Almost all the visitors who came to Auroville since past six years have listened to and enjoyed the profound vibrations of the special musical instrument called «Russian Singing Bells». It is a set of differently sized brass plates, hit with several kinds of mallets. Vera, a young Aurovilian from Minsk, Belarus (a former USSR Republic), in search of something deep and beautiful, worthy to represent Mother Russia in the International Zone of Auroville, has discovered in Moscow this special instrument invented by a famous Russian bell-master Alexander Zhikharev. Vera has convinced Alexander to come to Auroville to create there a set of plates, which was presented to the Auroville community on the 22nd of December 2007 at the Unity Pavilion. Since then, Vera gave many public concerts at different places in and out of Auroville: the Matrimandir Amphitheatre, the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, the Unity garden of Matrimandir, CRIPA, Tibetan Pavilion, International House, some Auroville communities and other places, like near the Inuksuk during the International Zone of Auroville re-dedication ceremony February 2014. The Russian Singing Bells were there to mark the laying of the foundation stone and the completion of the Unity Pavilion and the Hall of Peace in the International Zone, as well as the inauguration of the Peace Table for Asia in the Hall of Peace. During four years they received the visitors in the Unity Pavilion for the collective bell-ringing programs. The sound of these Bells has been so much appreciated, that over the last few years Vera has been invited with her programs to several European countries (Netherlands, Switzerland, Turkey), and also to the US.
The Russian Singing Bells, at first a symbolical gift from Russia to Auroville, an expression of the soul of Mother Russia, are now part of familiar Auroville landscape and are even identified by some as “the sound of Auroville, as if it has always been there”. Several thousands people have enjoyed these deeply resonating sounds or got some experiences that helped them to grow while listening to it. In Vera’s Bells’ guest book there are more than 400 entries in a dozen different languages. Some acknowledge that the Bells resonance produce spiritual, “magical” or even therapeutic effects on them. A visitor from Sweden once said that she “would like to live in Auroville just because these sounds are there”. Vera’s open programs with the Bells that she has been offering weekly during more than 6 years, have served as a unique meeting point for musicians and non-musicians alike. Renowned visiting musicians, like the French pianist Marc Vella with his “Caravan of Love”, the Turkish flutist Tugay Basar, or the Australian sacred music artists couple Kim Cunio and Heather Lee, and others, have also played in Auroville together with Vera’s Singing Bells, creating harmony in sound together.
But one need not be a musician to express his or her deeper feelings through this instrument, as even the person trying to play music first time in his life, soon discovers that there is no “false notes” here – one may play with the plates freely like a child, simply enjoying the beautiful combinations of pure sounds. This is possible due to a very special and precise tuning of the instrument, offering to the listener a unique experience of being enveloped in a long resonating harmonious vibration field.
Let now Vera herself speak about her experience with the Russian Singing Bells:
«When I first heard the Bells’ master music CD, I was frozen to the spot and started seeing images of ancient Russia. I was fascinated by the sound of this instrument that gave me the experience of plunging deep within and soaring high above at the same time, almost transporting me to another dimension.
So for me it was “love from the first sound”. I felt Love so generously outpouring with Beauty of the higher spheres through the sound of this earthly instrument, that I very much wanted to share it with Auroville, the most cherished and beautiful place on Earth for me.
It was the first project in my life. Only after the instrument came to Auroville, I realized, that if I really wanted to share the Beauty that I perceived in it, I had to learn to play it properly. And it was a big challenge. Since the instrument is unique, there is no school of playing it, so I had to discover everything on my own. In a way the instrument itself has taught me Harmony, for each bell plate is made according to the laws of natural harmony, and these laws are absolutely same for men, Earth and the Universe. Music and Harmony are indissolubly linked. The Mother spoke that music can transmit consciousness with much less distortion than words.
I develop spontaneous way of playing, learning to enter the state of inner silence first. Initially it was not easy. I got a lot of encouragement from Aurovilians: the Bells were invited to the Matrimandir Amphitheater for the New Year and Mother’s birthday celebrations ever since they came to Auroville, and I am grateful for the opportunity and the honor to play there. Recently I received the invitation to play in the Matrimandir Unity Garden once a month, so last six month I’ve been doing that, and very naturally these programs got combined with a collective concentration in the beginning.
The collective aspect in the work with this instrument is quite remarkable. I tell you one peculiar fact: for the 40th anniversary in Auroville there were residents from about 40 countries and there happened to be exactly 40 bell plates in town, so it seemed the Bells have arrived just two months before specially for this celebration, and at the dawn bonfire they were ringed by 50 Aurovilians from 25 countries. In February 2014, during the International Zone re-dedication ceremony organized by the AVI, there was a collective invocation with the Bells in the big field near Inuksuk. People from more than 30 countries, most of whom never saw or played the instrument before, joined the bell-ringing circle and in a very short time, with a little guidance from my side, were able to speak the language of sound, connecting to each other and feeling themselves co-creators of Harmony, getting a rare experience of Oneness through sound.
