23rd February 2016

Conduct 5040 FAQ – Relationship between conductor & band


The role of the conductor in keeping people right

I think there is an important preconception to address in terms of what the conductor’s primary role actually is. Your primary job as conductor is to put the calls in the right place and keep yourself right. Anything you can do in addition to that in terms of helping other people is a bonus. If people go wrong and you can’t keep them right then it is their fault not yours.

In very experienced bands which I ring with, it is very common for a conductor to say at the start something like “usual rules, if you see someone going wrong help them out”. There is the open statement that keeping people right is not the conductor’s sole responsibility but it is a team effort. On higher numbers the conductor will be expecting other ringers to help keep their course bells right at least, and many will get annoyed if they don’t. I have heard an extremely eminent conductor shout “will somebody keep that boy right!”

So don’t be too harsh on yourself thinking you have to keep people right if they go wrong a lot. You are quite justified in expecting people not to go wrong, or to organise yourself some ringing to conduct which has more experienced ringers in it.

Few people will sort out complete fire ups, and it shouldn’t be expected. Being able to see that a couple of bells have swapped over is an enormously valuable skill – if you can swap them back you will have saved the day, and if you have to set it up then you have saved a waste of time. Being able to see people doing bobs correctly is also very useful because that’s where many mistakes are made. Sorting out fire ups is beyond the call of duty.

Even though you are the conductor, the process of keeping the ringing right should be a shared experience. That doesn’t always sit comfortably with some people – who believe it is their responsibility alone – but I make a point, before a peal, particularly if challenging, of asking everyone to say something if only to say “Dodge with me” or “Slow bell”, because the sooner a mistake is stamped on, the better.

Remember, it is not just the technical aspect of conducting that matters; you have to gain credibility with the band and get their confidence (and acceptance) that you know what you are doing, and that doesn’t come overnight. It is probably important that you don’t load yourself with information initially. First, you have to keep right. Next, put the calls in the right place. Only then, start to correct errors. Are there others in the band you can ask to help in that respect?

The benefit to the conductor of knowing your band

In the course of my conducting career, I have encountered many, many different kinds of ringers – and personalities. Even if you give what you believe is the best possible advice, some ringers don’t appear to be able to act on it – and, at times, you suspect that some choose not to.

I am happier when I am ringing with people I know, because I have some idea what to expect, what to tell them, and can maintain a good relationship afterwards. If I don’t know them, I have to establish some sort of credibility, maybe assertiveness and, inevitably, sometimes upset people. Sometimes I have to raise my voice to insist, because ringing doesn’t allow time for niceties.

Now, I am not in any sense recommending that you emulate this. I am merely pointing out that these are some of the difficult practical situations that you can encounter when you are conducting, and you need to give serious thought to how you handle them. The ideal situation is when you are with your own band. You should have an idea of the competence of each individual, and how best to correct them when they go wrong. But do you ever ask them how helpful your corrective advice is? Can they hear you? Can they understand you? Are they stressed or nervous? Is there a problem you can talk through to resolve their difficulties? Do they respect you? Do they resent you? Are they envious? Are some fearful that they are at the limits of their competence and don’t want the band to progress further? The bottom line is: what do you do when you put someone right and they don’t appear to act on it?

Conducting is not easy. It is technically difficult. It is about communication …. motivation ……. management. Have a think about some of these issues; but above all, relate them to your own circumstances and your own personality.

Conducting is like being a competent taxi driver! You need to be very familiar with driving (ringing) skills and the road (method) so that you can concentrate almost exclusively on the real job in hand. And, like taxi driving, you can set yourself tasks in abstract (how to get from A to B, how to call and transpose a touch).

But you put your finger on the key issue: how to communicate instructions effectively. I am much happier when I am ringing with people I know. First, you know what to expect of them – some people are real triers but haven’t quite got it, whereas others find it too easy, yet don’t give the support you want. They differ in the information they need. No point telling someone who to course if they do not understand the concept of a course bell. It may be that you can educate those you ring with regularly on some of these issues: it is only reasonable that they should respond to instructions you can give, rather than you being obliged to give different instructions!

I used to be infuriated by some ringers who wanted to know in (say) Cambridge, which place bell they were, whereas I wanted to tell them (a) dodge with treble; (b) in 5-6 places up and finally, (c) that they were near the end of 6ths place bell! It may be worth having conversations of that kind.

I am worried about putting the wrong person right

You will occasionally put the wrong person ‘right’. I’ve done this. We all do. It’s embarrassing but most people understand that conductors do make mistakes too – they are just more obvious and far-reaching than the average ringer’s mistakes! Make that point if you get any criticism. If necessary remind people that if they did not go wrong you would not have to say anything! JC

People who never take on the responsibility of conducting are in no position to criticise those that do. And if you mis-conduct in terms of putting the wrong person right, in many cases had you not intervened it might have fired up anyway.

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