Friday, December 9, 2016

It's A Gong World After All

I remember when I first started playing Gongs, other than Paiste, there wasn't much available. Zildjian made a few Turkish style ones. UFIP, in Italy, made some, but they were often difficult to find. And China was still an enemy of the USA, so real Chinese Gongs were practically nonexistent. For most Asian Gongs, you had to know someone who knew someone; or you had to know an Asian American who had connections back in the mother country. And if you were fortunate enough to live on the West Coast, where Asian immigrants imported a lot of musical instruments from their homelands; or to be a scholar/researcher/word traveler who could go to Asia, you could pick them up yourself.

40 years ago I was buying buying bells at Pier One stores, because they actually carried a nice selection of bells from India. Then World Market (before they became just a food/wine/furniture retailer) came around and they had drums, bells, Gongs, and ethnic percussion. I got some of my 1st Gongs from Carroll Sound in New York City back in 1974. They Suppled exotic percussion to all the studios and orchestras in NYC, as well as universities. I bought some Gongs from Thailand and Japan from them. The only Chinese Gongs they had were from Taiwan, not mainland China. Today you can buy Gongs just about everywhere. I've seen them at Target (yes, but just cheap tourist Gongs for decoration, but Gongs none the less) and Singing Bowls at the food co-op. 

From Carroll Sound's catalog, early 1970s

So now everybody has a Singing Bowl and/or a Gong, but they know little or nothing about them. It's nice if you can get a Ph.D. in ethnomusicality, or travel/live in the Orient, or just get to know the local Llama/Monk in your neighborhood/city so you can find out a few things about the instruments you have. But most people don't have those type of opportunities. 

While nothing beats first hand knowledge, there is the internet. It is possible to do a lot of research, finding written, audio, and video, covering instruments and their uses, history and ethnic traditions, as well as modern applications. There are also books and recordings available. This all takes time and hard work—think of it as being a detective searching for clues and answers—but it's worth it.

Don't just play. Know.

~ MB

In the next post, we'll look at the roll of tradition in all this.

Chop Wood / Carry Water / Play Gongs™

Saturday, December 3, 2016

How Should You Face?

Today's blog comes from this week's mail box. A question was asked, 
“Although I originally learned and observe others playing the gong with their back to receivers, gong facing them, I've changed that so that I can occasionally look up to check on my students. What is your opinion?”
 What way to face? I usually have my Gongs behind me and face away from the people. As a drummer, this just evolved out of having my Gongs behind my drum set years ago. I still set up that way today, partly out of habit, partly out of practicality, especially in a concert situation. 

Circa 1980: drums in front, Gongs in back.

Circa 2015: drum in front, Gongs in back.

So naturally, in a Gong Meditation Session, I usually have the Gongs in the back, with Bells and Bowls in the front. It's more of a circular set up where I move around and face different ways, depending on what instruments I'm playing. But if I'm working with a Yoga teacher, or something similar, I will usually be behind the Gongs so I can watch what's happening.

Me: Gongs behind, Bowls in front. Kenny Kolter: Gong in front, Bowls on the side.

There's no real rules on this. I know people who face toward, and people who face away. Whatever is most comfortable for you is the most important thing. 

Another question I get is “How should the session participants face?” I know some people who say, “You should lay with your head facing the Gongs, so the energy goes into your Crown Chakra.” Personally, I don't suggest or prefer any position for participants. I always start a session by offering various suggestions: laying with your head towards the Gongs, or away from the Gongs. I also tell people to feel free to sit up if they're more comfortable. Also, feel free to change position. I have found that it's more important for people to be comfortable than to all be in a predetermined position. Besides, we are all different, and you may receive more benefit from one position, while your neighbor will from a different position. It's important to remain fluid in all things.

Thanks to Tamara for the original question!


Chop Wood / Carry Water / Play Gongs™

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Journey is the Destination

Today, more musings on questions recently asked. This time, I look at what we really do. Someone was asking, “Is there a goal to our playing?” Another way to look at it is, should we look towards an endpoint when we are playing?

This is an interesting question. In the modern world, we are brought up in an atmosphere of winning is everything. It seems all our activities have as their purpose, getting better grades, making more money, acquiring more things. But in our quest for all this, we have lost our direction and veered off the path. We are wandering around in the weeds of material gain, looking for a destination.

The important thing to realize when we play the Gongs/Bowls/Bells, is that there is no destination

The journey itself is the destination. 