I feel that this instrument can contribute immensely to a collective harmony in a very special way. Last three years I’ve been closely researching this subject in a group work at my “Tuning to Harmony with the Russian Singing Bells” workshops at CRIPA. I distribute the plates to the participants, one each, and suggest them to create harmonious music together, following their inner sense of beauty. Initially this group exercise could take about half an hour before people would actually start hearing each other. And now it can happen within 2-3 minutes! Once I had in a bell-ringing circle representatives of all 5 continents! The music that was born spontaneously by 16 participants was permeated with such profound feeling of Unity and Joy! To me it was a vivid illustration of a passage from Sri Aurobindo’s “Life Divine”, where he writes about how the divine soul, conscious of its oneness with the Supreme and with other souls, will experience life: “Because this unity is the basis of all its experience, it will be free from the discords of our divided consciousness, divided by ignorance and a separatist egoism; all these selves and their relations will play consciously into each other’s hands; they will part and melt into each other as the numberless notes of an eternal harmony… What is clash and strife and discord in our divided being will be there the meeting, entwining and mutual interplay of the different notes of one infinite harmony.”
The aim set by the Mother for the Aurovilians is to evolve the consciousness of human unity, which shall serve as a basis for the work of the new consciousness and the new creation upon Earth. But this unity is not simply joining hands together – it is something much deeper: finding and uniting with the Divine Presence inside oneself and letting this experience develop into perceiving others as sparks of the same Divine Self. And this shall gradually bring natural harmonious reorganization of life, both individual and collective, as in this state of consciousness we will be guided by the inner knowledge and not, as of now, by our outer separative mind and egoistic impulses of life-force in our nature.
Both Sri Aurobindo and the Mother named music among the important means for the spiritual education of the soul, as it has the power to elevate consciousness through deepening and harmonizing the emotions. To understand what role the Mother assigned to this form of art in Auroville, it is enough to recollect her experience of February 8, 1969: “I had a vision like that of an auditorium in Auroville, with a grand organ… It was a place where all those who wanted to come and listen could do so; some people came from far away, they came in, sat down, listened, and then went away. And this music was like a Consciousness coming down and exerting a Pressure on people to make itself understood. It was very beautiful – I hope it will be like that! Much better than words; as soon as one starts speaking (gesture at ground level), it’s no longer that.”
The natural, powerful and unique resonance of the Singing Bells created by the Russian bell-master Alexander Zhikharev makes them comparable with the sound of organ. “This instrument speaks about peace, harmony and unity, not only sounds like it, but transmits these concepts to the core of the people who listen to it” – a note left in the Bells guest book by a young volunteer from Germany in 2012. During four decades of his research into natural resonance Alexander has developed the whole family of unique musical instruments, that allow us to get in touch with the music of cosmic vibrations. All his instruments are a wonder of resonance and I very much aspire that this miracle of sound serves at its best to the miracle of Auroville. And the bell-master is ready to contribute more of his special knowledge to Auroville.
I see the need of creating a proper place here for these exceptional instruments, a specially designed acoustic theatre, a Sacred Sound space, where listeners would be immersed in harmonious and healing musical vibrations. And not only to receive passively a very special musical experience, but to get a chance to participate in the creation of Harmony, to learn to play and be together in Harmony, with the help of the sound that is conducive to inner silence, meditation, contemplation and expression of deep inner feelings.
I feel also this kind of space would be very useful to such a globally important process of Auroville as the creation of the International Zone, where we are supposed to search and find “a true mission of each nation… and its true place in the terrestrial concert”. During the collective tuning sessions with the Russian Singing Bells together with the participants from different countries we focus precisely on exploring the feeling of being “in concert”. We learn to tune first to something deep within and then express it through sound. And gradually joining these inner sounds, we come to a musical interaction, where each one is intuitively finding a proper place for his sound, according to his inner feeling of beauty, adding to the totality of harmony. This brings a very joyful widening of consciousness, as one needs to play and listen at the same time, to be true to one’s own tone as well as to accept, appreciate and provide space for the tones of other fellow beings. And when there is a good will from all, we can tangibly experience what is to be truly One Human Instrument. For me this is the main message that this unique instrument brings to the collective experiment of Auroville: each one of us vibrates with a special tone, and however soft or loud, delicate or prominent, high or deep, indispensable for the total harmony. We just need to remember few simple things to let the Harmony manifest through us.
The project is gradually developing. I am now trying to summarize all my experience with this instrument and research into collective tuning on my web-site www.Russian-Singing-Bells.com. Also I have made several CD recordings. There are new lines coming up, like now we are discussing with the bell-master the possibility to produce these unique bell-plates in Auroville, and also to create a special sound-healing space with them. I do need help in all this, and I welcome all those who resonate with my aspirations and with these sounds: only together we can create something really beautiful. Thank you”.
Vera, in interview with Christian Feuillette, President of the AVI-Canada
Published in AVI-Canada bulletin, summer 2014, http://aurovillecanada.org/association/avicanada-bulletin2014/