Friday, January 30, 2009
Ringers, Clangers and Tailors
In the 1998 movie "Bad Manners" (David Strathairn, Bonnie Bedelia, Saul Rubinek and Caroleen Feeney), a musicology professor finds, from a computer-generated collection of random tones, a clear quotation of Martin Luther's hymn melody "Ein' Feste Burg." That's not the story, but a small platform from which we shall leap to bell ringing in England. Ignore the vertiginous transition!
Legend has it that Dorothy Sayers (author of the Lord Peter Wimsey novels) wrote 'The Nine Tailors" after coming across a brochure backgrounding change ringing in England's churches--the practice of making music by following prescribed patterns to ring various bells, each controlled by an individual at the rope.
This sounds easy until you consider the size of the bells and the anticipation required to get things moving in advance of the clapper actually contacting the bell.
The tradition is rich and deep, and continues to this day. It all seems to hark back to an initial printed work by a man name Troyte, whose name is far from forgotten among those who study and practice this arcane art.
The 8 bells in the tower at Fenchurch St. Paul are in fact salient to the Sayers story; the Nine Tailors refers to a sequential ring of one bell--Tailor Paul, the tenor bell, and the largest there--announcing the death of a parisioner. Tailor Paul, according to the novel, is a 41 cwt (over two tons I think that would mean) bell tuned to C. Paul's companion bells have intriguing names, some cast, as Paul, by John Tailor in 1887: Gaude, Sabaoth, Dimity, Jubilee, John, Jericho, and Batty Thomas.
Seen through a wide angle lens, music came to and has remained, in large part, not a random product. But does that automatically exclude random tones, never repeated, from the realm of music?
The photos above are from my back yard. Parts came from junk shops and thrift stores. The tubular, tranditional wind chimes were made to formulas found on the web. The longest tube is 40 inches.
The "cymbals" are former diamond saw blades, 18" in diameter. The welded rings which "play" them are some kind of fine steel; they ring beautifully when struck.
The large chrome chime, with three clappers, is an aluminum planter, 19 inches tall, 18 in diameter. It shall forever be known as Tailor Paul.
They ding gently in the smallest breeze. When gusts cataract through our east-west back yard, it's metallic anarchy. And strangely musical to my ears! Random patterns, never repeated, joyfully chaotic but so pleasant that invariably smiles result.
I have not yet heard a snippet of "A Mighty Fortress..." and I have not intentionally gone out and struck Tailor Paul nine times, following with one strike for every year of the deceased's life.
But it is music, found, and it makes a life richer.
Find some music of your own today. Let it lead you somewhere new.