If you’ve been downtown on a Tuesday lately, you may have heard the bells of Christ Church Cathedral ringing out over Monument Circle. We have a small group of ringers who gather together to learn and practice the joyful art of change-ringing each Tuesday at 11:30 a.m. Change ringing is the art of ringing a set of bells in various sequences. While the sequence may not sound melodic, like a familiar hymn tune, the sequences (or “changes”) follow specific mathematical series.
Attendees and passers-by may hear the Cathedral’s bells pealing delightfully for various festive occasions, including weddings. On the other hand, tolling a single bell marks solemn occasions, such as memorials or funerals. Most recently, the bells were tolled on Dec. 21 in memory of those who died in the past year while experiencing homelessness and for those who died during the COVID-19 pandemic. (The chimes we hear every quarter hour, along with the chimes marking the hour, are produced electronically these days, eliminating the need for a full-time bell ringer.)
The Cathedral’s bells have inhabited CCC’s bell tower since the late 19th century. Eight of the bells (a full octave) were installed in 1860, and the ninth bell (an accidental, like a black key on a piano) was installed in 1890. The bells came from the Meneely bell foundry in West Troy, New York.
Most bells used in change ringing are affixed to an axis and the bells swing 360 degrees. The Cathedral’s bells are remarkable in that they are stationary; ringers pull a cord attached to the clapper via a series of pulleys to sound the bells.
When the bells were installed, they were played from a clavier, a series of levers like those used to play a modern carillon, in a cupboard. Eventually, the clavier was removed and bell ringers climbed a narrow ladder to reach a small room where they stood in a line to play. When the gallery and rear organ were installed in the early 1990s, a very narrow spiral staircase was installed to make it easier to reach the bells from the gallery level. Today, the ringers stand facing each other in a circle about one level below the bells, which makes it easier to give and receive visual cues and to hear the leader calling changes.
Longtime CCC member John Goulding still uses a ladder every couple of years to climb up the last level to inspect the bells, the ropes and pulleys. So far, so good.
If you’re interested in learning more or joining in on Tuesdays, please contact Bill Cummings, who currently leads the change ringing team, at firstname.lastname@example.org. They would be happy to welcome you to any of their Tuesday practices.
If you’re interested in joining the Cathedral bell ringers to toll or peal the bells on special occasions, please contact Mark Calvert at email@example.com.