Wind chimes are popular decorations throughout the world. In the spring and summer, wind chimes are heard ringing across suburban lawns and city streets. Elegant and expensive or festive and cheap, wind chimes are readily available in home stores and gift shops. Wind chimes serve other purposes beyond being decorative noisemakers and have had various uses throughout history.
People have enjoyed wind chime music since the earliest days of civilization. Archeologists unearthed evidence of ancient wind chimes made of shells and bone at dig sites in Southeast Asia. Various forms of wind chimes were also discovered in ancient Greece and Egypt. The Chinese perfected the tonal precision of their bronze wind chime bells around 1100 BC. The Chinese connected the chimes to the ancient art of feng shui--the arrangement of objects to achieve peace and harmony. The Chinese believed that wind chimes connect people with nature and the body, creating a greater awareness of living in the moment that leads to a sense of well-being.
Wind chimes were often hung around Asian temples and thought to attract peaceful spirits while protecting against evil forces. Early on, Buddhists adopted wind chimes and wind-bells into various rituals and the chimes were hung in large numbers on temples, shrines, pagodas and caves. Later, the chimes became popular for secular and decorative purposes and were popular in homes and places of business. In many cultures, a prime purpose of wind chimes is to recall listeners to a seemingly contradictory state combining appreciation of the moment with a feeling of transcending the everyday world.
Prior to modern weather forecasting and technologies, wind chimes were used to detect early, minor changes in wind speeds that signaled oncoming storms. Wind chimes were used on ships and in farmer's fields to determine wind direction.
Wind chimes were, and still are, used to scare away evil spirits and hung in doorways and windows to dissuade bad luck from entering a home. The warning aspect of wind chimes is translated into modern culture through the movies. A common film motif is the ringing of wind chimes to signal imminent danger. For example, sounds of urgently ringing wind chimes are heard at tense moments in Martin Scorsese's 1991 version of "Cape Fear."
Farmers use wind chimes to frighten away birds and other pests. Farmers in Bali place bamboo wind chimes throughout rice fields to scare pests and bring the farmer good fortune and healthy crops. Hanging wind chimes near a bird feeder is counter-productive since few birds will brave ringing chimes to get a snack.
Wind chimes are usually constructed of a set of hanging rods of bamboo, metal, wood, and even ceramic and glass. A ringer hangs down in the center of the set and makes noise when wind causes it to contact the chimes. Wind chimes come in many sizes from tiny tubes worn as necklaces and earrings, to bronze bell chimes weighing hundreds of pounds. The most popular varieties are several feet in length and made of metal and bamboo tubes. They are hung indoors and outdoors on porches and decks. Wind chimes gained in popularity the 1970s when wind chime companies began developing the sophisticated, precision-tonal musical chimes available today. Contemporary metal wind chimes are available in tunable musical pitches. Some precision wind chimes also have specific cultural tunings including Japanese, Balinese and Hawaiian.
L. Bradley has been a freelance arts publicist and writer since 2003. She is a nationally exhibited artist and also writes for online and print publications, including "Southcoast Insider." Bradley holds an M.F.A. from the Massachusetts College of Art, as well as an M.A. in professional writing from the University of Massachusetts.