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Showing posts from 2017

The Art of Breathing

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If you play trumpet, sax, piano, or even strings, chances are that you were taught to breathe with your phrasing. This then becomes a natural part of your practice and performance. But I have often found that percussionists tend to hold their breath! 

There seems to be this sense of extreme concentration, where the breath is held until the musical figures are completed. Then a quick breath, and the process repeats itself. Is it any wonder some music sounds stilted? In order for rhythm to sound flowing and continual, it needs to breathe.

This is especially true of playing long lasting sounds, like Gongs, bowls, and bells. It's important to find the breathing rhythm that works with your performance.



EXERCISE #1:

Take a breath. Then start by striking your Gong/bowl/bell and breathing out at the same time. Feel your breath move out with the sound. Notice how as the sound fades, so does your breath. When both breath and sound have faded enough, take another breath in and repeat the process…

528Hz, 432Hz, and Other Fallacies

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OK people, it's time to get real and actually do some reading and research, instead of just passing around articles that are so blatantly false! The latest one to come across my desk from Facebook is: The Healing Benefits of 528 Hz & Other Solfeggio Frequencies. Follow the link and take a minute to read through this article.


“I don't really care if it's true or not, it's just fun and interesting.  I'm sure you'll feel the same.”
Can 432Hz save the world? (photo from: Forever Conscious)
Let's get real here. As a professional musician, I care about whether something like this is “true or not.” I also don't find bogus information masquerading as science “fun.” Let's look at some of the “fun” ideas this article presents:

There is NO conspiracy to change our musical scales away from some “ancient and sacred 6-tone scale” to something sinister and menacing.The Solfeggio system is just one of many, many musical systems used throughout history. To say that…

Practical Matters: Regular Maintenance

It's been a busy summer here (hence the lack of posting) and I've found myself thinking of various things while gigging. Here's a list of quick maintenance tips:
Whenever you set up your Gongs, check the Gong cord for fraying and make sure the knot is still tight. There's nothing worse than having a Gong fall off your rack! I always have some spare cord in one of my cases in case I need to make a quick replacement.Also check your Gongs/Bowls/Bells for wear. Nothing is indestructible. It's possible to crack or dent/bend your instruments, especially during travel. Regularly check each instrument out to make sure it's fine. Cracks can ruin a good instrument, but if caught early, they can often be drilled & filed to keep them from spreading, keeping your Gong usable for months/years to come. Note: never pack your Gongs and stands together! You are just asking for trouble. Always keep Gongs and stands in separate bags and/or cases.Check your mallets. It's the…

I Don't Know Everything (And Never Will)

The deeper I get into this sound thing, the more I realize that I don't know. Even after all these years of playing with sound, I still find new sounds, new vibrations, everyday. Playing the Gongs/Bowls/Bells can be compared to things like Yoga, exercise, etc. You don't practice Yoga, or workout, and then one day stop, because you have reached your ideal weight, or some sort of goal. If you do stop, for most people, everything that you worked for will eventually start to fade away. 

Playing the Gongs/Bowls/Bells is the same way. No one can ever reach a point where they can honestly say, “I've done it all, created all the sounds I ever can.” It's an ongoing process. The last few performances I did, found me doing a lot of things I've never done before and creating new and different sounds. While these things happened in the moment, none of them were by accident. They were all the result of years of hard work and exploration with the instruments I have.

I keep at it. I…

The Way of Mindfulness

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The water is warm, with bubbles dancing on the surface. I immerse my hands and pull out a plate, feeling its porcelain smoothness against my skin. It drips a steady, diminishing stream back into the water as I pick up the dish rag, then make a series of steady swirls across the white surface. The little clumps of dried food are released and disappear beneath the bubbles. The room is quiet and I can hear my own breathing as I rinse the plate and position it in the drying rack. I repeat these steps with more plates, then cups, then tableware. There is a serenity about it. I focus on what I'm doing. The water is warm. The air is cool. These sensations dance across my skin. There is nothing else in this moment. I am content.


