Sunday, May 3, 2015

Temple Bell as Tuner

From Tsurezuregusa (Essays in Idleness 1330-1332):

Author Yoshida Kenku

The music at Tennoji is superior in that the instruments are tuned to standard pitch and the sounds blend better than elsewhere.  This is because the standard pitches going back to the time of Prince Shotoku (574-622 A.D.) are still preserved in the temple and used to guide us.  I refer to the bell before what is popularly known as the Six Hours Hall.  The sound of this bell is precisely oshiki. 

(Oshiki corresponds to the tonic note A.  It is interesting to note that this tone was used in both East and West for tuning.)

The pitch naturally rises or falls according to temperature.  We therefore take as our standard pitch the sound during the period in the second month (March) between the anniversary of the death of Buddha (Feb. 15) and the death of Prince Shotoku (April 8).  This is a secret tradition of our people.  We use this sound to determine the value of all others.

As a rule the pitch of a bell should be the tone of oshiki.  This tone evokes an atmosphere of transience.  It was the tone of the bells at the Monastery of Mutability at Gion Shoja.  The bell for Saionji was cast and recast again and again because they wished it to be in the oshiki tone, but in vain.  A bell was eventually found in a distant province.  The sound of the bell of the Jokongo-in is also in the oshiki tone.

Tunings of a few other temple bells with tonic, and sub-harmonics, if present:

1 Myoshini            E
2 Kanzeonji          A,E,C#,C
3 Todaiji               F
4 Shofukuji           F#,B,A
5 Onoejinja           Bb,B,F
6 Kimpusenji         F,G#,A
7 Kasaokidera         E,G#,B,Bb
8 Daikyodoji           Bb,G#,E
9 Kenchoji               F,G#,A
10 Engakuji             A,F#,E,G,B
11 Kanasawa           E
12 Isehara                A,C#,G#,F,E
13 Enjoji                 Bb,G#,G
14 Hokoji                D,Eb,G,G#,Bb ***
15 Chion-in              F#,A,Bb,C#
16 Asakusa-Kannon  E,Bb,G
17 Myoshini              A,E,C


 The bells are struck at dawn and sunset and in a special interval which is decided by the sutra the monk in charge is to recite in between and by his reading or reciting speed.--OA

One of the few bells in Japan with the tonic in D, Hokoji is the same pitch as Ro in the standard traditional 1.8 shakuhachi.  
A large singing bowl (with the same harmonics as the bell at Hokoji) beneath a 20 inch framed calligraphy by Tomimori Kyozan of the honkyoku title Taki Ochi.

Hokoji Bell
The bronze bells at Buddhist temples can be heard for distances of up to 20 miles (32 km) and require great craftsmanship in casting, with a failure rate of nearly 50 percent.