Dr Jackie Taylor
Tuesday, 27 May 2014
Bell Ringing and Occupational Therapy
Bell-ringing and occupational therapy
I have a friend who is one of the bell-ringers at her local church. The other Sunday I was privileged to be able to sit squashed up in a corner of the bell-tower, watching the bell-ringers in action for 45 minutes, calling the congregation to the church.
Have you ever watched people ring bells? It’s fascinating.
As an occupational therapist and occupational scientist I find it particularly fascinating because I have a set of concepts that help me to explore what is going on, and I have a language to describe what I see. So I don’t just see a group of people pulling on ropes, making a lot of noise; I see people engaged in a common occupation, which has an identifiable form and which invites a range of performances from the individuals thus engaged.
The form of bell-ringing
As I sat squashed in my corner (“sit very still, and we advise you not to cross your legs, as you don’t want your foot to get caught in a rope as it swings up”) I reflected on my total ignorance about this activity and yet, as someone interested in occupation, I was mentally filing aspects of the occupational form under headings of ‘human’, temporal’, ‘environment’, ‘objects’. There were physical artefacts: tools and equipment that the bell-ringers were very familiar with. There were the 8 long ropes hanging down from holes in the ceiling, each apparently controlling a huge bell. The bells, however, were invisible and I struggled to imagine the process of rocking and turning them which I was told was happening. In the centre of the room was a table with old books on it, and also some bottles of liquid which the ringers used occasionally on their hands, though, as an outsider, I don’t know the reason for this. You will see that the form of a complex occupation such as this cannot be fully understood by an outsider; true understanding comes through engagement.
In terms of environment, the bell tower was small and ancient. Reader, I want you to know that I felt the tower sway as the bells rung! I believe this is quite normal, and it has been happening for a 350 years or so, but nonetheless ...... (I’m told that, if the tower were absolutely rigid, it would be damaged by the action of these heavy bells, all swinging together).
There were rules and formalities involved in the bell-ringing, and sequences of events that were important (five minutes at the beginning and the end of the session were devoted to getting the bells up into position and bringing them back). It was difficult to differentiate between the roles played by each person, but I could see that there was someone in charge (the Tower Captain, I later discovered) who called instructions, and who gently reprimanded those who had rung wrongly. My friend had explained that the eight bells are not rung to play tunes, but to ring out ‘methods’, based on number patterns.
Bell-ringing is an ancient occupation serving a town’s formal Christian worship, and helping to mark occasions such as weddings, funerals and national celebrations. The walls of the bell-tower held lists of successful peals rung from this tower (a peal is 3 hours of non-stop ringing without mistakes, I am told). There were also other intriguing documents and records that the outsider finds difficult to understand. This is an occupation embedded in a broader culture, history and community, whilst this particular team of bell-ringers also has its own micro-level culture, history and community.
Take a look at their website http://bingleybells.btck.co.uk/ and while you’re there, look at the two youtube videos to hear the bells and see the occupational performance.
The eight people who were pulling on the bell ropes had similarities and differences. They were maybe between 18 and 70 years old, half men and half women with different heights and physiques. They appeared to have different levels of experience. It is not my field of expertise, but I tried to assess which were the main muscle groups being employed as the ropes were pulled down to swing the heavy bells. Different techniques were used. I could see arms (triceps?, deltoid?), backs (trapezius?), abdomens and legs brought into play.
More intriguingly to me, I could see different techniques being used for keeping counts and rhythms when ringing the methods. Some watched each other, some watched the Captain, some moved their lips as they recited numbers or something else. The level of concentration was palpable. This occupation requires techniques and abilities that are physical, cognitive and subtly social.
And what else?
Being interested in occupational form and performance can be very distracting and all-absorbing. I made sure, during my short visit, that I listened to the bells and experienced their glorious noise. It is important to appreciate, as well as analyse.
I could continue my analysis for another 2000 words, after all, my own research interests lie with the meanings of occupations, but to access those, I would need, I think, to talk to the bell-ringers themselves. I won’t do that just now. Instead I’ll stop here and offer 2 thoughts. (1) Next time you hear church bells ringing, consider the efforts, skills and enjoyment of those responsible. (2) Next time you encounter an activity that you haven't thought about before, think about it deeply.
Dr Jackie Taylor