It's important to be in the moment, to be fully present when playing. Too often we can be sidetracked by thinking ahead, thinking about some imagined ending, or result. But by being so focused ahead, we miss the now. We miss what is going on around us in real time.

When seeing, just see; when hearing, just hear; when knowing, just know; and when thinking, just think. (Udana 1.10) The Buddha 

By being present in the now, we can enjoy the process, the unfolding of things. We are also not slaves to expectation, instead letting things exist at their own pace. When you are not in the present, you miss everything. You miss the beauty of the sound, the connection, the self in the moment. Don't deny yourself the pleasure of the present moment.

Be here now - Ram Dass

~ MB

Chop Wood / Carry Water / Play Gongs™

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

How Should You Store Your Gongs?

Today's blog comes from FaceBook, where someone posted asking about how to store your Gongs. This is a great question that I haven't really seen covered before.

The prevailing thought that I have seen from people is to store them horizontally, laying them on their face, stacking multiple Gongs on top/inside each other. This is perfectly fine, as long as you protect the face of each Gong with carpet/blankets/etc. Many people will say not to store them vertically on their edge because they can become damaged. I have to say that this is incorrect.

I have around 200 Gongs and cymbals, and in over 40+ year of being a percussionist, I have always stored them vertically on their edge. In that time I have not had any instrument become damaged from being stored on the edge!

Gravity alone will not damage a Gong stored on its edge!

The only way you will damage a Gong stored on its edge is if you purposely push down on it against the floor, drop it, store something heavy on top of it, or kick/knock them over. Otherwise, they will just sit there and be fine.

If you were to visit a factory or warehouse of one of the major Gong and cymbal companies, you will find that they all store their Gongs and cymbals on edge, in racks. I was at the Paiste warehouse in Los Angeles last summer and all their Gongs and cymbals were stacked in rows, on edge, one in front of the other, or side by side, The cymbals were in plastic bags, while the Gongs were in boxes ready to be shipped. [Yes, I know the Paiste website advises to store them flat , but they store them upright in their own storage, both in America and Germany].

Gongs in racks at the Paiste factory

Cymbals in racks at Paiste factory

Oetken Gongs in racks at the factory

Cymbal racks at UFIP in Italy

Cymbal racks at SABIAN in Canada

Cymbal racks at Zildjian in the USA

The important thing is not to store them on a very hard or rough surface, like concrete, that could damage the edge. Make sure there is a softer surface under them, like wood, rubber, or carpeting. Also make sure that they are secure and won't either fall over, or be kicked/knocked over. If you have bags or cases, store them in there. I store many of my extra Gongs, size 13" - 24" in 2 Paiste cymbal racks that I got from a music store I used to work in. The racks are metal, but have rubber edges where the Gongs/cymbals rest.

Paiste cymbal racks with Gongs in my studio

Larger Gongs, 26" and up, are either hanging on my racks or stored in cases. Smaller Gongs, 6" - 12", are usually leaning against the wall or a large case, with carpeting underneath them. Some extra Gongs hang on hooks around the edge of my studio as space permits. My large cymbals are all in bags leaning on the wall of one side of my studio, while smaller cymbals, 13" and under, are leaning against the wall in rows.

If you have the space and prefer, you can store them face down on a shelf, either in bags/cases, or on something soft like carpeting (I don't recommend them laying on the floor because they can be stepped on). Make sure to have something between stacked Gongs, like towels, foam, or something else that is soft. Or of you want to store them vertically like I have described above, please do. Either way will work.

~ MB

Chop Wood / Carry Water / Play Gongs™

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Working With Instruments You Don't Like

I hand pick most of my instruments. I play through a lot of different ones to find the ones that will work for me. But sometimes I buy things online, based on sound files/videos, or just a general knowledge of what it will most likely sound like. 

In both cases, sometimes when I get the instrument home, and start playing it, there is a sense of disappointment, or a feeling of “That doesn't sound like I thought it would.” This can often be attributed to the changing acoustics of different rooms, or even my own changing mood from day to day. But sometimes things just don't sound the way I had hoped they would. What's a person to do?

A first reaction might be to dump it, sell it online and hopefully recoup all, or most, of what I spent for it. But a better thing to do is to live with it, to work with it, to give it time to sink in. 

As humans, we are most attuned to familiarity. 

