Navigation:   TowerBells Home  => Tower Bells Introduction

Tower Bells - Introduction

For more than a thousand years, tower bells have spoken to the people with wordless voices.  They have shouted in warning, wept in mourning and laughed in rejoicing; they have told time and called to worship; they have brought music to the populace.  Although the ceaseless clamor of the mass-transportation era has pushed these voices out of the daily lives of the multitudes, they cannot be entirely silenced.  Because they have such power to stir the human soul, they still find a place in the modern world, bringing old traditions with them and making new ones.

This Website is dedicated to serving almost all aspects of tower bells by informing the public about them.  It does this in part by presenting information arranged to support those organizations which follow specific tower bell traditions.  It also presents information related to tower bell matters which are not directly related to any existing organization.

Do not expect to find completeness here.  This is an evolving project, which uses links to other Websites to avoid duplication of information.  Nor will you find fancy Webpage formatting here--information is what is important.  (The system on which this Website was originally hosted imposed severe filespace limitations, but fortunately that is no longer a constraint.)

Contents of this page:

Each of the topics listed above is introduced by a few short paragraphs, which have links to other pages that offer more extensive coverage of the topic.

Carillons

Carillons are musical instruments made of at least 23 conventional tower bells which have been tuned so that they can be played together in harmony.  The bells are hung fixed in a frame, or "dead", and are played by some kind of mechanism which operates internal clappers and/or external hammers.  There are two varieties:

Some traditional carillons are equipped with additional mechanisms of various kinds for automatic play.  A common motive for doing this is to strike the quarter-hours and the hour as a clock-chime would do.  (See below.)

This Website covers carillons both in North America and elsewhere in the world.

See The Guild of Carillonneurs in North America (GCNA) for a more formal definition of "carillon" and for information about the Guild's activities and related events.  The Guild's focus is on what is here called the "traditional" carillon, there called simply a carillon.

The GCNA is one of the member societies of the World Carillon Federation, an association of all national and regional societies which focus their interest on the art of the carillon.

Filling out the survey forms for your carillon and its tower will get you a free extract from the database "Carillons and Chimes of the World."

Chimes

Chimes are smaller musical instruments (8 to 22 conventional tower bells, hung fixed) in which the bells may or may not have been tuned, but nevertheless approximate the diatonic or chromatic scales sufficiently well to be able to play tunes recognizably.  Some are in fact tuned to the same precision as carillons, and thus can be used to play harmony as well as melody.  Several different kinds of mechanisms have been used to play chimes, either manually or automatically, but in comparison to carillons there is less need to distinguish between traditional and non-traditional mechanisms.  An additional function as a clock-chime is fairly common.  Among older chimes in churches, the inclusion of one or more swinging bells is also fairly common.

There is no formal organization for chimers, in North America or elsewhere.  Therefore this Website covers chimes both in North America and elsewhere in the world.

Filling out the survey forms for your chime and its tower will get you a free extract from the database "Carillons and Chimes of the World."

Rings; change-ringing

Rings are sets of tower bells tuned to the diatonic scale and hung to swing in a full circle, with one person controlling one bell by means of a single rope and wheel.  Most rings are hung and rung in the English style called "change ringing".  However, in the Veronese district of Italy are many rings hung for what may be called "concerto" ringing.

See the Website of The North American Guild of Change Ringers (NAGCR) for information about change ringing on this continent.  There you will also find links to numerous other Websites focussed on the special techniques of hanging tower bells and ringing them in various mathematically-based methods.  Some of those links will take you to England, the place of origin of change-ringing and home of more than 95% of the world's "ringable" towers.

This Website covers rings in North American and elsewhere in the world outside the United Kingdom.  For rings in the UK, see the online Dove's Guide for Church Bell Ringers

A page on Musical Scales in Ringing explains note names in major keys as they relate to the customary arrangement of notes for change ringing.

Filling out the chime survey forms for your ring and its tower will get you a free extract from the database "Carillons and Chimes of the World."

Peals, clock-chimes, zvons, single bells, etc.

Single tower bells and small sets of such bells are (or have been) used for a wide variety of purposes, some of which are described here.

Peals

A peal is a set of two or more bells hung for swinging in less than a full circle.  Consequently, each bell swings at its own natural pendulum frequency, so that it appears to sound randomly with respect to the other bell(s) in the peal.  In Canada and the USA, some churches have peals of two to five bells; in churches of continental Europe and Spanish-speaking countries, cathedrals and very large churches may have peals of more than a dozen bells.  There is no prescribed relationship among the pitches of peal bells, though in the case of three or four they are often arranged in a major or minor chord.

Clock-chimes

A clock-chime is a set of two to eight bells (most commonly two or four) hung dead to be struck under control of a tower clock, usually to indicate the quarter hours in addition to the hour.  The most famous arrangement of bells for this purpose is the four notes of the Westminster Quarters, more properly called Cambridge quarters.  Another common arrangement is "ting-tang" quarters, which requires only two bells.  A variety of other arrangements are known, some being unique to a particular clock.

