to ghost out the elements of a theme, a tune, in one tower
and then halfway through, pass it on seamlessly to the next
which would then pass it on seamlessly to the third tower.
I mean, that's pie in the sky. Completely impossible,
the very idea that you can actually get towers
in separate places to synchronise with each other,
as I now realise, it's a completely nuts idea!
But when you're working creatively,
it actually gets interesting when you recognise the limitations
around what it is you're trying to do.
In a way, if the sky was always the limit,
you'd be embarrassed by the range of choice.
Charles is ready to start devising his bell extravaganza,
but before he does,
he's come to visit Taylor's Bell Foundry in Loughborough.
Up close and personal with bells, Charles has realised that
each one produces a complex sound full of different notes.
Taylor's are one of only two bell foundries remaining in the UK,
and it was here that the art of bell-tuning
was perfected more than 100 years ago.
This is the main part of the works. The works was built here in 1859.
-Specifically for the bell foundry?
Across the road, through those double doors,
is where the bells are moulded and cast.
Down the far end, we've got the joiners' shop,
which is where all the woodwork that we need is made.
That's where the wheels are made?
That's it - stays, sliders, all sorts of bits and pieces.
And the really exciting bit for me is the room over there
which is the tuning shop,
where the bells that come across from the foundry
get tuned and turned into musical instruments.
Every bell produces thousands
of different notes called partials.
As bell master, it's Andrew's job to tune these partials.
So what we've got is a modern bell that's harmonically tuned
and, if memory serves me, it's somewhere round about note B.
But what we're actually hearing there is not just one note,
there are five very obvious notes
fairly low down in the human hearing range.
The lowest is where the whole bell is resonating in and out,
if you can imagine that.
And that's called the hum note.
LOW NOTE RESONATES
And now the next partial is an octave above that.
Again, another note B.
HIGHER NOTE WHISPERS
-It's magic, isn't it?
And then we've got a minor third
which is the mournful sound you get out of a church bell.
HIGH NOTE RESONATES
-Right, there it is.
-And then there's another octave.
Another B, the nominal.
VERY HIGH NOTE JUST AUDIBLE
That one is the most important one in terms of determining the pitch of the bell,
cos although it doesn't come out strongly when you hit it with a fork,
it's that one that drives the pitch that the ear perceives.
If I strike the bell again...
ALL NOTES RESONATE RICHLY TOGETHER
All of a sudden, you can hear all of those partials.
The mind can reconcile it because it's just had it pointed out to it.
Why is it that a bell produces so many notes?
It's to do with the complexity of the shape.
You've got, if you like, the marrying together of two shapes.
You've got this vase-shaped aspect to the bell
where it comes up and it's flared out,
and there is some modes of vibration that are involved in the whole body of the bell,
certainly the hum note - the lowest one we can hear.
In addition to that, you've got the ring-driven mode of vibration
which is, if you could imagine lopping the top part of the bell off
and just having a ring of metal,
and imagine that vibrating in a mode that's effectively at right angles
to the way that the whole body vibration goes.
And that is the one that gives the very much more intense harmonics.
Up until the 19th century,
tuning a bell was an unsophisticated process that consisted largely of
hacking chunks of metal from the rim of the bell.
But in the 1860s, John William Taylor I became obsessed with
the fact that all English bells sounded out of tune.
For decades, he and his sons experimented
until they had devised a completely new system of tuning.
Using perfectly pitched tuning forks
and a huge vertical borer, Taylor started to reach
parts of the bell which had hitherto been left untouched,
allowing the main partials in the bell to be isolated and tuned.
Machining metal out of the bell counter-intuitively actually lowers the pitch of the bell.
By machining metal, say, out of the corner of the bell,
we can lower the fundamental.
By machining the sound bar of the bell, we can lower the nominal.
-That's a lot of metal that's come out of there.
So this is the computer programme
and you can see there's a discrete set of peaks
which relates to each of the partials.
A desired finish pitch, and then it tells you in sense,
which is a hundredth of a semitone, how are away we are from that.
And having seen that, I can then relate that to how much metal
needs to be machined off it in order to get the finished result.
-Obviously, this is of paramount importance. If you took too much off, you've blown it.
Well, you don't look worried.
-Well, we're a bell factory.
Taylor's produced their first set of harmonically tuned bells in 1896.
Since that date, they have cast and hung
some of the most important bells in the country.
