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A bell is a directly struck idiophone percussion instrument. Most bells have the shape of a hollow cup that when struck vibrates in a single strong strike tone, with its sides forming an efficient resonator. The strike may be made by an internal "clapper" or "uvula", an external hammer, or—in small bells—by a small loose sphere enclosed within the body of the bell (jingle bell).

Bells are usually cast from bell metal (a type of bronze) for its resonant properties, but can also be made from other hard materials; this depends on the function. Some small bells such as ornamental bells or cowbells can be made from cast or pressed metal, glass or ceramic, but large bells such as a church, clock and tower bells are normally cast from bell metal.

Bells intended to be heard over a wide area can range from a single bell hung in a turret or bell-gable, to a musical ensemble such as an English ring of bells, a carillon or a Russian zvon which are tuned to a common scale and installed in a bell tower. Many public or institutional buildings house bells, most commonly as clock bells to sound the hours and quarters.

Historically, bells have been associated with religious rites, and are still used to call communities together for religious services.[1] Later, bells were made to commemorate important events or people and have been associated with the concepts of peace and freedom. The study of bells is called campanology.

Etymology

Bell is a word common to the Low German dialects, cognate with Middle Low German belle and Dutch bel but not appearing among the other Germanic languages except the Icelandic bjalla which was a loanword from Old English.[2] It is popularly[3] but not certainly[2] related to the former sense of to bell (Old English: bellan, "to roar, to make a loud noise") which gave rise to bellow.[4]

History

The earliest archaeological evidence of bells dates from the 3rd millennium BC, and is traced to the Yangshao culture of Neolithic China.[5] Clapper-bells made of pottery have been found in several archaeological sites.[6] The pottery bells later developed into metal bells. In West Asia, the first bells appear in 1000 BC.[5]

The earliest metal bells, with one found in the Taosi site and four in the Erlitou site, are dated to about 2000 BC.[7] Early bells not only have an important role in generating metal sound[clarification needed], but arguably played a prominent cultural role. With the emergence of other kinds of bells during the Shang Dynasty (c. 1600 – c. 1050 BC), they were relegated to subservient functions; at Shang and Zhou sites, they are also found as part of the horse-and-chariot gear and as collar-bells of dogs.Bells are usually cast from bell metal (a type of bronze) for its resonant properties, but can also be made from other hard materials; this depends on the function. Some small bells such as ornamental bells or cowbells can be made from cast or pressed metal, glass or ceramic, but large bells such as a church, clock and tower bells are normally cast from bell metal.

Bells intended to be heard over a wide area can range from a single bell hung in a turret or bell-gable, to a musical ensemble such as an English ring of bells, a carillon or a Russian zvon which are tuned to a common scale and installed in a bell tower. Many public or institutional buildings house bells, most commonly as clock bells to sound the hours and quarters.

Historically, bells have been associated with religious rites, and are still used to call communities together for religious services.[1] Later, bells were made to commemorate important events or people and have been associated with the concepts of peace and freedom. The study of bells is called campanology.

Bell is a word common to the Low German dialects, cognate with Middle Low German belle and Dutch bel but not appearing among the other Germanic languages except the Icelandic bjalla which was a loanword from Old English.[2] It is popularly[3] but not certainly[2] related to the former sense of to bell (Old English: bellan, "to roar, to make a loud noise") which gave rise to bellow.[4]

History

The earliest archaeological evidence of bells dates from the 3rd millennium BC, and is traced to the Yangshao culture of Neolithic China.[5] Clapper-bells made of pottery have been found in several archaeological sites.[6] The pottery bells later developed into metal bells. In West Asia, the first bells appear in 1000 BC.[5]

The earliest metal bells, with one found in the Taosi site and four in the Erlitou site, are dated to about 2000 BC.[7] Early bells not only have an important role in generating metal sound[clarification needed], but arguably played a prominent cultural role. With the emergence of other kinds of bells during the Shang Dynasty (c. 1600 – c. 1050 BC), they were relegated to subservient functions; at Shang and Zhou sites, they are also found as part of the horse-and-chariot gear and as collar-bells of dogs.[8]

The book of Exodus in the Bible notes that small gold bells were worn as ornaments on the hem of the robe of the high priest in Jerusalem.[9] Among the ancient Greeks, handbells were used in camps and garrisons and by patrols that went around to visit sentinals.[10] Among the Romans, the hour of bathing was announced by a bell. They also used them in the home, as an ornament and emblem, and bells were placed around the necks of cattle and sheep so they could be found if they strayed.

See also Klang Bell (Malaysia, 2 c. BC) of the British Museum collection.

Styles of ringing

Yangshao culture of Neolithic China.[5] Clapper-bells made of pottery have been found in several archaeological sites.[6] The pottery bells later developed into metal bells. In West Asia, the first bells appear in 1000 BC.[5]

The earliest metal bells, with one found in the Taosi site and four in the Erlitou site, are dated to about 2000 BC.[7] Early bells not only have an important role in generating metal sound[clarification needed], but arguably played a prominent cultural role. With the emergence of other kinds of bells during the Shang Dynasty (c. 1600 – c. 1050 BC), they were relegated to subservient functions; at Shang and Zhou sites, they are also found as part of the horse-and-chariot gear and as collar-bells of dogs.

