The Art of Change Ringing in the Age of Social Distancing

With Washington-area bell towers shuttered due to the threat from coronavirus, one wonders: what’s a bell ringer to do? Change ringing is a naturally social act. At Washington National Cathedral, for instance, a group of 10 ringers stand nearly shoulder-to-shoulder in a circle to practice their craft and attempt a peal on the thundering bells overhead. Even more ringers might be observing from the wings or waiting to sub-in on the next available rope. 

But COVID-19 has put a halt to that. With stay-at-home and social distancing orders in effect, change ringers are turning to technology to bring them together. A couple young ringers in the Boston area, Leland Paul Kusmer and Bryn Marie Reinstadler, are building a software called Ringing Room – a “virtual belltower” – that allows bell ringers to continue ringing with one another even when socially distanced. Ringers in different physical locations can log in simultaneously to ring methods together as a band. It’s as simple as tapping a key on your keyboard when it’s your turn to strike your bell. You can hear everyone’s tolls in real time and watch their digital rope move in sequence.

Mobel is another popular app for change ringers (branded together with desktop versions including Abel for Microsoft and Mabel for Mac). The technology allows bell ringers to practice methods by themselves, with the computer performing the work of a supporting team of ringers. Like the Ringing Room, a user “strikes” their bell when it’s their turn to do so during the ringing of a specific method. You can ring any method or touch in a simulated tower of 3 to 24 bells, using real bell sounds. Marketed as the most popular change ringing simulator in the world, the software can be a benefit to both beginner and advanced ringers alike.

With technology on your side, it’s always possible to hone your skills or even start learning the amazing art of change ringing for the first time. And when “social nearing” is both safe and prudent to do, we’ll meet you in the tower to set the ropes bobbing again!