[Bell Historians] Kemberton

Carl S Zimmerman csz_stl at swbell.net
Mon May 16 16:19:47 BST 2022

I find Andrew Aspland's argument persuasive, even though I made a different decision several decades ago.
Long before the World Wide Web and Unicode were even imagined, the process of computerizing a card-file database posed several interesting challenges, one of which was terminology.  The first computer available to me had 6-bit characters, and thus was upper-case only.  The hash mark (#) was a reasonable approximation to the musical sharp sign, but there was no possible substitute for the musical flat sign, so the five semitones of the equal-temperament chromatic octave would be represented as C#,D#,F#,G#,A#.  Since that required two characters to be allocated for any note, it meant that the seven "natural" notes would be represented by a letter followed by a space.

When a computer with 8-bit characters became available, that enabled conversion of text from all upper-case to mixed case.  It would have been possible at that point to use lower-case "b" as a substitute for the flat sign.  However, by that time I would certainly have realized that the original convention had the convenient side effect of making it possible to sort on the two-character representation of note names, because X# would always follow X-space.
The present discussion here has prompted the pleasing recognition that since my database only recorded the lowest and highest notes on the manual and pedal keyboards, there were no implications whatsoever for what musical keys might be usable on a particular instrument.  Determining that required thoughtful consideration of possible missing semitones (for carillons) or added semitones (for chimes), as well as total range.  This may be why, in all the intervening years, I have never received a complaint about my use of sharps-only notation.
For rings of bells, however, the situation is entirely different.  Except for a few anomalies of ancient history, all rings are made to coincide more or less with the diatonic major scale, having the tenor bell as the tonic note.  It is therefore most appropriate to identify the particular major scale of a particular ring of bells in the simplest and most generally recognizable possible way.  In terms of current prevailing musical practice, that means referencing equal temperament, in which A-sharp is identical to B-flat, etc.  Andrew has made that argument quite cogently.
Nowadays, if I were building a database that needed to recognize all of the flat and sharp versions of each of the seven notes (A-G) of the common scale, I would encode them as, e.g., Af,An,As (flat, natural and sharp, respectively).  That would conveniently retain the proper sort order; but a third character would be required to specify the appropriate octave according to one of the conventions of the day.   However, since this is straying too far from the original topic, I'll stop now.

Carl Scott Zimmerman, Campanologist 
Saint Louis, Missouri, USA -
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Tel. +1(314)821-8437 
Webmaster for www.TowerBells.org
 * Avocation: tower bells
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 * Mission: church bellsWebmaster for www.TSCChapter134.orgTreasurer, World Carillon Federation

    On Monday, May 16, 2022, 09:03:03 AM CDT, Andrew Aspland via Bell-historians <bell-historians at lists.ringingworld.co.uk> wrote:  
  If we have nominals for individual bells then anyone can interpret them as fits their purpose.  However, in terms of communicating this information then note names are more easily understood. And for that you do need to make some decisions.
I would have thought that both A=440Hz and equal temperament are mainstream enough to be acceptable.  There is a perfectly good system for expressing sharp or flat of a given note name and that is by using cents (one hundredth of a semitone).  That again is a well understood system.  So then the decision say between  G# and Aflat is not based on pitch but on ease of communication.  In this case the bells in a diatonic peal can be expressed in A flat without resorting to double flats whereas G# requires the use of double sharps and is overly complicated.  There are three major keys where there is some choice and those are C# (7 sharps) or D flat (five flats), F# (6 sharps) or G flat (6 flats) and C flat (7 flats) or B (5 sharps).  I have never seen C flat used in preference to B, F# seems to dominate over G flat and there is a roughly equal mixture of D flat and C# (in terms of key notes of bells).  
We also need to express the octave number of the note name as a search for "E" can bring out 18 cwt bells and 3 cwt bells!!
Is that not a simple system which communicates well?
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