One of the advantages of living near the hub of a city is easier access to a variety of cultural events such as concerts, plays and performances. One of my resolves for the coming year is to take advantage of the many events on offer in Sacramento. One such I attended yesterday – it is an on-going, one-hour, noon-time musical concert at a local church called Music at Noon. Various musical groups are invited to perform and the event is free and open to the public.
Yesterday’s performance featured bell ringers. Now I must admit I felt some trepidation in attending because I was carrying some preconceived ideas about bells that specifically led back to the triangle, tambourine, hand bell and other percussion items we used in the first grade. The word cacophony was invented to describe the overall effect of 25+, six-year olds all pounding, shaking, ringing and stamping.
But bells have come a long way since the time I was in the first grade. The group consisted of 12 to 15 players and the bells ranged from tiny ‘call the maid’ types to beefy bongers. From the first ding-a-ling I was transported. The bells sounds were soft and liquid, from a high piping soprano to a low basso profundo. It was like listening to a waterfall of voices. In some ways it reminded me of an organ because of the vibrations or perhaps of a harp because of the seeming effortlessness and fluidity.
As you can hear, I was mightily impressed. The experience led me to ponder the whole idea of bells and vibration. When the large bells rang I felt like I wanted to stick my head within it and let the resonance ring through my body. I felt an overwhelming impulse to be re-sounded, re-calibrated, re-sonated, re-tuned. It took me back years and years ago when I got my first set of headphones and listened to the Beatle’s Abby Road in stereo. I felt like I was really hearing for the first time.
The whole idea of the healing power of sound and vibration is ancient – the chakras, the harmony of the spheres, etc. – as well as totally modern. What we see as mass – this hand, this table, this room – is the result of atoms and sub-atomic particles vibrating at a certain speed (forgive my rudimentary physics). Isn’t that the whole premise of the Invisible Man’s ability to walk through walls?
Anyway, my little adventure yesterday had me looking up the history of bells in Wikipedia today. All civilizations have used bells as a call to worship, a call for attention, a call to arms. Bells wake us up! They bypass our over-active intellectual preoccupations and dive directly into the deepest part of our self-awareness. Bells evoke the original I AM. They symbolize the Word found In the Beginning.
Perhaps the Big Bang that announced the arrival of this turn of the cycle was not the terrifying sound of an universal explosion as often portrayed by scientists but the peeling of a infinite heavenly bell that grabbed that black hole by the back of the neck, shook it back and forth like a terrier, and those free-wheeling atoms rained down into manifestation.
Pictured: The Great Mingun Bell is the largest functioning bell, weighing 90 tons and located in Burma.