Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Rocking The Bells

The big bell in the Buddha Hall is quite a temperamental beast. Its counterpart at Tassajara can be a little tricky to get used to, but then is pretty docile - if you strike it well, you will most often get a deep resonant sound - I used to love sitting at the doan seat there and feeling the vibrations coming up from the floor after a successful strike, and hearing how the sound collected and filled. The one in the city has a wide band near the top which, if the bell is struck wrong, will give you some pretty harsh harmonics (or are they overtones - I'm sorry not to be more musically accurate).  With both bells, people over the years have tried to pinpoint the sweet spot on the rim which gives you the best chance of a good sound. We had a spot that we were using here for some time, but the bells get moved around a lot - recently for both the jukai and Sejiki. A different spot had been tried in the last few months after one such move, and was adjudged to sound okay.
This morning the doan was sick, so I happily took on bell-ringing duties. In the Buddha Hall I noticed that the bell was lined up in a different place again - there are kanji engraved around most of the top of the bowl, so it is somewhat easy to spot this. I was amazed not just to get a decent sound, without too much clanginess, but also to have a real build-up of bass frequencies the times I got to hit the bell consecutively, something I have never really heard or felt with this bell before. This made me very happy.
Maybe it's just going to be one of those days: I came out of the Buddha Hall and saw Robert, the president, newly returned from a retreat in Nepal, sweeping the courtyard with his sleeves rolled up. That made me happy too. We had a joyful koan class, where the cinnamon rolls we were going to have for breakfast afterwards were a sub-theme of the discussions, and where we sang Happy Birthday to Tova, who is celebrating today, and Shindo, who just had her birthday.
As we sat together in the dining room after the class, eating the said rolls with much pleasure, we were talking about the ceremony we are going to do at lunchtime for the new maples that have been planted in front of the building. I expect I will write more about this after the fact. How auspicious, as Linda Ruth used to say at Tassajara.

None of the pictures I have of the big bell give you a decent sense of its size, so here is something more impressionistic


Dennis said...

I was bold enough to ask Michael Wenger for an art history tour of the Center, and he was kind enough to say yes. He said of the big bell that it was at Oakland Art Museum (and I gather is still theirs, but on seemingly permanent loan to ZC), tucked negligently in a corner with trash in it, on a day when Suzuki Roshi went to visit the museum. He asked to strike the bell, and was told no. Eventually, he contrived to fall and struck it with his head...and having ascertained the tone, I gather, negotiations commenced. (!)

Ruth said...

Great story!

Shundo said...

Someone did read the kanji for me not so long ago, which said more about its provenance (from China rather than Oakland as I recall). I also remember a different big bell when I first lived here, but I don't know where that one went.

Sandy's witterings said...

That's a superb looking bell - it must have a fairly mighty sound to go with it. I notice that it appears in your blog of week or so ago - the one with the M&Ms (at least I think that'll be it in the background)

Shundo said...

Indeed it is the same one Sandy, only we had moved it to the other side of the Buddha Hall for that occasion. The sound is wonderful - I would love to hear the recordings made today with all the proper professional gear- on our recordings we can't capture nearly enough of the harmonics - or do I mean overtones? And as the sound guy said today, you feel it as much as hear it.