Among them, in 2009,
the 12 bells of Great St Mary's in Cambridge.
Charles has decided that whatever music he creates with tower bells,
change-ringing must be at the heart of it.
And one of the ringers from Great St Mary's, Philip Earis,
has offered to help him compose
something completely new for the event.
From my side, I think...
there are several very attractive arrangements of bells.
So, I say we start with rounds. A straight scale.
1, 2, 3, ,4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12.
There's a very well-known change where all the odd-numbered bells ring first
and all the even-numbered bells ring after that, so the interval...
CHARLES HUMS THAT PATTERN
Exactly, exactly. And that change is called Queens.
OK, so your challenge
-is to get to go from here to here...
..but moving only one bell at a time.
-Oh, goodness. It's like doing a Rubik's Cube.
We might start just swapping six and seven.
What Philip is composing is called a method.
A mathematical pattern for ringers to follow,
so that they can ring countless changes without repeating any.
The earliest methods have names like Grandsire and Plain Bob
and were first recorded in 1668
by Fabian Stedman in his book, Tintinnalogia.
Methods allow ringers to ring changes almost endlessly,
but any performance of 5,000 or more
is recorded for posterity and called a peal.
The longest peal that has been rung,
which I was in and which David Pipe was in, was 72,000 changes
on six bells. That lasted a bit over 24 hours.
What did you do about, like, toilet breaks?
Er, that was slightly delicate.
We, er, for food, drink and toilet breaks, as you might imagine,
there are some challenges there.
We managed to...this was ringing hand bells, so we had two hand bells each, so our hands weren't free.
-Did someone else have to, you know?
There was once a peal of 40,000 changes rung on tower bells,
-and for toilet breaks a bucket was passed around for that.
That was an all-male band.
We had a sort of arrangement
which babies more frequently are used to, really,
-to cover for our toilet breaks.
And, of course, it must feel terrible
if you are the one that lets the side down?
Once, when I was ringing a long peal,
the ringing broke down after about 13 or 14 hours.
As we'd been ringing for quite a long time, one of the ringers tried to feed themselves.
It was like a Greek tragedy,
watching the bell just go from order into chaos.
What did you do? Walk out with your tail between your legs?
There was a bit of silence for a while,
then we decided we would go to the pub and have a few beers
and find a date when we could do it again.
In due course, we did manage to complete the peal.
Anyhow, back to the work in hand. So...
That should be a six.
2, 4, 6, 8, 10...
1, 3, 2, 5, 7, 4, 9, 6, 8, 11, 10, 12,
11, 9, 7 and 5, 3, 1.
Well, my head is just bulging with numbers - rrrrrrr! -
running through like some abacus gone mad.
It definitely takes a very particular kind of mind and a mind that I don't have, really.
Philip, however, could eat, breathe and sleep numbers - he would feel complete comfort.
It is really interesting to understand that
within the world of music, which is a very broad world,
there are some almost intangible things to some of us.
My whole approach to music, my experience in music and how it's made
has come from such a contrary position -
not a contrary position, but a very different position. So I find it baffling. Interesting, but baffling.
With Philip, Charles has now devised one element of his piece of music.
But the limitations of tower bells and change-ringing
are still causing him concern.
It's obvious that we should base the performance
here in the Market Square, equidistant between the three towers
but - and it's a big "but" - I had really hoped that
the bell towers would be able to give me more melodic interest.
But the fact is, for all sorts of good reasons,
they're stuck in change-ringing.
I need another element.
Also something to root us here. To give us a reason to be here. To cement the whole thing together.
In search of a solution, Charles has come to Bottisham,
a small village about five miles outside Cambridge.
MUSIC: "If I Were A Rich Man" from Fiddler On The Roof
Here at Mary Batten's house,
the Bottisham Hand Bell Ringers meet every Wednesday night.
Bravo. Thank you very much indeed.
Wow. It's so nice to hear that sound.
I've been in that kind of wonderful, great big brash world
which is tower bell-ringing for the last few days,
and to hear the sweet, unctuous tones
of your hand bells is a really lovely contrast to that.
I sense a lot of passion for hand bell-ringing in the room.
How long have we been ringing? About 24, 25 years?
-Yes, some of us.
-I would say.
This team has been ringing 24, 25 years?
Not the same people, obviously.
-How long have you been hand bell-ringing?
-And how long have you been ringing?
-So you came into it together?
Wow, that's an amazing thing. I try and do things with my kids and they go, "Don't, Dad, it's embarrassing!"
