In a chamber above the Cathedral’s carillon, high up in the Gloria in Excelsis tower, resides a 10-bell peal set for change ringing, a form of bell ringing begun in England in the 17th century. Cast by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry of London in the 1960s and installed in 1963, each bell bears an inscription. The bells vary in diameter from 28 inches to 55 inches and in weight from 608 pounds to 3,588 pounds.
Peal bells play mathematical patterns, not melodic music, because peal bells cannot play a rhythm. It takes two seconds for a peal bell to ring and be ready to ring again. The casting rotates to strike the clapper, and the bells are played by pulling ropes.
The bells are rung by a band of ringers, one person to each bell. To protect their hearing, the ringers stand in a separate room beneath the bells and ring the bells using ropes. Ringers play patterns of notes called “methods,” which are more mathematical than tuneful. Each of the Cathedral’s bells can be rung approximately once every two seconds, allowing for the rotation of the bell from mouth-up through mouth-down and back to mouth-up position. A “peal” is a complete set of changes (switches in order of the bells) on a given number of bells.
The Cathedral has two bands of ringers: the Washington Ringing Society, composed of adult volunteers, and the Whitechapel Guild of the National Cathedral School for Girls.