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Time Being - Being Time

TIME IS INSIDE OF US, Dogen Zeni says in his essay “Uji’ (“Being-Time”) from the Shobogenzo. It is our essential nature. What does this mean, and what is time according to Dogen? He writes, “Time is not separate from you, and as you are present, time does not go away.... People only see time's coming and going, and do not thoroughly understand that the time-being abides in each moment.”  - Katherine Thanas, from The Truth of This Life

What is the nature of time in our work? It's easy to see time in a linear fashion: past to present to future, but it is an illusion. 

We can't live in the past. 
We can't live in the future. 
We can only live in the present.

Working with Gongs, Bowls, and Bells is perfect for bringing your sense of time to the present. Each strike and the resulting sound is a reminder of the here, the now. The sound has a way of snapping our minds to attention. There is no thinking about the past, no thinking about the future. We are confronted with the now, wh…

Evolution Revolution Convolution

We live in a dynamic Universe wherechange is a constant. Even if you somehow manage to stay unvarying, the world around you will change and eventually move away from you. I'm sure most, if not all of us, should be able to look back on the last 5, 10, 20, or more years and see a continual change in our work. Sometimes it may be big leaps that move into new territories. Other times it may be a more subtle refinement of what we are doing. But there is change none the less.

I look back upon my own career and see a steady evolution built upon both exploring new ideas, and refining old ones. I recall in the past when my idea was one of creating a large shifting fabric of vibrations. There was an intense amount of energy released, in a sometimes almost cataclysmic way. It was forceful. It was intense. It was too much at times.

But as I went on, I learned to trust silence and invite it in. I found that without it, how could you appreciate all the intense sound? 

Silence lets us know sound. 
S…

The Art of Not Teaching

I've taught drums and percussion since the mid 1970s. In all that time, I've learned to get out of the way and not teach. I try to be more of a coach, guide, cheer leader than anything. I don't have a set system that I use with everyone. Yes, I often use the same materials, but I might use a different approach with different students. I really don't like that cookie cutter approach to learning.

I assess the needs of each student and show them ideas that may help them along their own path. Sometimes I just play albums and talk, getting them to listen to things that demonstrate ways they can create music. Other than beginning students, I dispense with the rudiments very quickly. I see no use to spend your time with me, playing paradiddles, when you can do that at home all week long. I'd much rather give you something to think about and work on, perhaps in a more conceptual way.

And it's that way in all my lessons, “Here's the basics. Grasp them. Now let's m…

The Selling of Gongs As Snake Oil

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There's a sucker born every minute” is a phrase that was popular among gamblers and confidence men in the past. They often used sleight of hand, or double talk, in order to bilk ordinary people out of their money and property.

And things haven't changed much today. With the amazing growth and popularity of using Gongs for personal or group therapy/healing/meditation, there has also been a rise in people hoping to find a sucker to sell their snake oil to.

Today's subject has pinned the BullShit Meter totally into the red…




This advertisement for a 4-day Gong Masters Training Workshop, came across my radar recently. Please check it out here.




They make some interesting claims, throw in some flowery new age language filled with buzz words (Gong master, cosmic, life transforming, ancient, powerful, activation), and make some amazing promises. I have to say that I'm impressed. But what really gets me is the very last sentence at the bottom, after the list of What You Learn:
“This…

It's All About The Rhythm

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Rhythm, it's all around us, we can't really escape it, but some Gong players seem to. I watch a lot of Gong videos and am amazed at how many I see where the player seems to be just haphazardly hitting the Gong! A stroke here, a hit there, maybe another just for good measure.

As a trained percussionist, maybe I can't help but think in rhythm. It comes to me as natural as breathing. But apparently, others don't think that way at all.

Here's a question I recently came across on Facebook:


I am currently working with Neptune Paiste planet gong and I find that whilst I work through intuition I seem to always end up playing rhythmically. The rhythms change but it is still rhythmical. I enjoy, and so far, those I have played for also enjoy but I often watch other players, normally with much larger gongs striking / stroking with much less rhythm. Am I going to have to wait for a bigger gong before I can start to just allow the wave of sound to fully rise and fall without the n…

A Look Back - Happy Blog Anniversaries!