Mindfulness

Mindfulness is just another term for paying attention. Too often in today's world we are constantly distracted by sights and sounds crowding into our personal space. We always seem to have our phone, our computer, our television, or some other distra…

The Alchemy and the Ecstasy

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alchemy [al-kuh-mee] 


noun, plural alchemies for 2, 3.
1.
a form of chemistry and speculative philosophy practiced in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance and concerned principally with discovering methods for transmuting baser metals into gold and with finding a universal solvent and an elixir of life.  2.
any magical power or process of transmuting a common substance, usually of little value, into a substance of great value.  3.
any seemingly magical process of transforming or combining elements into something new.
Alchemy

For me it's a ritual. I play these sounds, these vibrations—and I try to transform them into something else, something more. I also try to use them to transform my surroundings. This idea of transformation is really central to working with sound, as sound is a very strong and transformative force. Think about how you feel when you listen to your favorite song or composition. What does it do to you, to your state of mind, your feelings? 

Think of chanting, singing toget…

Every Step of the Way

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This has been a long journey. My personal history with the Gong started over 40 years ago. This blog has been around for over 3 years/129 posts now. I haven't gotten this far without commitment every step of the way. Even when I'm tired, angry, frustrated, or any of a thousand seeming emotions, I can always come back to the sound. 

It is my life. 
It is my refuge.

I'm not as young as I was all those years ago, and carrying around all these instruments and stands is not as easy as it once was. 

I complain.
I Swear.
I wonder why I'm still doing this.

Atlas Shrugged
But it all becomes clear when I pick up the mallets and start bringing forth the sounds: “This is why I continue to do this.” Who wouldn't want to do this? 

It's magic. 
It's amazing. 
It gives so much back for the effort I put into it.

I have learned patience. I have learned devotion. I have developed a deep spiritual practice. And it's all connected to the sounds. It's well over 40 years now and I…

The Art of Devotion

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Devotion is an often misunderstood word and concept. Most people think of it in a religious way, as in being devoted to some sort of deity. Or they think of being devoted to a spouse/lover/family. Or quite often, being devoted to a sports team, as in being a devoted follower. But devotion is actually different from that.




The word devotion comes from the Latin, devotus, which means to vow, or consecrate


vow
vou/ noun 1. a solemn promise.
a set of promises committing one to a prescribed role, calling, or course of action, typically to marriage or a monastic career. verb 1.
solemnly promise to do a specified thing.

2. archaic dedicate to someone or something, especially a deity.

con·se·crate
ˈkänsəˌkrāt/ verb make or declare (something, typically a church) sacred; dedicate formally to a religious or divine purpose.
Be Devoted

How many of us are really devoted to our sound practice? It's often easy to look at instruments like Gongs, Bowls, and Bells and think, “There's really not much to them. …

Your Life is Your Practice

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Playing the Gongs/Bowls/Bells is a Journey. It's a commitment. It's a transformational experience.

The question is asked, “Where do I start?”

The answer always is, “Here.”
Here and now. Now and here. Here now. Now here.

There is only ever now. - Singal Rinpoche 

Too often there is waiting.  Waiting for the right time. Waiting for the urge. Waiting for the inspiration. Waiting for permission. Waiting for the fear to subside. Waiting for the world to welcome us. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting.
But in the moment there is no waiting, just doing.
Waiting is passive.
Doing is active.
Make the time, take the time, to play your instruments. To explore. To practice. 

Bring your life into it. Buy food. Cook dinner. Wash dishes. Do laundry. Chop wood. Carry water. Play Gongs. Live your life, but pay attention to how everything is connected. Pay attention to how everything enriches your musical experience. 

~ MB
Chop wood / Carry water / Play Gongs™ 

Transcendence Is An Artform

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When you reach the horizon, there is still the horizon ahead of you. - Singal Rinpoche
As a species, mankind is always striving for new horizons. We seem to have a restless spirit, that despite various set backs over history, continually moves ahead. It seems that we are predestined to not just sit still, but to explore and discover the universe around us. A big part of this is our personal universe, for we all contain worlds within.

