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The Importance of Ritual

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ritual
noun rit·u·al
1:  the established form for a ceremony; specifically:  the order of words prescribed for a religious ceremony
2a:  ritual observance; specifically:  a system of rites  b:  a ceremonial act or action  c:  an act or series of acts regularly repeated in a set precise manner
(from Merriam-Webster)

Ritual. We see them all around us, some conspicuous, some slightly obscured. We see them in our religions, in our businesses, in our clubs and sports. Some of us may even have rituals that we do. 

A good example of a ritual is in sports. A lot of athletes go through some sort of pre-game ritual. Maybe they listen to their favorite inspiring music, or meditate, or have talisman/lucky charms with them. They may get dressed in exactly the same way each time, for example, always put the left sock on first, keeping things in the same order.

We may look at these rituals as outsiders and think they are silly or meaningless. We might also snarkly refer to them as voodoo or su…

The Essence and Power of Tradition

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The instruments we play—Gongs, Bowls, Bells—come with deep lineage and and long lasting traditions. There is power there. There is magic. There is superstition. And there is also a lot of bull shit.

It's almost 2017, and as modern and developed as mankind has become, it has also lost touch with so much rich and varied tradition handed down over the ages. In many ways we have become so blind in our quest for the future, that we have forgotten the past.

Philippine Gong tradition
Here's a test:
Go out in your neighborhood, or your local park. How many tree species can you actually identify and name, besides oaks and maples? The same thing goes for both flowers and weeds. It wasn't that long ago that people were much more connected with their surroundings and could identify them. In many cases it was a life of death matter to know your plants: which ones are safe to eat, which ones will kill you.Do you know that there are a lot of city kids who have never seen a live animal beside…

It's A Gong World After All

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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 …

How Should You Face?

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Today's blog comes fromthis 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 behi…

The Journey is the Destination

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Today, more musings on questionsrecently 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 go…

How Should You Store Your Gongs?

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Today's blog comes fromFaceBook, 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/…

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, sometimeswhen 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 sa…

Gongs of Compassion

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“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 LamaCompassion, 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 f…

Ritual as Practice - Ritual as Liberation

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Ritual


1 ritual adjectiverit·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 jus…

The Light Through the Cracks in Your Life

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Everything in the Universe is broken in some way. 
Nothing is perfect. 

But in being broken everything is perfect. This state of broken perfection is a state of both change and growth. It it through the cracks in our lives, the very cracks we try to hide and avoid, that the light comes into our lives. And not just light, but sound, as they are both vibrational forms of the same Universe. 


Kintsugi - the Japanese art of fixing broken pottery  with gold and lacquer to transform it into a new art object.
As you do your practice, as you meditate, do not shut yourself off. Do not close yourself up. Be open. Let the cracks appear, as they are not the wounds you think they are, but are: 

Doors to expansion.
Doors to opportunity.
Doors to the real you.

How often when you were hurt or lost have you reached for the sound?

Turned on the radio.
Hummed or sung to yourself.
Played your instruments.

And how did that make you feel? Don't wait for those difficult moments to reach for the sound. 

Do it now. 
Let …

Cultivating A Practice Through the Art of Drowning

We've all had that day, the day we feel too tired, or too busy, or too scattered, or too…name a thousand things. I go through that. I go through that with Yoga, with music, with meditating, with writing, with all the things I do. But when we're too tired, or busy, or scattered, that's the time we need our practice the most.

The practice is enough in itself.
I resist.
I make excuses.
I procrastinate.
I tell myself lies.

Yet when I finally say yes, I am grateful. I am grateful because I am doing it for myself. Too often our modern society makes us feel guilty if we take time for ourselves. Other people tell us, “You really need to do this for me right now.” 

Right now. 
Well, right now is for me.
Right now is my time.

If you were drowning, I would stop to save you. But have you ever stopped to think that I may be drowning inside? That maybe I need to save myself? 

I drown a little bit everyday.
I drown little bit everyday and no one sees it but me, because I try not to advertise it, to …

The Art of the Tea Way

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“The art of the Tea Way consists simply of boiling water, preparing tea and drinking it.” Sen no Rikyū (1522-1591), Way of Tea Simple advice—boil water, prepare tea, drink it—but not always easy to do. The world has become such a fast paced place. Our modern existence owes much to being connected, being scheduled, and, being busy. Sometimes part of that is making things more complicated than they need be. We've become so used to things being busy, being complicated, that we forget how to let go and let things just be.



In his time, Rikyū took what what had become an elaborate and ostentatious tea ceremony, discarding everything he felt was not needed and detracted from the essence of drinking the tea itself.  This new tea style owed a lot to the simplicity of Zen thought, as well as the Japanese idea of wabi-sabi. The idea of wabi-sabi is to make things simple, natural, and serene. For Rikyū, this meant ridding the tea ceremony of all unneeded trappings, including the movements made…

The Gong Has No Religion

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First off: this is blog post number 101 of The Way of the Gong™! Little did I know some 2 ½ years ago, that I would even reach 100 blog posts, let alone still be writing this. Thanks for all your questions, comments, and most of all, for reading these past 100 posts. Here's to the next 100!
The Gong Has No Religion

While Gongs, Bowls, and Bells have been around for hundreds, even thousands of years, to label any of them as belonging to a religion/spirituality, or exclusively to any one tradition, is a dangerous claim. The instruments themselves are made of metals dug out of the earth, and forged into form by fire and hammering. They have no built in meaning or value, as they are merely objects. Any sort of meaning we find attached to them is assigned to them by man. 


This is an inanimate metal object
For example, the Singing Bowl. It is often associated with Tibet, monks, monastaries, and secret rituals that are unknown to the Western world. While there is evidence of them being used …

The Essential Essence of Rhythm & Melody

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I was recently out in California where I had the chance to play with a fantastic sax/woodwind player. He also happens to be a Gong & Singing Bowl collector, so I was able to use his instruments, instead of having to bring anything out there with me (except a bag of mallets). Being in a situation like this really tests you. On one hand, I wasn't able to go to my usual sounds and ideas. But on the other hand, I was free to come up with new sounds and ideas. It was also the first time we had played together, so I was starting from a blank canvas in many ways. 

Now in retrospect, I can look at what I really brought with me, which was years of practicing and performing in many situations, as well as years of searching and experimenting with sounds. The launching point for everything I do musically, is that I was trained as a percussionist. I can't help that because percussion is me, is in my blood, is in my soul. I say this because I realize that a lot of people who play Gongs/B…