Ringing master Beth Sinclair, second from the right, listens and
watches as bell ringers practice at the National Cathedral. (Victoria Milko for Express)

You may not know what Beth Sinclair looks like — it’s more likely you know what she sounds like.

Sinclair is the Ringing Master for the Washington Ringing Society, the volunteer group behind the English change ringing heard from the National Cathedral and the Old Post Office — now Trump International Hotel.
Sinclair went to the National Cathedral School here in D.C., and learned to ring when she was in the ninth grade. She has been ringing for more than 35 years and says it never gets old.

“In the hands of someone who’s experienced, it looks really easy [to others],” she says. But bell ringing of this type is more laborious than meets the eye.

She and nine others gather in the tower, each pulling one rope connected to one bell. They’re not playing a song — they follow what’s called a method, or what Sinclair calls “weird permutations of numbers” that determine how far apart to ring each bell. The method name alone can tell you whether the song is in major or minor, and how many bells are involved.

It takes strength to ring English change ringing bells, especially at the National Cathedral, where some bells weigh 3,500 pounds. The National Cathedral and Old Post Office each have 10 English change ringing bells.

“The way they work — the bells don’t ring quickly,” Sinclair says. “We can’t ring music.”

They ring the bells on Tuesdays at the National Cathedral and Thursdays at the Post Office for practice. When the whole group gets going, “You can feel the tower sway,” Sinclair says.

In the U.S., there are about 50 towers with English change ringing bells. The D.C. area has four of them: the National Cathedral; Old Post Office; Calvary United Methodist Church in Frederick, Md.; and Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria.

“People don’t realize when they hear the bells that it’s actually humans ringing them,” she says. “People always think it’s angry robots.”

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