Re: “The toll of the bells” (Sept. 27): As a former Yale English major and a bell ringer, I’d like to applaud the efforts to introduce change ringing to Yale. I came to Yale in 1982 hoping to be able to ring the bells there, without realizing that the Harkness Carillon was not in fact the same thing as a set of bells hung for ringing changes in the traditional English style. After a week of pounding out solitary hymns on the practice carillon (which can’t be heard from outside the tower), I decided this definitely wasn’t what I’d had in mind. My career as a change ringer would have ended there if I hadn’t had the good fortune to meet, in my senior year, another Yale student who had learned to ring on a newly hung set of change ringing bells in Philadelphia.
As a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania, I joined the band of ringers in Philadelphia, and it literally changed my life. I met my husband and my best friends through change ringing. I can’t emphasize enough what an amiable social medium change ringing is. It is a team activity — you can’t ring alone and must cooperate with a band of upwards of five other individuals. It is a physically demanding activity; you are literally controlling hundreds of pounds of free-swinging bronze, with split-second precision. It is intellectually challenging, more mathematical than musical in dimension. It is an ancient art with long-standing roots in British tradition.
The Oxford colleges eat and breathe to the sound of bells — there were 20 towers within the city limits when I was ringing there. Surely for Yale a new set of bells is a natural extension of the architectural and intellectual tradition on which the college system is based?
In this new set of bells proposed for Yale, there will most definitely be what’s called “sound control” installed, and it’s likely that practice sessions will take place with the bells “silenced” —their clappers will be tied and they won’t be heard at all outside the tower.
Several North American schools and universities now have towers containing change ringing bells, and Yale should be proud to at last be part of this venerable and enjoyable tradition.
I only wish it had happened 30 years ago, when I was a student there!
The writer is a 1986 graduate of Silliman College.