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Change Ringing

When you hear the bells ring on campus, that means that people are inside the Mendenhall Bell Tower, where eight bells hang, with a rope attached to each. The bell ringers are assigned to one bell at a time and, starting in sequence from highest to lowest, they ring them in various permutations.

Ringers use a four-part stroke in order to move the bell back and forth through a whole pull. Subtle adjustments in the timing and strength of each of the pulls and checks allow the ringer to alter the interval between sequential soundings of his bell, thus effectively moving its position in the row.

The process is challenging due to the bells' mechanics, but at the same time is a rewarding activity that anyone can participate in at almost any age.

Ringing Mathematics

For all the bells to be sounded exactly where and when they should be requires very close teamwork among all the ringers in the band. Since a bell sounds about three quarters of a second after the ringer has initiated the pull, achieving correct striking requires the development of reliable internal rhythm, fine attunement to the actual sound of the bells, and the ability to interpret the visible movement of all the ropes in the circle.

The changes in the order of the bells’ sounding constitute a method that is governed by four rules and one ideal. The rules are that: (a) each bell sounds once in each row; (b) no bell may move more than one position at each change/row; (c) no row is repeated; and (d) the ringing begins and ends in Rounds.

The diagram shows the simplest of the methods, Plain Hunt, on four bells with a line drawn through the path—that is, the sequence of moves forward and backward in the order—that is followed by Bell #2. So, in the first row the bells ring in order 1234, then in the next row adjacent pairs of bells all switch positions and the order becomes 2143. In the next row, the bells in the first and last positions remain in place and all the others switch producing the new order: 2413. Such switching continues until the bells come back into rounds.

Change Ringing Method
Sarah Moriarty visiting the bells

The Smith College Bells

The Smith College bells are cast in bronze, weigh between 300 and 980 pounds and are characterized by richness, dignity, and mellowness of tone. The bells are hung in a ring of 8 near the top of Mendenhall Bell Tower in the belfry.

Change ringing is open to all who wish to ring the bells on campus and share their wonderful sounds on important Smith occasions.

The band of ringers at Smith College includes Smith students, faculty, staff and alumnae, as well as members from the Five Colleges and the surrounding area.

Janet Carlile Harris also donated funds to strengthen the tower.




Donation Information

Treble (A)

2-2-21 cwt
(301 lbs.) 22.75"

In honor of Marjorie Resnikoff Botwinik ’37

Donated by Mr. Norman T. Botwinik in honor of his wife

Second (G#)

3-0-17 cwt
(353 lbs.) 23.75"

I am Grace

Donated by Janet Carlile Harris

Third (F#)

3-1-16 cwt
(380 lbs.) 25"

To the joy of music, mathematics and memory

Donated by Edward P. Hutchinson and his daughter Joan P. Hutchinson ’67 in honor of his wife and her mother, Louise Forbes Hutchinson ’36

Fourth (E)

4-0-16 cwt
(464 lbs.) 27"

I am Equity

Donated by Janet Carlile Harris

Fifth (D)

4-2-24 cwt
(528 lbs.) 28.75"

I am Diligence

Donated by Janet Carlile Harris

Sixth (C#)

5-0-25 cwt
(585 lbs.) 30"

I am Courage

Donated by Janet Carlile Harris

Seventh (B)

7-0-17 cwt
(801 lbs.) 33"

I am Blessed

Donated by Janet Carlile Harris

Tenor (A)

8-2-11 cwt
(963 lbs.) 36" *
*Per Dove's Guide. Elsewhere listed 8-3-0 cwt (980 lbs.)

Gaudeamus igitur juvenus dum sumus

In memory of Margaret Nichols Shurcliff. Donated by members of her family and friends in the American Guild of English Handbell Ringers

Practice Times

Fall 2023

Mondays and Thursdays: 5:30–7:30 p.m. (tower bells)

On the second Saturday of each month, there are quarter peal attempts from 3:00–6:00 p.m.

All practices are held at the Mendenhall Bell Tower and are open to new ringers and visitors. Come for an hour, or for the whole practice. Enter Mendenhall Performing Arts Center at the Berenson Studio across from Sage Hall. Accessing the ringing chamber requires climbing a short ladder.

If you wish to see the bells themselves, you can arrange to come a few minutes early or stay a few minutes late. This requires climbing a ladder up two floors higher from the ringing chamber.

Join Us!

Change Ringing Videos

Change ringing, in which a band of ringers plays long sequences of permutations on a set of peal bells, is a little-known but surprisingly rich and beautiful acoustical application of mathematics.

A documentary made in 2006 by George Perrin about the English art of campanology. Courtesy of the North American Guild of Change Ringers (NAGCR).