Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

The virgin ring

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Diagram of a tuned bell by Eric Sloane

I never realized until I began visiting research libraries that bells were tuned. I thought they just rang. I knew that molds of some sort were made in the shape of a bell; metal was poured into them; and then, having had time to cool, the outside of these molds was removed; and there was the bell.

I thought some bells turned out treble and some bass, some dissonant and some true. I couldn’t have been more mistaken. Even in the old days a bell-founder setting out to cast a “ring” or set of bells would try to shape them so that they would all have different notes, yet all emerge from the mold exactly in tune with one another, in harmony. Maybe once in a lifetime he’d be successful. When he was, it became a cause for wild celebration, and the peal he had cast was known as a “virgin ring.” Such a bell-founder would not think highly of any tuned bell if the tuning were done by hacking away at the metal of the bell near the lip edge with a hammer and chisel. The process was laborious, slow, and noisy almost beyond endurance.

Eric Sloane, A Celebration of Bells

Written by nevalalee

May 31, 2014 at 9:00 am

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