How lovely that you don't feel this about your mum.
-He's saying nothing.
I'm intrigued to know that you've never played anything from memory,
only because obviously the nature of it is that
you are very, very focused on what's in front of you.
-Yeah, oh yes.
-And we never smile.
No, you look like you're in pleasure, a pleasurable mode.
-You don't look grim.
I'm intrigued because, because what is music if it's not communication?
In a way, when music really lifts off, certainly I find as a conductor,
is when the orchestra with whom I'm working are so familiar with the music they're finding the spaces
in between having to hoover up the information, if you see what I mean.
-The difference with this is you're playing a part
and so it's not always as easy to pick up the direction of where you're going.
That's such a valid point. Normally with any melodic instrument you are used to,
-to, spinning melodies.
-And you play all the notes of that melody,
whereas you were all kind of individual components
within a larger organism.
It's like a rehearsal.
If we've got one person missing, you haven't got the complete tune.
Have you tried ringing bells yourself?
A little tiny bit. Not very much.
Why, do you want to challenge me?
MUSIC: "Oh What A Beautiful Morning" From Oklahoma
As with their weightier cousins,
hand bells have been around for centuries.
In medieval times, they were used to ward off evil spirits
and rung when someone passed away.
But playing tunes on hand bells
really took off in the Victorian period.
Competitions were held in the Belle Vue Gardens in Manchester,
attracting hundreds of teams.
And in musical halls up and down the country,
tappers and novelty ringers became staple acts.
-Hang on a minute.
-We're not together at the end of it.
Oh I missed the first time bar! I'm so sorry. Oh dear, oh dear.
Oh, dear, oh, dear!
I'm glad you get things wrong as well.
I tell you what, the real challenge for me, I thought, "Blimey, it's suddenly a B flat
"and I've got a B and an A here," and I'm like this!
Hey! Terrible. Much to your amusement, I notice.
Thanks for the support.
It's a completely different way of thinking. It's fascinating.
It's been great to meet you all.
Thank you for, for letting me come to your, to your session.
-And I'm be seeing you all soon.
-Thank you for coming.
-Yes, we look forward to it.
-Great, cool. Thank you.
-Cheers. All the best.
Charles' plan is to devise a performance
which combines some church bell change-ringing,
with some hand bell tune-ringing.
But these are two worlds which normally never mix.
I can make a piece of music
featuring bells work on a number of different levels.
Er, at the most sophisticated,
it might be a wonderfully challenging experience
for the players, but I think what I, what's really clear
is there are certain limitations to the way hand bell-ringers work,
just as there are certainly limitations
to the way that tower bell-ringers work.
I'm not going to be able to get them to do some wonderful extended thing
with lots of kind of flashy passages and fanfare-like moments.
Indeed, I can't even have too many different ideas.
I think the key thing is going to be simplicity,
so that everyone can kind of really lock into the groove, as it were,
of one principal musical narrative.
So I've got to be immensely careful about not being overly ambitious,
and my instinct is always to try and push further, go further beyond...
and I just have to rein that in slightly.
Determined to keep it simple, Charles decides
to base his final piece around one well-known folk tune.
For a long time, it was popularly held that Greensleeves
was written by Henry VIII, a monarch with close connections to Cambridge.
He founded Trinity College,
and completed the world-famous King's College Chapel.
Now that Charles has chosen his tune,
he must arrange it for hand bells.
The key challenge is to find ways of marrying
what are actually very disparate things -
tower bells and hand bells.
Our performance will have started with some very fiery change-ringing.
Then off the back of that, the hand bells can start very,
very nakedly and gently to pick out the tune.
By the time we're getting into the second verse,
gradually, I'll unleash more harmony from the hand bells,
and the kind of figuration I'm going to use is based on the changes.
I've got here, written out on a stave,
the exact notes of the changes that will have been played
in the first portion of the piece by towers.
Do you see, like falling scales -
# Ya dah, dee dah, dee dah, dee dah, dee-dah-dah bom. #
That's going to be the essence of the harmony,
so that the hand bells have a direct correlation
to what the tower bells have been doing.
Charles has managed to gather 30 hand bell players from across the Eastern Counties,
and borrowed two five-octave sets of bells.
I've got some sympathy with Rossini right now -
Rossini, amazing Italian composer, very fast composer
and he'd write operas in, in sort of record time,
but he'd leave the overture till the end,
because the overture is the first piece of music the audience hears.