Zvons

A zvon is a set of bells hung dead and rung in rhythmic patterns according to the liturgical principles of the Russian Orthodox Church (or, less commonly, another of the national Orthodox Christian churches).  The pitches of the bells in a zvon are not arranged scale-wise, though some of them may fit familiar chords.  The heaviest bells ever hung in towers are the basses of Russian zvons.

Single bells

Some of the most common uses for single bells are as follows:

Great bells

These are REALLY BIG bells, which impress viewers by their sheer size and listeners by the profundity (both depth and volume) of their sound.  For more details, including our definition plus lists of such bells around the world, see our Great Bells page.

Tubular tower bells

Large tubular bells, cast or extruded from approximately the same material as conventional tower bells (or perhaps of brass rather than bronze), have been used to make tower music or to serve as clock bells.  The largest such tubes weigh hundreds of pounds.  Chimes made of these bells appeared in both England and the USA in the late 19th century.  About 180 were made in England, though not much is yet known about them; at least one was exported to Canada.  The early American tubular chimes never became popular--only a dozen or so are known, and little is known about their makers.  But a later American maker produced more than 440 tubular tower chimes of various sizes.

For further information, see our page about Tubular tower bells.

Filling out the tubular chime survey forms for your chime and its tower will get you a free extract from the database "Carillons and Chimes of the World."

Hemispherical tower bells

Large hemispherical bells were made for tower use in both England and the USA in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Like tubular bells, they were intended to be an economical substitute for conventional tower bells.  About 40 chimes of such bells are known to have been made in England, though many no longer survive.  Only about five such chimes were made in the USA, while two were imported from England.  All are listed on the chimola index page.

Filling out the chime survey forms for your hemispherical chime and its tower will get you a free extract from the database "Carillons and Chimes of the World."

Other bells

There are some kinds of bells which, while not primarily intended for use as tower bells, have nevertheless been used that way on occasion.  They include railroad bells (bronze) and postmount farm or dinner bells (cast steel).  Some information about such bells may eventually be included here.

There are many kinds of bells which are not tower bells.  A few examples are handbells, doorbells, cowbells, sleigh bells, gongs, thin-wall tubular bells (for orchestra, pipe organ, or long-case clock) and many varieties of collectible small bells.  I do not presently intend to cover any of these kinds of bells, though I will provide links to other sites which do so.

There are also things in towers which purport to be bells, chimes or carillons, but are not.  All of these things involve large outdoor loudspeakers plus electronic devices which either play recordings of real bells or attempt (always unsuccessfully) to generate sounds which imitate real bells.  I will never cover any of these kinds of devices, nor will I provide links to other sites which do so.  (Exception: For other sites related to both real bells and electronic imitations, I may provide links with respect to the real bell topics.)

Oriental temple bells:  In China, Japan, Korea, and many of the countries of Southeast Asia, bells of different kinds are often associated with worship practices in the temples of indigenous religions.  Some of these temple bells are cast from bronze as Western bells are, and the largest of them are among the very largest bells in the world.  However, their shape and sound are significantly different from that of Western bells, as is their use.  They are hung stationary, usually near ground level, and are rung singly.  The largest of these are listed on a page about great Oriental bells.

Handbells:  See the Website of the Handbell Musicians of America (HMA) for information about making music with handbells, and for links to related resources.  (HMA was formerly The American Guild of English Handbell Ringers, or AGEHR.)

Collectibles: The principal organization of bell collectors is The American Bell Association International, Inc. (ABAII).  However, one need not be a collector to join ABAII.  Their bi-monthly magazine, The Bell Tower, often contains articles about other types of bells, including tower bells.

Bellfounders and bell making

Tower bells are typically made in foundries which are essentially dedicated to this function, since there is no longer a market for other cast bronze objects of comparable size.  (In bygone centuries, those who made bells in peacetime made cannon in wartime--a variation on the ancient concept of "beating swords into plowshares".  But bronze cannon became obsolete, while bronze bells didn't, or at least not to the same degree.)

For further information, see our page about Bell Foundries.

Weights of bells

The weights of bells can be reported in any of several different units of measure, some common and some obscure.  The subject is discussed at length here, beginning at a page about bell weights.  Here we add to that an online calculator for converting between different units of measurement of weight.  This is especially designed to handle the old British Imperial system of Cwt-Qtr-Lb, which is still in regular use to describe bells hung for change-ringing. 


[Tower Bells Introduction] [Website Map] [The builder] [What's New]

This page was created 2000/03/04 and last revised on 2012/07/25.
(Before the Website merger, there was a revision date in a box near the top of this page, reflecting the most recent change to any page on this Website.)

Please send comments or questions (either general or about this page) to csz_stl@swbell.net
Use similar links on other pages to send specific comments or questions about those pages.

Valid HTML 4.01!         Control Your Domain (white background)

Built with a Mac     Built With BBEdit     Check out TidBITS     < - useful resources for Macintosh folks