Who\’s ringing the bells?

Nine newly cast bells have gone on display at Notre Dame, the Paris cathedral, weeks before they are hoisted into the two great towers in time for Easter.

The new bells, weighing 23 tons in total and named after saints and prominent Catholics, have been cast to mark the 850th anniversary of the Cathedral\’s founding in 1163. They replace bells which had become discordant, and will first be heard as they peal out on March 23, in time for Palm Sunday and Easter week.

Other than the Hunchback jokes, there\’s something I\’d really rather like to do.

It would be fabulously expensive, entirely insanely so in fact. But to cast such a series of bells out of tantalum. For that metal \”rings\” superbly. Back a few years we bought some \”tigli\” (I think I\’m remembering that word properly) as tantalum scrap. Crucibles used in the production of something or other. And the way to test that they were indeed tantalum and not some other lesser metal was to strike them: at which point they rang like a very clear bell. And this was a lab crucible, not something shaped to ring well at all.

So, it would be very fun indeed to cast and install a proper carillon (??) of bells in that metal and install them somewhere. Central London say: they would be entirely distinctive.

There is one little, teensie, problem though. The cost. Leave aside manufacturing costs (high, because no one has done this as yet, there\’s no data on tuning them etc) and look just to the material costs. Eight or nine million $ just for the metal.

Might not be able to afford this all on my own really.

12 comments on “Who\’s ringing the bells?

  1. You do know that in the Manhattan project when they were short of copper for the windings of the motors for the compressors they asked the federal reserve whether they could borrow its silver.

  2. “Also, I think it’s a ring of bells.”
    Not in french, it’s not.
    And if they’re installed in the same manner as the originals they will be capable of being rung as a carillon.

  3. Matthew L, a ring of bells and a carillon are two different things.

    A carillon is French (and therefore not to be trusted); the bells are static and struck by moving hammers. They play tunes on them (may God forgive them) using a keyboard that controls the hammers.

    A ring of bells is the proper (English) method, where the bell is attached to a wheel and is swung by pulling on a rope so that the clapper, swinging freely inside the bell, strikes it as the bell swings. It is played by ringing changes, a mathematical formula rather than the barbarian tunes played on the carillon.

    What might help Tim is that a French carillon needs a couple of dozen bells but you can have a decent English ring with as few as six. That might bring the cost down (although English bells do tend to be larger).

  4. “There is one little, teensie, problem though. The cost. … Eight or nine million $ just for the metal.”

    Imagine the guys who strip lead off of church roofs would be raising their game a tad, too.

  5. Ah, excellent. Thanks for the clarification – I love campanology but it’s a spectator sport for me.

  6. Richard
    Nothing wrong with a carillon, my local parish church has one and very beautiful it is too, it makes a nice subdued contrast to the usual change ringing. That tradition isn’t that old either, about three hundred years, carillon go back a bit further and aren’t especially French.

  7. Who’s ringing the bells? Me, for one. The English style would be a ring of bells, hung full circle for change ringing. At least 6, but 8 is better; beyond 12 is rare. A normal new 8 would have tenor weight of about 10 cwt, or 500 kg, and total mass of about 2 tonnes. However, bellhangers can now manage to hang really quite small rings, so a test ring needing maybe 20 kg would be ok, just not very loud (these tend to be for private use in people’s garages/lofts).

    It appears to be in the region of £350/kg, and with hanging, fittings etc you could get something for under 10 grand at a guess. Make them available to visiting ringers and you’d get your money back from donations eventually, especially if they were the only tantalum ring, and only ring in Portugal, say.

    Just as long as it doesn’t corrode at all. The Victorians tried making steel bells, which sounded great for about a year, then rusted, lost shape, and sound really terrible ever since. Luckily not too many were made.

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