100 Days – Day 11

The Importance of Bells

I have always loved the sound of bells. I’m going to put my nostalgia goggles on and say that I’m sure that, as a child, I could hear the sound of bells more often. Maybe I was better at listening.

Every day, at 12 noon, the nearby basilica rings out the angelus, and then a seasonal jingle. Though I’ve long since left my catholic roots behind, Something about this noon bell makes me stop and think for a while – not unlike all those people you see when the angelus comes on the TV. At the moment, the seasonal jingle is Jesus Christ is Risen Today.

I remember vividly a summer evening (or, more accurately, a summer night) in Leuven a number of years ago. Dominica and I were sitting outside a pub in an absolutely charming square, and the bell tower of a nearby church struck 12 midnight, then played King Jesus Hath a Garden. I was so charmed by the experience that I insisted we stay until 1 am to see if it would do so again. It did. That event became a movement of my String Quartet, and later the final movement of my 4 Chorale Preludes on King Jesus Hath a Garden.

Bells feature very prominently in Amra Choluim Chille. Each movement begins with the tolling of a bell, and bells occur at structurally significant moments – moments of transformation from one material or way of writing to another. There’s something earthly about bells that somehow recalls us from lofty thoughts, but also something ethereal about them. They are played for times of celebration, and times of mourning. They simultaneously evoke transience and impermanence, and eternity.

Who knows when a bell that is allowed to ring truly stops making vibrations in the world?