Christ the Savior Orthodox Church, Chicago, IL

Christ the Savior Church, Chicago, IL

Behold, my loyal readers! I video recorded Russian Orthodox bell ringing at a local Chicago church! Choir Director Philip Sokolov of Christ the Savior Orthodox Church kindly welcomed me to watch and record his bell ringing before a recent Sunday service.

There are five bells in this set, all provided by Blagovest Bells within the past decade.

First, the blagovest. This is a ringing of a larger bell to announce to the faithful the beginning of the service. Blagovest actually translates to “annunciation” or “good news.”*

Next, Philip moved right into the trezvon. This is a rhythmic pattern, often improvised, using at least one bell from each pitch range (high, middle, and low). The rhythmic pattern is repeated three times and played at the beginning of the liturgy. There’s no time to spare between the trezvon and the service–Philip had to hustle down to the sanctuary right after he played to lead the choir!

What a treat! This tradition of bell ringing is rhythmically oriented, rather than melodically oriented, like chimes and carillons. The authors of Blagovest Bells take great pains to distinguish this Russian Orthodox tradition from other European ringing methods and bells: rhythmic, percussive, with a rich timbre vs. melodic and well-tuned. This tradition of bell ringing beautifully illustrates how bell sounds can occupy that space where signal and music meet. The different zvon patterns function to signal to its parishioners, but it’s their percussive rhythms that take it just inside the realm of music. I would argue that strong rhythm is less a defining element of music to Western listeners than melody, so that zvon ringing seems to be closer to the edge of what would be considered music than compared to chime or carillon music. Stupendous to listen to, all the same. What do you think—does this sound like an elaborate signal or like music?

*Information on Russian Orthodox bell ringing taken from Blagovest Bells website

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