The Gong Bath
We are thrilled to have Kenny Kolter as a regular contributing writer to Dallas Yoga Magazine. Let’s get to know him and find out how he became a popular sound meditation and healing professional.
- Tell me about your background as a musician and sound therapist – how long have you been doing each? What instruments do you play?
I’ve been playing drums and percussion on and off since age 9. The drum bug as a child bit me and it never left. I’ve come to realize as I get older that even as a child I was attracted to the emotive and expansive aspects of music. How music/sound can create depth of feeling, energy and capture mood.
Ten years ago a good friend invited me to a ‘ gong bath ‘ and I had no idea on earth what that was. That experience changed my life. The experience for me was profound, I felt relaxed and energized all at once. When the session was over I shared with my wife ‘ That’s what I want to do ! ‘ Not thinking much about it because at the time I had a regular corporate job.
Shortly afterwards I purchased a gong simply to experiment and have fun exploring a new instrument, thinking I would play for friends & family. My wife suggested I try to develop and explore the possibility of playing the gong for a living. With her support and blessing I started to seriously dig into the instrument further, made my first meditation CD and began what now is my career.
I play a variety of what I consider historically sacred instruments; Gongs, drums, Tibetan singing bowls, rattles, chimes and Burmese temple bells. These instruments have been used by Shamans, medicine men and women, priests and tribal elders for thousands of years for ceremony, for healing, for calling in their ancestors and for celebration. I feel that part of my mission in life is to bring awareness to that fact that a simple instrument like a drum or rattle can be a vehicle for transformation of consciousness.
- What is gong meditation? What are the benefits?
When someone asks me what I do for a living, I share that I play a variety of instruments as a backdrop for people to meditate and pray. A gong meditation is an opportunity to allow the sounds of the instruments I mentioned to be a vehicle for quieting the mind. It’s a bit counter intuitive because most people think that a gong is a fairly one dimensional instrument creating big bold splashy types of sounds. And gongs of course do just that. But when a gong is played with sensitivity, awareness and approached in a more subtle manner, there is an entire world of sound that can be teased out of it. Attendees are continually amazed and aghast at the vast sonic palette that resides within the instrument.
I have facilitated over 1,400 group meditations and hundreds of individual sound therapy sessions and the benefits range from experiencing profound relaxation and stillness to feeling energized and alert. The sounds and vibrations affect everyone differently. There is no one single desired outcome for the participants. I am fortunate that I have had folks who have attended 20 plus sessions and they all have shared that each session has it’s own unique flavor and energy. It’s one on the many reason I so enjoy this work. I share all the time that I fell like a kid with a new box of crayons every time I sit down to play.
- How does the sound of the gong lend well to meditation?
Over the years clients have shared that they hear an amazing array of sounds. The gong creates layers of harmonics, sub harmonics and unique chordal structures fly around the room. The sound is penetrating, extremely ambient and thick. By combing these complex sounds along with trance like rhythms, the gentle sway of chimes and the soft bell like qualities of Tibetan bowls quiets the mind.
Our bodies by design are amazing sonic conductors. We all learned in 3rd grade science class that our bodies are made up of approximately 70% water. Sound travels 5 times faster in water than it does in air. While of course we are hearing with our ears, we are also absorbing it all on a cellular level.
The number one piece of feedback I receive nightly is that the attendees’ share that the hour long experience seems to last twenty minutes. To me that’s what meditation is … when we loose track of time and self. We can achieve a state of peaceful, restful alertness.
- You approach it as both a performing artist and a healer. Can you explain how you merge both of these?
This is the one of the best questions I’ve ever been asked in an interview. Recently I started teaching and sharing insights that I’ve gained over the years in sound healing. These sacred instruments require a different type of approach than let’s say traditional drum kit. While some of the technique, hand strength and muscle memory may be the same for the playing the gong, in a sound healing environment the key is to play intuitively. In my opinion there is no set regimen or structure for this work. I tell my students that the variety of mallets I use to play the gong feel more like paint brushes. With these sonic paintbrushes I can tease sounds out of the gong that create sounds similar to whales, a cello, a freight train, a gentle breeze, a far off church bell, a spaceship or human voices. I often share that the gong, Tibetan bowls etc are instruments that one plays with and from the heart.
As a performing artist and a healer I feel that my role is primarily to be in service. As a musician my focus is to serve the music. As a sound healer my role is to be in service to the group or the client. A term I like to use is ‘reading the tambour of the room ‘. For me it’s tuning in, centering myself and allowing God or Spirit to flow. I am blessed to be able to share my passion for music and sound as texture, color and feel in environments where folks are battling cancer, are incarcerated, in recovery or are looking for a sense of relaxation. These environments are so entirely different but the common thread is this – sound effects our physiology in amazing ways.