It introduces all the themes, all the main characters,
so obviously it's the last thing the composer invariably writes.
And Rossini would apparently leave the writing of the overture later and later -
on some occasions, even to the very day of the first performance,
and the theatre managers would be screaming, "When is Rossini going to write the overture?!"
And apparently they would lock him in a room, they'd give him one plate of cold pasta
and one glass of wine, and he wasn't allowed out until he'd finished.
Although some hand bell players work from numbers, in the same way as tower bell-ringers,
everyone here tonight can read conventional musical notation.
The D on the quavers is the first...
Most simply mark in their own parts.
Right, ladies and gentlemen!
First of all, it's fantastic to have you all here.
Thank you so much for giving up part of your precious Saturday
to come and involve yourselves in this kind of experiment -
strange and hopefully wonderful musical experiment based around bells.
Now, the tune that I want to use at the heart of this piece is Greensleeves.
It contains that kind of essential English quality,
what Shakespeare called the dying fall.
In other words, it's essentially melancholic, as I suppose
we all are essentially a little melancholic.
You know - it does rain a lot in our country, and the thing about the dying fall...
HE SINGS TUNE OF GREENSLEEVES # Dah dee, dah dah-dah-dah, dying fall
# Dah dah dee, dah dah-dah-dah, dying fall. # Right? And that repeats.
Brief burst of sunshine in the chorus -
# DAH, DAH, dah-dah, dying fall, dah-dah-dee dah-dah-daaah... # Right?
There we are, that's the English race personified in melody, as far
as I'm concerned. So, er, let's have a little go and see how we get on.
So nice and slow. One, two...
THEY SLOWLY PLAY GREENSLEEVES One, two, three, one, two...
OK, good. Good, good, good.
Ladies and gentlemen, fantastic for a first effort. Fantastic.
Now, ladies and gentlemen, look carefully at bar 66.
Hands up here who's a tower bell-ringer... Two.
Well, I'm very pleased to say to you that Queens
has found its way into Greensleeves at exactly this point.
DECREASING IN PITCH # Dah dah, dee dah, dee dum Bee dah, dee dah, dee dum... #
Right? Hurrah! The tower bell comes to the hand bell.
So, let's try from 66 and see how we get on.
THEY PLAY THE PASSAGE
UNEXPECTED CHORD Mmm, a sudden and very spicy harmonic shift there.
Suddenly an F-sharp major 7! Which should shock the hell out of the audience.
Let's have a long pause on that magnificent chord.
THEY PLAY THE SAME PASSAGE
THEY ARRIVE AT THE CHORD
Bravo, ladies and gentlemen. A very good evening's work.
Thank you very much.
Charles is keen to find every means possible
to draw his church bells and his hand bells together.
In his arrangement of Greensleeves, the hand bells imitate the church bells -
and now, flying in the face of everything he's learnt,
he's going to try to get church bells to imitate the hand bells.
For this experiment, Charles has chosen St Edwards.
-Ali, how's it going? Nice to see you.
And Ali has brought along steeple-keeper and engineer Tom Ridgeman for help.
Tom's the steeple-keeper here.
So you, you get the essence of what it is I'd like to achieve?
You want chiming, you want music
-rather than just our plain old bell-ringing routine?
At the heart we've got Greensleeves,
and it would be amazing to think these six bells could play their part
in actually sounding out elements of that melody
and I'm very aware that with the method of change-ringing,
-that's not going to be possible.
-Yeah, that's right.
BUT there's a system that they use in churches called Ellacombe chimes,
where they put hammers on the bells and they use strings and pulleys
and stuff and they can play them a bit like pianos
that you can just play notes on.
-So, you're controlling the clapper hitting the bell.
They normally have special hammers attached to the bells -
we don't have that,
-but we can rig something up that sort of vaguely simulates that.
That's kind of reasonably rigid.
Tie round the clapper, between the ball and the fly.
Tom's plan is to use string and a pulley
to attach the clapper directly to the bell rope.
Right, there we go.
Extraordinary! HE LAUGHS
I mean, it's like Heath Robinson comes to the bell tower, really, isn't it?
I think we're onto something, aren't we?
It's so exciting that they're blazing a new trail.
They haven't tried this before...
but it does mean that we can play something of a Greensleeves...
well, a fragment of the Greensleeves melody on these bells.
I'm really thrilled.