The earliest metal bells, with one found in the Taosi site and four in the Erlitou site, are dated to about 2000 BC.[7] Early bells not only have an important role in generating metal sound[clarification needed], but arguably played a prominent cultural role. With the emergence of other kinds of bells during the Shang Dynasty (c. 1600 – c. 1050 BC), they were relegated to subservient functions; at Shang and Zhou sites, they are also found as part of the horse-and-chariot gear and as collar-bells of dogs.[8]

The book of Exodus in the Bible notes that small gold bells were worn as ornaments on the hem of the robe of the high priest in Jerusalem.[9] Among the ancient Greeks, handbells were used in camps and garrisons and by patrols that went around to visit sentinals.[10] Among the Romans, the hour of bathing was announced by a bell. They also used them in the home, as an ornament and emblem, and bells were placed around the necks of cattle and sheep so they could be found if they strayed.

See also Klang Bell (Malaysia, 2 c. BC) of the British Museum collection.

In the western world, the common form of bell is a church bell or town bell, which is hung within a tower or bell cote. Such bells are either fixed in a static position ("hung dead") or mounted on a beam (the "headstock") so they can swing to and fro. Bells that are hung dead are normally sounded by hitting the sound bow with a hammer or occasionally by pulling an internal clapper against the bell.

Where a bell is swung it can either be swung over a small arc by a rope and lever or by using a rope on a wheel to swing the bell higher. As the bell swings higher the sound is projected outwards rather than downwards. Larger bells may be swung using electric motors. In some places, such as Salzburg Cathedral the clappers are held against the sound bow whilst the bells are raised, then released sequentially to give a clean start to the ringing. In the end, they are successively caught again by the mechanism to silence the bells.[11]

Bells hung for full circle ringing are swung through just over a complete circle from mouth uppermost. A stay (the wooden pole seen sticking up when the bells are down) engages a mechanism to allow the bell to rest just past its balance point. The rope is attached to one side of a wheel so that a different amount of rope is wound on and off as it swings to and fro. The bells are controlled by ringers (one to a bell) in a chamber below, who rotate the bell to through a full circle and back, and control the speed of oscillation when the bell is mouth upwards at the balance-point when little effort is required.

Swinging bells are sounded by an internal clapper. The clapper may have a longer period of swing than the bell. In this case, the bell will catch up with the clapper and if rung to or near full circle will carry the clapper up on the bell's trailing side. Alternatively, the clapper may have a shorter period and catch up with the bell's leading side, travel up with the bell coming to rest on the downhill side. This latter method is used in English style full circle ringing.

Occasionally the clappers have leather pads (called muffles) strapped around them to quieten the bells when practice ringing to avoid annoying the neighbourhood. Also at funerals, half-muffles are often used to give a full open sound on one round, and a muffled sound on the alternate round – a distinctive, mournful effect. This was done at the Funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997.

A carillon, which is a musical instrument consisting of at least 23 cast bronze cup-shaped bells, is tuned so that the bells can be played serially to produce a melody, or sounded together to play a chord. A traditional carillon is played by striking a baton keyboard with the fists, and by pressing the keys of a pedal keyboard with the feet. The keys mechanically activate levers and wires that connect to metal clappers that strike the inside of the bells, allowing the performer to vary the intensity of the note according to the force applied to the key.

Church and temple bells

In the Eastern world, the traditional forms of bells are temple and palace bells, small ones being rung by a sharp rap with a stick, and very large ones rung by a blow from the outside by a large swinging beam. (See images of the great bell of Mii-dera below.)

The striking technique is employed worldwide for some of the largest tower-borne bells because swinging the bells themselves could damage their towers.

In the Roman Catholic Church and among some High Lutherans and Anglicans, small hand-held bells, called Sanctus or sacring bells,[12] are often rung by a server at Mass when the priest holds high up first the host and then the chalice immediately after he has said the words of consecration over them (the moment known as the Elevation). This serves to indicate to the congregation that the bread and wine have just been transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ (see transubstantiation), or, in the alternative Reformation teaching, that Christ is now bodily present in the elements, and that what the priest is holding up for them to look at is Christ himself (see consubstantiation).

In Russian Orthodox bell ringing, the entire bell never moves, only the clapper. A complex system of ropes is developed and used uniquely for every bell tower. Some ropes (the smaller ones) are played by hand, the bigger ropes are played by foot.

Bells in Japanese religion

Japanese Shintoist and Buddhist bells are used in religious ceremonies. Suzui, a homophone meaning both "cool" and "refreshing", are spherical bells which contain metal pellets that produce sound from the inside. The hemispherical bell is the Kane bell, which is struck on the outside. Large suspended temple bells are known as bonshō. (See also ja:鈴, ja:梵鐘).

Bells in Jainism, Buddhism and Hinduism

Jain, Hindu and Buddhist bells, called "Ghanta" (IAST: Ghaṇṭā) in Sanskrit, are used in religious ceremonies. See also singing bowls. A bell hangs at the gate of many Hindu temples and is rung at the moment one enters the temple.[13]