Music in the Wind

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | Feb 07, 2009

"There is a strange music in the stirring wind."
William Lisle Bowles

This past Christmas I received a most fascinating gift from Melissa, my Administrative Assistant...a bamboo wind chime. This particular wind chime was made by artisans on Luzon, the largest and most populous island in the Philippines. As soon as I read the card which was enclosed with this exquisite gift, I knew I had to learn more. 

Evie and I love wind chimes. Several years ago we placed a large one in the branches of the old pine tree just off our back porch. We can hear those soothing sounds throughout our house whenever the wind blows. Each season the wind has its own message telling us of spring showers, summer thunderstorms, breezes with falling leaves, and chilling snow drift winds. 

But we did not know that wind chimes have been around for a long time spanning cultures, continents and uses. In fact, the wind chime has been called one of the world's first musical instruments going back almost 5000 years. The first evidence of wind chimes has been found at archeological sites in South East Asia. 

Wind chimes can be made of just about any kind of material and shape. You can find them in copper, glass, pewter, stones, aluminum, silverware, seashells, bamboo, etc. They are made in all shapes and sizes. 

A whistle or pipe organ makes their sounds by the length of the instrument through which the air vibrates. The pipe material helps determine the voice of the pipe, but the air column determines the pitch. In a wind chime, the pipe itself is being struck and the air column has little to do with the sound, especially if the pipe is a solid cylinder. 

Wind chimes have had numerous purposes. Asian cultures have long believed that using wind chimes could ease the mind, body and soul. Used in conjunction with meditation, the gentle tones work to reduce the everyday stresses of life. 

Some Asian cultures have used them for their religious purposes. The sounds were believed to welcome good and friendly spirits and to scare the evil spirits away. The chimes were hung in every corner of the home to keep the home safe from evil spirits. 

Probably the most historical use of wind chimes was in agriculture. Throughout history farmers have used wind chimes in the fields to scare away birds and other animals. There are still farmers today that use this technique with positive results. 

Wind chimes have also been used to forecast the weather. Farmers, sailors and loggers made short-term forecasts by observing the wind speed and direction. For example, winds blowing off a large body of water may bring cooler temperatures in the summer. Winds from the north or south can indicate a storm or a change in the temperature and the speed of the wind can inform us of weather intensity. 

Today, we know that wind chimes are precision-tuned, as someone said, " they can produce a melody as inviting, sweet and clear as the song sung by pristine waters cascading down a mountain side on a hot summer's day." They are carefully crafted by size and materials so that even the slightest wind can make a beautiful melody. 

If you do not have one, you can start out wind chiming with a very small one or you can even make your own. If you are very serious about the music of the wind, you can purchase one for over $3000. 

Wind chimes have come a long way since their banging and clanging days of ancient history. As we listen to ours we are reminded of their rich history but we are also informed of beautiful sounds which enhance any season of the year. 

Thank you, Melissa, for keeping us connected with the music of the wind. 

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of 
Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA 
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