I wonder if they'll be loud enough,
but you know, we'll only know by trying.
When Tom and Ali have rigged all six bells,
they gather the ringing team to see if they can make musical history.
So, if we were to do the first phrase,
we'd be going, erm... # Five, three, two, one. #
-Shall we just try that?
-Yeah, so you're first.
I'm five, you're three, two, one, right? So...
Hear that? Yay!
The first four notes of Greensleeves. Amazing!
-Surely the first time ever in this amazing old tower.
So we now extend it.
Obviously, we're missing a note because, strictly speaking, we go
# Five, three, two, one da, one, two, four, six. #
OK, so just see how far we get there.
-Yeah, but you will need to conduct.
-All right... Here we go then, so...
SHE PLAYS WRONG NOTE
# Bah. # THEY CHUCKLE
# Bab bah-bah. #
Ah! How nice.
I'm just delighted with that!
-Do you think Henry VIII would be thrilled?
I think he'd be thrilled, wouldn't he?
The other historic thing about what we're doing,
it seems to me, is that we are ringing dotted rhythms.
# Dum-dah pah-bee pah-pah bee. #
Now, you never get dotted rhythms in change-ringing, or obvious reasons,
you just get... Right?
These bells must be thinking, "What on earth is going on to us!"
Things are starting to come together.
The only thing Charles is missing is a rousing finale,
something he hopes the ringers of Great St Mary's
can help him deliver.
So what I'm really excited to hear
is what would happen if you had a chord.
For instance, just two bells, then three bells,
then four bells, then five. Is that really hard to do?
-That would be pretty hard...
But we're going to do this. OK, we'll do this. So...
Phil's going to start...
and we'll say two whole pulls... and then two whole pulls,
two whole pulls and everyone joins in two whole pulls later.
So everyone's going... She's gone.
OTHER BELLS JOIN IN, SLIGHTLY OUTOFTIME
Playing chords on church bells is rare.
BELLS FALL INTO TIME
Sometimes on special occasions or at the end of a wedding ceremony,
all the bells of the church will ring in unison.
This is called firing...
..but it's never done quite like this.
You've made an old man very happy, that's incredible!
Absolutely incredible. You were grinning from ear to ear.
Well, yes, well, we don't do that every day.
Or every year, really.
You were all in such great control of your bells.
-Presumably you could get periodically slower, you could do a rallentando.
-Could do, yeah.
Yeah, and how would that work? Would someone be calling?
Would you call an up-beat or...
These things have never been done, Charles...
-you're pushing back the barriers.
-I'm pushing back... OK.
So, the only other thing I'd like to do is a more tuneful firing.
I'd just love to hear what would happen
-if you had a three-note chord.
I can guarantee this is the first time this has EVER been done.
See, that was difficult.
Yeah! That was amazing.
-We need to practise that!
Of course, but the principle is a good one,
-and those two chords are so beautiful.
Charles now has all the elements for his final performance,
and the groups are busy rehearsing their parts.
But with everything going full-steam ahead,
Charles is taking a day out of his hectic schedule.
-Are you Trevor?
-I'm Trevor. Hello, Charles, good to meet you.
-Thank you for having me here.
-Welcome to Bourneville.
Charles has come to Bourneville,
the model village created by the chocolate manufacturer George Cadbury in the 1890s,
and he's here to see an extraordinary instrument -
a cross between a church tower and an organ, called a carillon.
So now we have the, er, carillon right in front of us, here.
-There are 48 bells...
The largest bell, which is the one right at the top there,
is three and a quarter tonnes in weight
and the smallest one is 12 pounds in weight
and it's chromatic four octaves, but with the lower C sharp missing.
BELLS PEAL AN INTRICATE TUNE
The first carillon was built in Belgium 500 years ago.
Despite widespread use throughout the low countries,
carillons didn't make it over to England
until George Cadbury had this one built in 1906.
Trevor has been playing here every week since 1965.
FURIOUS AND INTRICATE MELODY OF BELS OF MANY PITCHES
Blimey! What do I owe you for that, then? That was extraordinary!
Whatever you think it's worth.
You started off with quite a lick with your quavers, then I saw the semiquavers go.
-I thought, "How on earth is that going to be possible?!"
One thing that you are absolutely able to get with this instrument
is light and shade. One of the things about tower bells
is that there is really only one dynamic level.
You can't affect how hard or otherwise the clapper hits the bell.
Here, you've got a lot of control.
