May 5, 2012

Russian Monks Continue Lowell Bell Tradition At Harvard

Petey E. Menz
May 4, 2012

Mother Earth, the largest of the Russian bells that hangs in Lowell House’s belltower, weighs about 13 tons. But despite its weight, Father Roman Ogrzykov, the head bellringer at the Danilov Monastery in Moscow, manipulated the device with ease on Wednesday afternoon, quickly tolling the three quick strokes that ended that afternoon’s bellringing session.

Ogryzkov, a tall, bearded man dressed in traditional Russian Orthodox garments, was one of two Russian monks who visited Harvard this past week. Along with Father Pavel Radin, who was clad in a checkered vest, linen shirt, and paisley ascot, Ogryzkov taught a series of master classes for the Lowell House Society of Russian Bell Ringers, a small student group that rings the bells every Sunday.

“This is a time for us to hone our skills with the traditional peals,” co-president Ivan D. Bochkov ’12 said.

According to co-president Inna Ryzhik ’12, the two monks taught three different peals. In addition, Radin, a monk from St. Petersburg, gifted the group a book of notated peals that he had compiled.

Though this was Radin’s first visit to Harvard, Ogryzkov has maintained a relationship with the University since 2003, when a delegation of Russian governmental and Orthodox Church officials came to Harvard to discuss the return of the historic bells, which had rested in Lowell House since 1930. The set, one of the few that survived the atheist regime of Joseph Stalin, was played by Ogryzkov during that trip.

“To a great extent, he enabled people to hear what those bells sound like when rung in the proper way,” Lowell House Co-Master Diana L. Eck said.

Though it was decided that the bells were to be returned and that Lowell House would receive a set of newly cast bells, Ogryzkov remained a friend of the University. According to Eck, when a delegation of Harvard officials went to Russia to find a bell foundry, Ogrzykov accompanied them. When the new bells were placed in Lowell in 2008, he taught a master class to several students and gave a bells concert.

“Since then, we’ve tried to maintain contact so we have some kind of program where our bellringers can travel to Russia every other year to learn more about the culture an practice of bellringing, and Father Roman comes here on the off years to teach master classes,” Eck said.

The monk has left a literal imprint on the Lowell Bells—during the Wednesday master class, he pointed out that his signature can be seen on the inside of Mother Earth.

“I participated in installing it,” he explained proudly. According to Ryzhik, the lessons, in conjunction with the trips, have also left a lasting impact.

“We improvised things, but we didn’t have a set canon of traditional peals,” she said.

Eck agreed that these elements have improved the sound of the bells. “Just in this week, the difference of hearing the complexity of the bells is really powerful,” she said.

Ryzhik encouraged all Harvard students to explore the bells, noting their uniqueness.

“Harvard is the only university with a set of Russian bells,” Ryzhik said. “We are trying to incorporate more traditional peals, but there’s always room for fun and improvisation.”