Compose a Chime Competition

It’s a lesser-known fact that since the installation of a new system in 2013, nine of Gloucester Cathedral’s thirteen bells can be controlled digitally, and programmed to play a wide range of tunes. During this year’s Three Choirs Festival, specially programmed ‘chimes concerts’ will ring out at 7.15pm each evening to herald the evening concert, and we are running a competition to find some new tunes for the chimes.

Entrants are invited to submit tunes up to a maximum duration of two minutes, and the winning submissions will be ‘performed’ by the chimes in festival week. Writing for the chimes is relatively straightforward, but with some limitations – a full guide to what is and isn’t possible can be found below.

Entries will be judged in three categories: under 16s, 16-18, and over 18s/adult. Winning entrants will be invited on a bespoke tour of the Cathedral bell-tower, where they will be able to work with the honorary chimekeeper, who programmes the chimes, to test their tunes and make any necessary adjustments before the festival begins.

The submitted tunes will be judged by Jonathan MacKechnie-Jarvis (honorary chimekeeper ), Alexis Paterson (chief executive of Three Choirs Festival), and The Reverend Canon Celia Thomson (Gloucester Cathedral).

To enter, please complete THIS FORM and email/submit by Monday 6 June along with a .pdf or clear image of your anonymous score (please do not submit Sibelius or other music notation software files as we can’t open them). Please make sure that your name does not appear on the score itself – we will judge the entries anonymously.

If you wish to submit your entry by post, please complete THIS FORM and send 3 copies of your score to: Chimes Composition Competition, Three Choirs Festival, 7c College Green, Gloucester, GL1 2LX


The closing date for entries is Monday 6 June.


How to Compose for the Gloucester Chimes

Description of the system

Gloucester Cathedral's chimes comprise a digital controller which activates electric hammers which ring nine of the thirteen bells. The bells range in age from 1400 to 1979 and are not in perfect tune with one another. You can read more about the daily playing times and existing tunes HERE, and listen to some sample recordings of the bells here:

Furry Day ornamented

Chorus Novae and Scottish medley


Range and notation

For ease of notation, tunes should be written in treble clef, on one stave. The notes available to you are a C major scale from middle C to the C an octave above, plus the A below middle C. (For those with perfect pitch, please note that the bells are really tuned across an Eb scale, but for ease of programming are transposed to C – think of it as writing for Clarinet in A). The low note is Great Peter, which is the hour bell, and has a heavy hammer.  It sounds a bit louder than the others. Conversely the top note can sound rather weak, especially if the wind is blowing in the wrong direction.



Playing more than one note at a time is possible. However, if Great Peter is used it will tend to swamp (but not obliterate) the other note(s).   The main trouble with chords is that the bells are not in perfect tune with each other (listen, for example, to ‘Seek ye first’)


Repeated notes

There is only one hammer per bell, so there is a limit to how quickly notes can be repeated.   If the note is required again quickly, there is a tendency for it not to sound properly or at all, because the hammer is still moving following the first note.   The heavier the hammer the more this tends to happen.   You can download the attached TABLE which shows the fastest repeat times possible on the different hammers.


Setting the speed

Generally, speeds can be adjusted to within one beat per minute, so the desired speed can be determined very precisely. You should indicate the intended speed for your composition in beats per minute. If your tune is selected the exact optimum speed can be determined by trying it out on the bells.


Terms and Conditions

  1. One entry per person. There is no restriction on applications from those with a connection to Three Choirs Festival or the Cathedral, but please make sure your scores are anonymous.
  2. Age limits: please select your category according to the age you will be on the closing date of Monday 6 June.
  3. Winning entries: the judges will aim to select a winner and runner-up in each category. However, the judges reserve the right not to appoint a winner if no suitable entries are received in a category, or to nominate joint winners in the case of a particularly strong field.
  4. The judges are unable to offer individual feedback on submissions.
  5. Those whose entries are selected for programming will be offered a tour of the bell tower and time to work with the bells’ programmer to get the best possible realisation of their tune. Access to the bells and ringing chamber is via a number of steep steps and unfortunately there is no alternative access. Children will need to be accompanied by a parent or guardian on these visits.