In my last article for The Edge, I explored some of the theory, tools used and perspectives I’ve developed in the context of giving individual Sound Healing treatments. Now, I’d like to discuss Sound Healing in a group context.
The last few years, my wife Johnna Morrow and I have been offering Sound Healing concerts and meditations in Minnesota and on tour. We get a fantastic response, but also we are asked many questions about the instruments, vocal techniques, and “what is going on and how does it work?” Some ask, “Is it like Kirtan?” and “Is it a sound bath?”
So, let’s begin there, with what we’re not doing. Kirtan, which has become popular in recent years, involves call-and-response chanting of a devotional nature, rooted in India’s bhakti (Hindu) traditions. It’s important for our events to be open and comfortable for everyone, and we avoid any denominational aspects, and while there are indeed spiritual aspects, there is no group worship.
I’ve never liked the term “sound bath” and always thought it sounded like one would need sound soap and sound towels! A bath is something in which one may be immersed, but it only touches one’s exterior. What we do has far deeper intentions.
Each month on a Saturday night, people gather at Springhouse, a church in Minneapolis. Some are new and some experienced, but there is an expectant vibe. When the doors to the lovely and reverberant sanctuary open, most of the veterans head to the floor in front, where they deposit pads, yoga mats, sleeping bags, and themselves. Along with the soft house music, there are hushed exclamations and questions about the myriad exotic musical instruments.
After a brief talk in which we state our intention and name people in need of healing, the program begins. There is a design, a sonic architecture, to the concert, beginning with a few pieces that are recognizable as songs. These may involve better-known instruments such as guitar, and more exotic ones such as sruti box, didgeridoo and the Tuvan igil, along with vocals.
Johnna sings the lyrics in her beautiful voice, and I add khoomei, or throat-singing, and bird sounds. These soothing songs, and their exotic/nature sounds, serve as a calm gateway to the sonic journey. Examples of this are Early Morning and Arches.
After these pieces, we turn to instrumental pieces. These are “semi-composed” with considerable improvisation that are intended to lead the listeners deeper into their own psyches. These include pieces for didgeridoos, world flutes and the single-headed frame drum. Examples are Out of the Mist and Oceana/Terra Firma.
While the majority of the concert is played through a sound system, some pieces inspire us to move among the audience, playing didgeridoo or drum directly into the bodies of participants, providing a different, intimate and very direct sense of power.
The next section involves the Himalayan metalophones (tingshas, singing bowls), waterphone, and gongs, including some very large and beautiful examples. These instruments tend to propel the listener into a deeper space, one that many describe as cosmic.
We begin gently with the bowls, and use them to accompany a Guided Sound Healing Meditation, taking the audience on a journey into themselves, down to the subatomic level, where we witness atoms and molecules as miniature galaxies, surrounded by vast space. The sounds penetrate these spaces, sweeping away all that is painful, negative and undesirable. We then take the listeners from inner to outer space with the gongs, which can provide a stunning variety of sonic colors and intensities. There are universes of cosmic voices in gongs if one knows how to summon them!
We return to Earth, albeit a different place and century with a piece such as Chaco Spirits. This piece uses many interesting instruments such as ehecatls — also known as the Aztec Death Whistle — Native American Flute, ocarinas, sruti box, throat-singing and bird sounds to conjure a very eerie sense of desert beauty. Once again, we utilize the sounds of nature, which are so lacking in many of our lives.
We end the concert with a soft, gentle jaw harp duet, which returns us to the present time and location, followed by a discussion with audience members.
The next Sound Healing concert is August 23 at Springhouse Ministry Center, Minneapolis.