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Reviving Old Tradition. Learning the Art of Bell Ringing
May 22, 2007 18:15

Before the revolution of 1917 Moscow alone had 765 Orthodox churches, about 350 belfries and around 3000 bells. However, in the late 1920s the majority of churches and belfries ceased existing, while bell ringing was strictly banned. Seemingly, Moscow stopped ringing forever. Bells were melted down, sold out and taken overseas. The churches which have preserved all their bells can be counted on one hand.

The revival of churches and bell chimes fell on the 1950s. The revolution and later the Great Patriotic War had totally destroyed Russian bell founding industry. The only possible way of collecting bells was to gather old bells which survived by chance and had never rang together before. They were found in factory shops, in theatres and even in city dumps. Lots of bells were brought by people who had saved them hidden in their houses, sheds, or underground.

During the period of persecution of church not only priests but bell ringers also were almost all wiped out in this country. Reviving Old Tradition. Learning the Art of Bell RingingSo together with the task of restoring churches and belfries there was a bad need for rehabilitating the tradition of Russian bell ringing art. Actually there had never been a special institution in Russia to teach this skill. The Bright Week (week following the Easter) was considered the time of ringers’ birth: during this period anyone was allowed to try ringing any bell with the assistance and advice of a skilled ringer. If a person was good at it, he/she was invited to ring later on as well. Thus, the mastery was passed on from hand to hand, and from soul to soul. Though a huge layer of ringing culture has been irretrievably lost for us, one can still learn this art today.

So, a bell ringer does not have to have a special musical education; the point is to possess a feeling of rhythm and good coordination of movements. It is also not right to think that this work is suitable for men only. In olden days nuns used to ring themselves in convents, whereas nowadays there are quite a few women in parish churches. In addition to that, the history of bell ringing tradition knows lots of examples when non-professional ringers were most highly appreciated.

Reviving Old Tradition. Learning the Art of Bell Ringing The teaching process starts from listening to classical church peals and perceiving their spirit: a student must be able to differentiate the live sound of bell from other similar instruments. To know what type of ringing is appropriate in certain places of the divine service one must study the Typikon of the Russian Orthodox Church. The next stages are learning of the principles of belfry equipment and the ringing technique (there are usually special training bells in class). Students are acquainted with the basic principles of the hanging of bells, which helps them to avoid serious mistakes in practice. From old days bell ringers have inherited an amazing teaching method using small trilling bells: a student takes a bunch of bell ropes into his hand and totally relaxes it, while the teacher moves the student’s hand with his own one making trill figures. The final stage of studies takes place on a working church belfry.

The best way to get the knowledge and skills in this art is to visit festivals of bell ringing.

Look also:
    Bell Ringing Festivals and museums in Russia
    On the History of Bell Ringing in Russia
    Traditions of Orthodox Bell Ringing



Compiled and translated by Mikhail Manykin and Vera Ivanova

Tags: Russian Traditions Bell Ringing Russian Orthodox Church   

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