High above in the belltower, students pressed footpedals as others pulled at an intricate web of ropes above.
Their teachers included none other than the bell ringer of the Kremlin, Igor Konovalov, and Hierodeacon Roman Ogryzkov, chief bell ringer of the Danilov Monastery in Moscow.
The Russian musical duo is teaching three master classes to the five undergraduate members of the Lowell House Society of Russian Bell Ringers. Their visit is the result of a long saga centered on the acquisition of the bells now in Lowell.
The 18 bells in the tower originally hung in the Danilov Monastery, but were purchased by philanthropist Charles R. Crane and given to Harvard in 1930 to save them from the possibility of destruction under Stalinist rule.
The bells are scheduled to return home to the Danilov Monastery during the summer of 2008, in exchange for replicas of the bells, which will be completed and inspected in the coming weeks.
Konovalov and Ogryzkov have visited Cambridge and the bells numerous times, and are now trying to make sure the strings which control the bells can be arranged so that the bells are easier to ring, said Lowell House Master Diana L. Eck.
At the first class on Tuesday, klappermeister-in-training Brian Kennedy ’09 focused on ringing the largest bell, a 13-ton mammoth nicknamed “Mother Earth.”
During yesterday’s practice, Ogryzkov noticed that student Molly J. Hester ’08 used earplugs to dampen the bellowing sounds from the 700-pound clapper of “Mother Earth.” Since Ogryzkov does not use earplugs, Hester said he was “a real bell ringer.”
Responding with the help of a translator, Ogryzkov replied, “I might not only become a real bell ringer, but also a real deaf person.”
Besides teaching the mechanics of ringing the bells, Ogryzkov spoke about the liturgical origins of one of the bells’ odd nicknames.
According to Ogryzkov, the bell known as “Famine, Pestilence, and Despair,” was likely rung during the hard fasts of Lent.
Ogryzkov said that while some of the nicknames correlate with their historic uses, a certain amount of “poetical interpretation” took place after they transferred to Harvard.