St Nicholas community completely
thrilled with new blagovestnik
One stroke and I was a believer
SAN ANSELMO, CALIFORNIA, 11/9/03 Could we really do it? Could
we really get a bell that big for our small (80-person) parish?
Granted, we did have a generous bequest to start with. But some objected
that we should be spending our money on charity instead. Others pointed
out that we do actually try to be generous to any number of charitable
projects, and that this was not to be an annual expense but a one-time
permanent beautification. Moreover, funds would come not out of collections,
but by special subscription, and we'd already received a generous bequest
for just such a special project. We just needed to come up with the
(substantial) difference. So ok: we all agreed to do it if the
other objections were met. One objection down, two to go.
We also had concerns about whether wed really like the bell once
we spent all that money. Certainly, Fr Stephan had done extensive research
to determine the one bell of the hundred or so listed in our
catalogue that would work best with our other nine, long before he even
proposed getting it. But the one he chose was to be cast by Vera,
a foundry other than Pyatkov,
which had produced our others, so even he was still a little nervous
about whether it would really fit, despite his extensive, but necessarily
We resolved this by drawing up a contract with the foundry that specified
that the bell would be photographed and recorded, and the pictures and
sounds sent to us before shipping. The bell would ship only if we liked what we saw
and heard. If for any reason St Nicholas was not happy with what the
photos and recording showed us, the bell had to be recast to our specifications,
without question, or the money refunded.
Completely confident in their work, the foundry cheerfully complied.
Actually, they were wise to do so; their pictures and recordings only
whetted our expectations all the more.
So the bell was cast in early September, and was ready for shipping
in October, some five months after we'd placed the order.
When it was weighed for shipping, it turned out to be 56 kg (123 lbs)
more than the contract showed because of a minor adjustment in its profile
and its heavy ornamentation. The foundry did not charge us for this
overage, but thats enough difference to make an import company
(like us) reach for the asprin!
Also, in consulting with US Customs about import requirements, we learned
that the pallet had to have hole in its center to allow inspection of
the interior space of the bell. Otherwise a crane would be needed at
Customs to lift the bell for interior inspection, etc. So the foundry
built a pallet with a manhole. We found it a bit amusing, but Customs
reported that it had found no bombs or other contraband inside and,
as always, released the bell without problem. The pallet with its trapdoor may become
the floor of a great treehouse and pirate's lair for the kids.
But then whoa! have you ever tried to back a 40-foot truck
carrying a ton and a half of metal through a narrow gate in a residential
neighborhood? St Nicholas church is located in just such a neighborhood
and has just such a gate. It took some wiggling, but the truck managed
to get through and to back up all the way to the far side of the church,
where the zvonnitsa was ready. But a scary time was had by all!
Once the truck was as far back as it was going to go, the drivers moved
the bell from the center of the trailer with a simple pallet-jack and
proceeded to unload it on the trucks lift-gate. Not everyone
was confident that the drivers knew what they were doing. Of course
they did, but when the lift-gate sloped and the bell shifted a bit,
Mark Galperin, Blagovests general manager, says he felt a definite
shortness of breath.
Raising the bell to the zvonnitsa beam was not particularly challenging.
The worst part was rolling the pallet on some metal pipes over the gravel
landscaping to the zvonnitsa; after that, a few car jacks were all we
needed to lift the bell to the proper height. As you can see in the
pictures, it is tied to the beam by thick nylon ropes which have a cumulative
ability to support many tons. The whole project, from delivery to attaching
the rope to the tongue, took all of a couple hours.
But now we faced all-important Objection No. 3, for which there could
be no answer until this very moment: What was going to happen when we
rang it? Fully one third of the parish was very afraid of the
impact of the bell on the neighbors. And when the bell arrived, even
we had to admit, it did look huge! Surely it would blast our neighbors
right out of house and home and into the law courts! After all,
ours is a crowded neighborhood, and the nearest of them sleep only 30
and 50 feet away. People had every reason to worry!
Well, of course Fr Stephan had explained to us that a bell, by itself,
is actually silent unless you tap it. And you can tap it with a little
pebble to make a tiny ding!, or you can swing the clapper
so hard you make a BIG noise and break the bell. And lightly tapping
a big bell actually produces much less sound than tapping a small one
with the same force, because the greater mass of the larger bell simply
absorbs most of the energy. So, played moderately, a big bell is not
actually much louder than a little one. Yes, its very energetic,
and its sound penetrates your body so you can really feel it. Its hum
lasts a lot longer, and its wave is more powerful and travels farther
but its not necessarily louder.
But this all seems counter-intuitive somehow, even now that we can
verify it first-hand. So, as it says in the gospels, Some doubted.
And they had remained skeptical, if not downright opposed, right up
until the very end. In fact, Fr Stephans wife and daughter were
among the most outspoken throughout the whole project. You've
gone too far this time, they insisted.
All it took, though, was to hear the tongue set all that bronze ringing
for the very first time.
One stroke and I was a believer, said Matushka Elaine.
It sounds sooo perfect! How did we ever live without it?
How indeed? We'd been very happy with our other nine bells, but Fr
Stephan was absolutely right. The new one has a smoothing, soothing,
balancing effect on the whole zvonnitsa. Its low tones surround and
float the high-pitched, more piercing and plangent notes
of our zazvonny (soprano) and podzvonny (alto) bells on
an ocean of mellow vibrations. You could even say, the new bell is
velvet. As Mark Galperin says, It pets your ears, rather
than damaging them. And if anything, our whole set actually
sounds a little quieter now, when you're close-up, even if you
can hear it a little farther away than before. The Korean families next
door, by the way, love it.
On the day we blessed the new bell, Joe Hok, our retired starosta,
was in tears. He said, I remember how Eugene Orloff and I signed
a personal loan guarantee for this building 30 years ago. And now were
ringing this bell for him while we sing Memory Eternal!
What a triumph for the founder of this church. Many, many thanks
to Mr. Orloffs widow and family, who provided the very generous
donation that enabled us to complete our bell tower.
In all, December 10, 2003 was a day to remember. And heres an
interesting sidelight: We actually had two new blagovestniks,
that day. At the cathedral the previous morning, Bishop Tikhon had just
ordained our new deacon, Fr. George Golitzin, and he served as deacon
in our own church for the very first time that morning. Now, blagovestnik
literally means announcer or, better yet, evangelist,
and is an ancient term for a deacon. So we had our Fr. George, and our
new bell: both of our new blagovestniki are very nice basses,
by the way!
We might add a word about the accomplishments of Sergei Moroz and his
construction team. By doing the labor themselves, they kept our
zvonnitsa costs down to about $2,000. Well, there was that first attempt
which they decided we didnt like, and we did overbuild the second
one a bit. But with George Baranovs engineering, Sergeis
carpentry and execution skills, and Bob Frenchs know-how-can-do,
we now have a sturdy steel-and-wood sandwich capable of withstanding
an earthquake measuring 9.0 on the Richter scale. (We do have earthquakes
in the San Francisco area.)
Many thanks also to Father Stephan for his vision, and for pushing
and pulling so relentlessly for the past four years. In the beginning,
we actually thought our one little bell was fine. But what did we know?
If he hadn't understood what bells mean in the Orthodox tradition, and
what a good set with one big bell would do for our church and for our
liturgy, wed never have thought about getting eight more
let alone a blagovestnik in a million years. Words do not convey...
I guess that's why there are bells in the first place: to convey what
words do not.
Next project: a new kitchen.
Now thats going to be a challenge!
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