Sunday, June 15, 2008

Visiting the Swan Bells

Tuesday morning we decided to visit Swan Bells which is known as the largest musical instrument in the world. To celebrate Australia's bicentenary in 1988, England gave the bells to Western Australia. The building you see at the left was built to house them.

Originally, the bells were housed at St. Martin-in-the-fields in the church of Trafalgar Square. After 270 odd years, they were getting too heavy for the church's foundation. Every time they rang, it would crumble. To save the church, it was decided to melt the bells down and cast new ones. A patron of the bells campaigned to have them moved instead.

Armed with 2 for 1 admission coupons, Laurette, Natalie, Becky, Jenni, Karen, Lindsay and Lori headed off to view the bells. Silliness ensued as we pretended to be swans in front of the tower.

Pretty cool looking tower!

Since time was limited because the meet began that afternoon, we decided to start with the observation deck on the 6th floor and work our way down. We admired the spectacular views of Perth and the Swan River while taking lots of pictures.

Lori, Karen, Lindsay, Jenni and Natalie grinning away.

Karen, Lori and Lindsay with the Swan River behind us.

Lindsay went "artiste" on us.

Looking straight up from the deck.

View of downtown Perth from the deck.

A lady who worked at the Bells asked if we'd seen the bell ringing demonstration, yet. We told her we hadn't since we started at the top and the Ringing room was on the first floor. She highly recommended that we see the demonstration then come back up to see the bells. We're easy. So that's what we did.

As we walked into the ringing room, the first thing I noticed were all these thick ropes hanging from the ceiling. Of course they got more interesting as the woman who greeted us said her hellos mixed with lots of "Don't touch the ropes." As we all sat in the chairs around the room's perimeter, she explained why we shouldn't touch the ropes. "Tourists tend to hang themselves if they touch the ropes." Since I didn't fancy dying in Australia, I didn't touch the rope.

Once everyone was seated, she grabbed a rope and started telling us about the bells as she rang one of them. So happens, there was a Bell Ringers convention in town that weekend so there were two other ringers in the room and another came in with us. Each of them grabbed a rope.
Under the woman's direction, they rang "Three Blind Mice" for us.

After the other ringers were excused to get to know the newcomer, the woman continued the demonstration. "Wanna see me ring a bell the size of a small car?" She asked. She hopped up on a box and grabbed this huge rope. She rang the huge bell. She was so tiny and the bell was so big that I was convinced she was going to go flying at any moment. But she didn't.

Then she asked if we wanted to ring the bells. Despite the whole, "you'll hang yourself if you touch the rope" warning, we were eager to give it a shot. I was first. I gotta tell you, those bells are HEEEAAAVVVYYYYY! She made it look so easy, catching different parts of the rope depending on which number ring she was on. I was doing good just to keep a hold of the rope at all.

She started each of us ringing one by one. I was exhausted by the time she got to the last person. To get out of ringing, I took pictures instead!

Here're Natalie, Jenni, Laurette, Karen and Lindsay giving it a go.

See how the ropes are fatter at the top? The bell ringers would catch that part alternating with the skinny lower part on even and odd rings.

Laurette, Karen, Lindsay, random chick, Becky happy to take a breather.

Here are all of us with the Bell Ringer. Karen, Natalie, Jenni, BR, Lindsay, Becky, Laurette and Lori.

See how tiny she is? She has to be freakishly strong to be able to ring these bells for any length of time. Our amazement only grew once we went up to the Belfry and saw exactly how big these bells are.

No wonder these bells can kill you. Look how HUGE they are.

Here're Lindsay, Lori and Karen marveling at the size. The ones closest to us are the small bells. Those are the ones we got to ring.

The bells are purposely "set" in the up position like this. This means that they are ready to ring. Our Bell Ringer told us how she can distinguish a real ringer from a wannabe. She tests them by having them set a small bell. If they can't do it, she won't let them ring.

After this amazing trip, I have gained a whole new respect for Bell Ringers everywhere.

Before we left, Karen found a wallet in the restroom. She turned it in and the people gave her a 10% discount on her souvenir purchases in the gift shop. Who says honesty doesn't pay?

At this point, the group split up. All to handle last minute details before the solo and trio techs that were scheduled for that afternoon.

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