Total control, yes.
This mechanism here will either shorten or lengthen
the linkage between the clapper and the key,
so you've got that potential for pianissimo or...
And the other thing that makes this different
from a standard keyboard instrument
is that you can't play static chords.
What you can do is arpeggiate. That means you're very busy filling in the harmony all the time.
Although you're playing music written for the piano or some other instrument,
you've got to try and produce the sound
that was intended by the composer for the original instrument.
And that involves doing a lot to convert it into music
and to make it passionate, if that's the word.
It does require effort. You need to exploit the full range of dynamics
that the instrument's capable of giving,
from the very loud, and obviously, it can be very loud,
or very quiet as well.
-Right, can I have a go?
-Certainly you can, yes.
You mentioned this evening hymn...
-All right so far?
-That's a very familiar tune in Bournville!
Charles is an organ scholar who has performed in public countless times.
I've slightly gone over, haven't I? Cor blimey, it's very, very weird!
But the technique used to play a carillon
is like no other instrument.
CHARLES HUMS ALONG
JUMBLE OF TOLLING BELLS
Something like that. And then how does one employ the left hand?
My goodness me!
I really can only do right hand...
-We could do a duet, you know.
MANY BELLS RING AT ONCE
Charles has now experienced the full range of music bells have to offer.
With nothing left to learn,
it's time to unveil his unique bell extravaganza.
Charles is going to be conducting the three church towers using a video link.
This is a system common in operas
where the conductor needs to signal to an off-stage chorus,
but it's never before been used to conduct bell towers.
For the purposes of our piece today, GSM is one, OK.
STAG's is two.
St Edward's will be three. What could possibly go wrong(?)
We could forget!
With the help of Max and Katrina,
Charles fits the bells of St Andrew the Great with half muffles -
leather pads designed to dampen the sound.
I just think it's going to sound stunning.
I've never actually ever heard a half-muffled ring before.
Yeah, the moment of truth is fast approaching.
I mean, we've had rehearsal time, but it's been in isolated chunks.
They're all separate building blocks
and it's only in the performance that we see if they fit together.
So that is the most nerve-wracking thing about it.
But, you know, I'm a chancer.
I'm one of life's chancers, and that's why I like performing.
Because when you get out there, the only way is forwards.
Ladies and gentlemen, a very good afternoon to you all.
We are here today to celebrate something very, very special
and deeply ancient within our culture,
and that is the music of bells.
And we are going to attempt something for you now
which has never, ever been attempted before.
We're going to attempt to make a special piece of music,
which combines three sets of tower bells and about 30 hand bells.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Bells of Cambridge. The Sound Of Bells!
BELLS PEAL REPEATEDLY DOWN A SCALE
SECOND TOWER JOINS IN PEALING DOWN A DIFFERENT SCALE
CACOPHONY OF BELLS, SOME MUFFLED, SOME CLEAR
ETHEREAL RINGING AND SCRAPING
ONE SET OF BELLS BEGINS FALTERINGLY TO PLAY "Greensleeves"
THE MELODY CONTINUES, THEN FALTERS AGAIN
THE MELODY CONTINUES
THE "DYING FALL" REPEATS
AGAIN THE "DYING FALL", THEN TOWER BELLS CEASE
HAND BELLS PICK UP MELODY
BELLS BEGIN TO HARMONISE THE MELODY
MELODY CEASES AND HAND BELLS BEGIN CHANGERINGING PEAL
HAND BELLS RESUME MELODY WITH FALLING CHANGERINGING
HAND BELLS AND CHURCH BELLS CHIME ALTERNATELY
BELLS CHIME ALL AT ONCE
Everyone, take a bow!
-Well done, you!
I started this experiment thinking,
"Wouldn't it be amazing if this very particular kind of music
"that the church bells make... could it be expanded upon?"
"Could it extent beyond its slightly narrow parameters?"
What I suppose I've learnt as a result of doing this project
is that, no, it can't, in one respect.
Bells are hung and work a certain way,
so change-ringing has a very good reason for existing as it does.
But it's answered to be a whole bunch of questions about what you might combine that music with.
Not only the hand bells and their lustrous harmonies,
but also the idea of bringing another tower and then another tower to bear on it.
The very fact of change-ringing occurring as it has always occurred
in combination with another tower also change-ringing, but offset,
you create a very special kind of music.
It's one of the most delightful outdoor musical experiments
I've ever been involved in.
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