As an artist, whether you dance, sing, paint, sculpt, or play an instrument, there is often this sense of the act of doing our art being a sacred sacrament. It's no accident that religions throughout history have used music and other arts as a way to reach the divine. If anything, the arts are a bridge to another world, to the heavens.

Who hasn't been moved by the exquisite motion of a dancer, the plaintive voice of a singer yearning for a lost love, the grace of a marble sculpture, or the way a painting reveals new worlds. There is transcendence in …

The Art of Deep Listening

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Deep Listening—I didn't invent the term, but wished I had. The term actually comes from the late composer/performer, Pauline Oliveros. In short, deep listening is a way of hearing in which you are fully present. You listen to both the inner world (your mind, breathing, pulse, etc.), and the outer world (all sounds around you). The idea is to become fully aware of all the sounds around you. Through this heightened awareness, you become aware of sounds, and parts of sounds, that you haven't heard before. 

Oliveros said that “Listening is not the same as hearing and hearing is not the same as listening.” Hearing is a passive activity. We hear sounds all the time: traffic, the TV, birds, etc. And for most of it, we don't really pay attention—it's just background noise that blends into our environment. Active listening, on the other hand, is just that: active. We become participants in and with the sound. We notice our sonic environment and how it exists around us. We also l…

There's A Beauty In The Process

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Everyone wants to be a Gongmaster. Not only that, but everyone wants to become one in a week or two. That's all part of today's world of instant gratification. But this instant gratification is an illusion. It's like fast food: it fills you up, but doesn't nourish you, so an hour later you are hungry again.

And so too being a Gongmaster. Ah yes, you took a weekend course and learned what you thought was all you needed to know about Gongs, Singing Bowls, or Bells. Now you called up a few yoga studios and are presenting sound healing or sound therapy sessions. Stop fooling yourself. You have mastered nothing!

The Destination Is Never The Goal


This is only the beginning of a life long process. The destination is never the goal. The journey to the destination is the goal. Think about life: the destination is death. Are we all looking forward to dying, focused on that event? No, we are all out there living, making the journey, and hopefully enjoying it. The same too with becom…

Giving Your Practice A Voice

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As I always do, I had a Q&A/Sharing time after last night's sound session. If there is time, I like to offer this, because people often have questions about all the different instruments, how I play them, what made what sound, etc. We also share our experiences, as everyone's is different and personal. Experiences like physical sensations, spiritual journeys, or audio/visual stimulation.




Voice As Meditation

Part of this is people explaining what they heard. Last night various people said they heard voices. This is a two fold experience. 

1) Sound is deeply linked to memory. Often we hear things that sound like something we have heard before. In the case of the Gongs/Bowls/Bells, these instruments cover a very wide frequency range, and various sound/frequencies may trigger a memory of voices or vocal sounds. I have had people say that they hear singing, or choirs. I've also had people describe hearing strings or orchestras, which is a very similar type sound.




2) Hearing voi…

Art As A Spiritual Practice

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If there's one thing long time readers should pick up from following my blogs, it's that I see my art as a spiritual practice.
A spiritual practice or spiritual discipline (often including spiritual exercises) is the regular or full-time performance of actions and activities undertaken for the purpose of inducing spiritual experiences and cultivating spiritual development. - Wikipedia
In it's purest sense, spirituality has very little to do with organized religion. In fact, rather than being a group exercise, it is a very personal experience. Throughout history, artists have often been the keepers of a sense of spirituality in our various cultures. 

I look at my own path, one of being raised Catholic, then delving into mysticism (such as Rosicrucianism), and finally ending up where I exist today, extremely interested in Buddhist thought and practice, yet not belonging to any group experience or practice. 

John Cage at Ryoanji
Experience As Meditation

Like many before me, I have …