When the Tsar-Bell Rings...
LifeStyle interview with the Patriarchal Bell Ringer,
Igor Konovalov is the most famous bell ringer in Russia.
Not only is he the chairman of Russias Society of Bell Ringers,
but he has also been ringing the bells at some of the nations
most prestigious churches, including those at the Kremlin,
for the last fifteen years. Twice a week, he tutors his students
on the art of bell ringing. And twice a week, he makes the
familiar trek to the Christ the Savior cathedral, where he
rings the bells on weekends. He is the Moscow patriarchs
senior bell ringer and is known around the world as the man
who revived Russias traditions of bell ringing. Many of his
bell chimes are recorded on tapes and CDs.
LifeStyle: How did you become a bell-ringer?
Konovalov: Before the revolution, Russia boasted 80,000
belfries, but only a few survived the Soviet era. One of them
was at the Danilov Monastery, which once boasted a remarkable
collection of bells. As a child, I often dreamed of being
a bell ringer. After working for five years at a machine design
bureau, in 1985 I became an active participant in volunteer
weekend brigades set up by the Russian Society for the Protection
of Historical and Cultural Memorials.
|Igor Konovalov (right) with
the ZIL (Moscow automotive plant) managers, who made the
main bell for the Christ the Savior Cathedral. The bell
is behind them.
Our goal was to restore the Danilov Monastery. We started
out by removing the rubble, carrying bricks and doing all
sorts of manual labor. Step-by-step, I learned the ins and
outs of church culture, including bell chiming. That same
year, the Danilov Monasterys community invited me to join
them as a belfry man.
LifeStyle: How did you restore the Danilov Monasterys bells?
Konovalov: During the Soviet era, the priceless bells
were sold abroad. Some Rusian bells now have been brought
back from overseas.
LifeStyle: Do you know where the original Danilov
bells are today?
Konovalov: The bells were sold to the United States
and currently adorn a Harvard University tower. They chime
when their varsity football team plays, on New Years Day
and other notable occasions. The American press once published
a story entitled, "Thirty Tons of Metal and Not One Note."
I disagree. These bells created by Russian masters generate
up to 15 notes.
|Konovalov (right) is ringing
the heaviest bell of the 20th century
LifeStyle: What materials were used to make bells
Konovalov: When choosing the material, Russian bell-makers
used a mixture of metals with the best acoustic properties.
This often contained 80 percent copper and 20 percent tin.
The quality of sound depends on the materials purity.
LifeStyle: Ive heard that some sensational discoveries
were made at the bell acoustics lab.
Konovalov: Yes, scientists have discovered that sound
waves emitted by a bell are cross-shaped. When ringing, a
bell shrinks and expands. For big bells, the amplitude may
reach several millimeters.
LifeStyle: Legend has it that the sound of bells kills
microbes and this is why bells often rang during epidemics.
Is this true?
Konovalov: Italian researchers have proven that the
sounds from a bell can kill the flu virus and some other microbes.
By the way, some of our bell-ringers are 90 years old and
are still in excellent health.
LifeStyle: Do you have any advice after fifteen years
in the business?
Konovalov: A bell-ringer should never hurry while
climbing a belfry. I always try to arrive at least 10 minutes
before ringing for meditation. While ringing, I say certain
prayers. Arent you afraid of growing deaf? Doctors say it
often happens to bell-ringers.
You just have to obey certain rules. A bell ringer should
not stand right under the bells and his ears should be lower
than the bells cup edge. Also it is recommended that bell-ringers
open their mouth wide as they strike the bells.
LifeStyle: What was it like to restore the bells of
Ivan the Great.
Konovalov: It was probably the most memorable day
in my life. It was Easter of 1992. There were no scaffoldings
and I had to use a safety rope. But I really wanted to hear
the 2.5-ton Nemchin chime. It was the same sound heard back
in the 16th century.
LifeStyle: You supervised the belfry arrangements
at Christ the Savior Cathedral.
Konovalov: I can boast that the cathedral has the
heaviest bells made in the 20th century. The biggest one weighs
around 30 tons.
LifeStyle: How many bells are there in the cathedral?
Konovalov: Fourteen. They have a good sound and are
getting better with time.
LifeStyle: You mean the longer a bell is used the
better the sound?
Konovalov: Exactly, like any other musical instrument.
Christ the Savior bells will sound better in two or three
LifeStyle: Do you agree that bells create a special
atmosphere in the city?
Konovalov: Moscow has a long way to go to catch up
with European bell-music culture. Now the most prevalent sound
in the city is car rattling. In Munich, I once saw people
coming to a bell-tower square with their chairs, sitting down
and savoring the music.
LifeStyle: Have you rung Russias biggest bell?
Konovalov: Yes, I have rung this bell, which is in
one of the Kremlins Big Assumption belfries. It weighs around
60 tons, is more than 4 meters in diameter and height. When
it chimes, you feel the sound not just with your ears but
with your whole body.
LifeStyle: Is it easy to master the bell-ringer profession?
Konovalov: It takes at least 7 to 8 years to become
familiar with the bells and understand them.
LifeStyle: What is your dream as a bell-ringer?
Konovalov: I want to hear the Tsars Bell chime.
LifeStyle: You must be kidding?
Konovalov: Not at all. There is a popular association,
Krasny Zvon, or Red Chime, which aspires to make a bell with
the same weight as the Tsars Bell
LifeStyle: 202 metric tons.