We like familiar music, clothes, food, etc. Often, something different puts us off. The same can be said for our instruments. But I have found that over time, instruments that I was not initially excited over, often became important sounds for what I do.

A good example of this is a new instrument I recently bought online from someone I trust. The video sounded good, but when I played it in my studio, I was underwhelmed by it. After my initial dislike, I decided to give it some time and work with it. I changed the mounting and worked with various types of mallets. I also played it with all my other instruments to hear how it could fit in and be a new and different voice. Over the course of the past month, I have adjusted to its sound and found how it can fit in with my set up. Surprisingly, it has gotten a lot of positive comments from people at my sessions. They like how it sounds different from my other sounds and, some people have really identified with it. Just think if I had dumped it right away.

Sometimes our ears need time to adjust to unfamiliar sounds.

This same scenario has played out many times in the past 40 years. And in each instance, I have taken the time to get to know the instrument, letting it show me what it can do, and how I can play it to yield a wide variety of sounds. And sometimes I just put something away for a month or two, then pull it out again with fresh ears ready to give it a new listen. I can honestly say that there's only one thing that I ended up selling to someone else, and that's because it never fit into the sound of all my other instruments.

Nothing worthwhile ever comes easy. So before you give up on an instrument that you just bought, take the time to both work with, and get familiar with it. Time is on your side.

~ MB

Chop Wood / Carry Water / Play Gongs™

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Gongs of Compassion

“In the Buddhist tradition, compassion and love are seen as two aspects of same thing: compassion is the wish for another being to be free from suffering; love is wanting them to have happiness.” ~ The Dalai Lama
Compassion, something the world seems to be lacking in today. We only need to turn on the TV, or go on the internet, to see so many acts of disregard for our fellow humans. When people come to your sessions, please think about them, and think about the struggles and abuse in their lives that they may be bringing with them. Do not play your Gongs disregarding that. While we may have become more connected then ever with the internet, we often find our lives lacking real human interaction and connection. 

When people come to your sessions, welcome them with both compassion and love. 

Realize that the hour or two spent with you should be a safe haven from the outside world. Listen to their hearts and souls, and connect with their energy. Have compassion for them and truly wish for them to be free from suffering of all types. Make this your intention, your mantra. And when the session is over, expect them to leave feeling better than when they arrived. Also expect them to carry compassion home with them, so that they may give it to others in need.

One Universe
One Humanity
One Vibration

Make compassion your religion…

~ MB

Chop Wood / Carry water/ Play Gongs / Be Compassionate

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Ritual as Practice - Ritual as Liberation


adjective rit·u·al  \ˈri-chə-wəl, -chəl; ˈrich-wəl\

Simple Definition of ritual

  • : done as part of a ceremony or ritual
  • : always done in a particular situation and in the same way each time

We often look at ritual as something we do over and over that takes discipline. But that assigns a negative connotation to it, because we often see discipline as something negative, like it's a punishment. 

It takes discipline to get up in the morning when we want to stay in bed. 
It takes discipline to not eat the bag of cookies.
It takes discipline to do our practice.

But ritual is far from being something negative. In fact, it is something that can lead us to liberation. Think of that. Who wouldn't want to feel liberated?

“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro' narrow chinks of his cavern.” 
― William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell     

Ritual at first might just seem redundant: “I'm doing this again, like I did yesterday, and the day before that, and the day before that, etc.” But the beauty is, as you persevere, a transformation takes place. Ritual is like a locked door that you try to open everyday, and everyday, you manage to turn the door handle just a little bit, until one time it turns all the way and the door opens. 

What is on the other side of that door? Liberation.

Liberation in various forms. 
One form is that your ritual is now a habit. It flows easier, it moves easier. 
Your ritual is now also something you look forward to. 
Your ritual is now a part of you and you are a part of it.
Your ritual expands you mind, your body, your spirit, and most importantly, your awareness.

This expansion liberates you. It allows new ideas, new information, new visions to come in. Your creativity shifts and becomes the process that removes the door completely, leaving just the portal.

Repetition is what allows something brand new to occur. Repetition, like the lapping of ripples against a rock, gently shifts the ground on which we tread, and so alters our relationship to the things we experience.
—Anne C. Klein, "Revisiting Ritual"

So keep up with your practice. And when you feel like turning away, feel like abandoning it, don't. This is when the door is ready to open, so stay with it.

~ MB

Chop Wood / Carry Water /Play Gongs™