Sunday, August 5, 2012

Travelogue – The reason for the whole trip

Thursday, August 2

The laundry I had sent out was back in my room before noon today. The next laundry I do will be in my own machine at home.

I attended three workshops today. One was to read through music from Hong Kong. It was lovely stuff, but not something I could use.

One workshop was by a couple who had done a lot of international traveling to unusual places taking handchimes and other musical instruments with them and teaching the locals to play. In this case unusual means Pakistan, Morocco, and Zimbabwe. They had pictures of their adventures and then offered advice on how others might do the same.

The third workshop was by the executive director of the American handbell guild. She used to work for a company that put on a steamboat related festival in Cincinnati So she talked about the influence of the Great Paddlewheel Steamboat in American Culture. A good deal of what she said was about the steamboat's contribution to American history. The culture part came after the Civil War when railroads took over carrying cargo and steamboats shifted to becoming traveling entertainment. The musical Showboat is about this tradition.

Other than that, the day was filled with rehearsals.

At dinner the empty seat next to me was taken by the chairman of the Handbell Ringers of Great Britain, which means he is the head of the group putting on this event. He shared stories of the effort in putting on the Symposium. First issue: where is there a hall big enough without internal pillars? There aren't many in Britain. Though those in the south were rooting for London, most of those in northern England (and Scotland) said no way. When they began the search in earnest this convention here in Liverpool was still under construction.

The official tally of registrants is 465. They keep talking about 450 in the massed ringing, so perhaps the other 15 are spouses or friends who are doing the “non-ringer” events. Back in February just over 200 had registered and contract deadlines were looming. If more people didn't register real soon the whole event would have been canceled.

Tonight's concert was the American All Star Choir. I auditioned for this group last summer, but didn't make it. While watching this group in action I saw that I would have had a hard time to keep up and with such limited rehearsal time I would have been more of a liability than an asset. Yeah, I'm a great ringer, but these sixteen ringers are all better than I am. Michele is the one on the right with the pink hair.

One of these All Star ringers wore a t-shirt: “I can't. I have rehearsal.”

Friday, August 3

Again, a good chunk of the day is rehearsals.

I sat out rehearsing one piece to listen. It is a marvelous sound. That gave me an opportunity to take a picture of the ringing floor.

There were also two showcase concerts, in which various groups perform a piece or two for the rest of us. The largest group was a regional team from East Anglia – Cambridge and the area to the east. These are ringers who want more of a challenge than they can get in their church choir. There are enough of them they play on multiple sets of bells.

The evening showcase concert was the Ecclesfield Handbell Ringers. A few years ago they explored their archives and discovered they should have celebrated their 100th anniversary four years before. I think I heard they've now been in continuous operation for 116 years. They play five octaves of bells with ten people. A big reason they can do it is they have lots of duplicate bells. A standard five octave set is 61 bells. They have 178. Four of some pitches, three of many more, two of a few, and only one each of the biggest and smallest. Another big reason is that they play off-table. I ring with a forward motion from my shoulder. They ring upward from the table. It is much easier for them to grab a different bell. This is the way all teams did it, and not so many do now, so they were given a showcase concert partly for their historical methods. Their runs of fast notes were exceptionally smooth. However, Michele noted their ringing motion is such that it is difficult to exactly match the ring and precision suffers.

Saturday, August 4

The morning was a concert run-through, with each director having only 10 minutes to fix any problems. After lunch we did a logistical run-through, starting and stopping each piece and doing all bell changes in between. Then a rest break (long enough for some to go back to the room and change).

The concert was at 4:00 and we had a decent size audience. Our ringing floor didn't fill the arena floor and there was a black drape behind us. We met behind the drape and, once announced, all 450 came onto the floor together.

The concert went quite well, including the Korean piece. The intro to the Korean piece fit together, though it was difficult for me to fit my notes in, so I didn't play at all. I joined the piece once the main theme began. A couple pieces added brass and those were thrilling to play.

After the concert we had to pack bells fairly quickly so the arena could be prepared for the next group. Then another break, giving some time to put on more formal clothes for the closing banquet. It was a good meal and by this time the servers understood what I meant by a sugar-free dessert. I had a lovely plate of fresh fruit. The actual ceremonies were blessedly done in a half-hour. There were thank-yous and a handoff to Korea, who will put on the next Symposium.

Sunday, August 5

A large group of us took buses to the Anglican Cathedral for the morning service. Three bell choirs provided music before, during, and after the service. The preacher mentioned bells in some of her points. The service was very formal. The choir, singing various parts of the service, was lovely. Here is the altar and the altarpiece behind it.

After the service a catering company served lunch to about 80 of us. I don't know if they were related to the cathedral, they seemed a bit too formal for that. The meal was a big plate of roast beef, turkey, potatoes, carrots, beans, and Yorkshire pudding. Dessert was a big piece of apple pie and custard (I had a good bowl of fruit).

A couple busload of us spent the afternoon at Speke Hall. The house was built in the 1500s and expanded over that century because there were 19 kids in the family. The last person to live in the house died in 1921. There are spy-holes and secret passages and rooms because the family that built the house was Catholic at the time when Henry VIII revolted against the Pope. They needed to be able to tell who was outside the door and what they wanted. There was a listening room under the eaves, which gave us the word “eavesdrop.” They also needed to hide visiting priests when the king's soldiers came calling. Here is a view of the back of the house with a bit of the gardens.

I'm getting ready to take the train to the plane in the morning. Home tomorrow night.

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