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On March 15, 2014, my hand pushed send on the 1st post of this blog, Mindful Listening. A lot has happened since then, including 145 more blog posts. Like my other blogs, this started out as some thoughts and ideas that I needed to get out of my brain. There was never an objective, or a goal to reach for. There was never a timeline or overall theme or plot. Most of the time I don't look beyond the next post I'm writing. Most of the time I have absolutely no idea what I'm going to write for my next post. But ideas kept presenting themselves, and before I knew it, it's 4 years later.




A Writer's Life
It helps that besides being a musician, I'm also a writer by trade. I've been writing as long as I can remember. When I was a little kid, I used a typewriter we had at home to put out a little newspaper where I would make up news stories and show it to my family. I was always writing stories. In high school, I got involved in the school paper. And I just kept writin…

Should You Study Gongs?

Another interesting week on Facebook, with a large discussion where someone asked whether you should study with anyone if you play Gongs. Here's a comment that discussion that I often hear echoed by various people:
You do not need a teacher. Explore your gong and it will teach! Just as it taught the first gong master who then self proclaimed to be a masterI find this very short sighted, and frankly, a load of crap. It's a very simplistic idea that really does a disservice to those who have studied diligently for years. Let's take a look at it.

You do not need a teacher. Explore your gong and it will teach!

As I said, this is a very simplistic statement. One thing with the Gong, is that it is very easy to play in a basic manner. There is no need to develop special technique, like you would in playing a wind or string instrument. You just hit the Gong, and you get a great sound. But as I said, that's very simplistic. Anyone, from a young child to the elderly, can play a Gon…

MA - The Sound of Emptiness

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I have written before about the importance of space in music, especially when playing the Gongs. I'm very fond of the Japanese idea of MA, or negative space. In music, this is the space between notes/melodies/phrases, which by outlining them with emptiness, gives them shape. For me, I find this in letting the sounds of my gongs/bowls/bells ring and decay into nothingness, then letting that nothingness extend outward until I play the next sound. 

One problem I find in listening to many Gong players is that they fail to invite the space in. They fill up every available minute with sound, which to me, often fails to keep both my interest and attention. The space, or MA,creates contrast, and allows the mind to reset. It also asks the question, How do you know sound if you don't know un-sound? It's the same idea visually, in that, how do you know black is black without knowing white?


The Japanese kanji for MA
I came across this blog article which offers one of the best explanation…

The Great Puccini Gong Sale

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What is something worth?

There are various factors that figure into an answer to this question. For the seller, often times emotion plays a big part in selling something. If it's been in the family for a long time, there is a very strong emotional value. “This item belonged to my mother/father/spouse/child/etc.” There is a bond with that item. While this is very real to the seller, it is a perceived value, based on their own emotional connection to the item. Now unless the buyer is family or a friend, they may not have, or see, any emotional value to the item.

There's also historical value. The item being sold may have once been owned or used by some historical figure. Or it comes from some historical time or place. Historical value is tricky. If I were to say, “This item was once owned byX,” but you either don't know who X was, or don't care, you won't share in the same sense of historical value.

Then there's actual value, which is based on the recent selling pri…

Gong Makers - A Further Look

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In a previous blog, It's Time To Meet Your Maker, I looked at some of the independent gong makers who are out there crafting beautiful and fascinating instruments. Today, I'd like to look at some more of these artisans. But first, I'd like to feature a quote taken from the very lengthy Facebook conversation that took place about my blog post. This comes from Trey Wyatt, of The Gong Shop in San Francisco:

I find it interesting that Thai/Burmese gongs seem to rarely make it into the mix of a gong players setup. Some people are so sold on Paiste or Meinl for their "tuned gongs" which possess nowhere near the pure fundamental of a properly tuned and voiced Thai/Burmese gong. 9 times out of 10 when customers come into my gong showroom in San Francisco, very adamantly saying they "only" want to hear Paistes gongs (because that's what their gong master told them to buy), they walk away with a large wind or chau gong because they prefer the sound and price.
W…