Strikers, mallets, batons and wands

October 25, 2016

mallets-6

The things you play a singing bowl with are called many things including “that thing.” Generally I refer to them as mallets, unless I’m feeling in a magical mood and then it’s “wands.”

Displayed above is a set of mallets that create a variety of amazing sounds. I have acquired these over a number of years, and the tone each creates is unlike the others.

Just for the record, I have no idea why the photo turned upside down. But after five tries, including rotating the original photo, it’s just going to stay that way.

So, on the left is the cork from a champagne bottle atop a chopstick — what a wonderful culinary combo that creates a fun light ping-y sound to play. Next to it, is a mallet used with crystal bowls for rimming and gonging, but only good for gonging with the metal ones. A piece of PVC (poly-vinyl chloride) piping covered in suede, its hollow quality offers a lovely deep gong sound with the metal bowls, but it’s too light to play the rim well. The red-headed mallet next to it is a wood mallet covered in felt. With felt on a mallet, you can only gong the bowl. Try to play the rim and sound dies, because no friction can occur between the mallet and the bowl: felt acts as a damper to sound. As a gonging instrument, however, it provides a deeper tone than the PVC suede one.

Now, we come to the solid felt ones. If you’ve ever looked inside a piano and seen those great pieces of dense felt, that’s what the heads of these are made of. The white is exposed felt; the red one has a cute little knitted cap like a reggae singer would wear.

A yellow drum or marimba mallet is next, the result of a fun trip to a music store, where I hauled out several bowls and said, “I want a bright sound. Can you help me?” The guy loved the request. He handed me a few to try and watched my reaction. Then he pulled this out and said “I think this will do the trick.” Bingo!

Next are two more even bigger headed, piano felt key mallets — generally for the larger bowls, say 10 inches in diameter or more. Although, the white one can play on 6- to 9-inch bowls. Again, the white one is exposed felt. The one with a red felt cover also has a lead weight in the center of it for even greater depth of sound (yet softer) with the bigger bowls.

The three last black suede topped mallets on the far right show how the size can increase for use from small and medium size bowls with the first one to bigger and bigger bowls. Versatile, these mallets can play both the rim of the bowl with either the wood or suede end as well as offer a softer struck sound with the suede end when gonging the bowl.

Old Bowls, New Bowls

October 8, 2016

People always want to know why the old bowls are so expensive. Maybe, because the genuine ones are over a hundred years old?

But why are they “better” than new bowls? My first responses are: their quality of tone and their ability to sustain sound.

New bowls can have excellent tone quality. That said, the majority of new bowls do not. New bowls are not always an 80/20 bell metal composition of copper and tin. While old bowls can have lots of other metals, as many as 14 some say  (so forget that 7-metal standard), those alloys still allow for the resonance and pitch to be rich and full, not flattened by too much lead for example.

The ability of the bowl to vibrate is what creates its voice. And in order to vibrate, the metal has to be supple and flexible. That’s where copper helps out. Alloyed with tin, also a soft metal, the two gain a stronger bond.

Remember, the miraculous singing that a bowl produces is the result of good ole friction. The wood or leather mallet rubs against the metal, and voila, sound! But only if the metal has music-making qualities, not rigidity. Try a stainless steel mixing bowl, for example. Not so good.

Now, onto the part about how an old bowl sustains sound better than a new one. Both the metal composition and the actual construction of the bowl have significance here. With a bell metal composition (Were you taking notes? That’s an 80/20 copper/tin ratio), the flexibility of the metal itself can allow it to sustain a note. Size also makes a difference. Small bowls have less diameter and depth to work with, so the notes are high and relatively short. The bigger the bowl, the longer the sustain.

I would add that generally, I find, the antique hand-forged bowls maintain notes longer. Cast bowls are more rigid, less pliable, which shortens how long a sound can resonate, and most new bowls are cast. Manufacturing them that way is far cheaper. And new bowls that are hand forged are not always better in their sustaining quality of sound. Again, I believe the metal composition in new bowls is not always in the same proportions as in the antique ones.

So, try old bowls and new bowls. See what resonates with you.

 

Remuna Bowls 2

Egyptian Time and Space

May 31, 2016

Egypt – notes from another land and time. I still don’t know how to write or speak of this, almost 6 months later. Nothing captures the scale I met on all fronts: the temples are immense, the statues colossal, the hieroglyphics prolific.

All the photographs I saw before I went did not prepare me. All the photographs I took capture only glimpses. I am left dumb. I have begun to learn to play odes to the gods and goddesses with the bowls.

However, it may be unfair and perhaps untrue to say that I have no words, when here I am typing away. How can I convey the sense of wonder and awe that I met again and again? Imagine being at the Grand Canyon one day, in the Giant Redwood Forest the next and at Niagara Falls the day after. That’s the sense of majesty and grandeur I experienced every day I was there.

Entering the Temple of Karnak in Luxor the first day, I said goodbye to my mind and simply tried to soak up every inch of those columns made to resemble giant papyrus plants seven stories high.  I found myself wandering in spaces where I felt as small as a quark and just as charmed. Energy and matter seemed to meet and spiral; a quality of timelessness pervaded it all.

Perhaps these expressions will serve as a transmission of the energies, so that you may share in the experience, which has not left me, only expanded.

Or perhaps it is conveyed best with the singing bowls I love so much. Here’s a clip from the Ode to Hathor.

 

The Big Ones are Here — Jambatis

June 23, 2014

Jambatis are the big singing bowls. They have a deeper, richer sound because of their size.  Until December, I owned just one at a 10 3/4 inch diameter, which sang a throaty  bass OM. I had three others at 9+ inches, and although beautiful in their quality of sound, they never had the depth of this larger one. Just for the record, I generally consider jambatis to be bowls that are more than 8 inches in diameter, with 10 1/2 to 12 inches being standard. Of course, they come larger than that too!

Anyway, a favorite dealer  came across one of a quality he had not seen in a long time and offered it to me. This, just before Christmas, so how could I resist the gift? The bowl, was/is as amazing as he had said. He had a few others for sale, but none like mine. So he sent those, and I fell in love with another one. Luckily, two were of a different construction — some of the thinnest of these bowls I’ve ever seen, and they had a vibrato that was unbelievable. Those literally flew out the door. But one he sent I fell in love with, and  it stayed. So I received more, and my own collection began to grow too. Now, I have six, and the result is the biggest change in my practice since the gem crystal bowls arrived.

I took four of them to a recent concert meditation. Usually I only use them in individual sessions, because they are monsters for me to carry. But this special occasion warranted their presence. So, here’s what happens when combined with the gem crystal singing bowls. They offer a point of settling, grounding, focus. In the midst of beautiful melodies and entrancing chords, they present an opportunity to embody all of that and more.  It’s this quality of centering with and embodying the sound that has struck me so profoundly.

I have always liked the warmth of the Himalayan bowls and appreciate that quality with the gem crystal bowls I play. Now, I have a new point of reference and so do my audiences.

 

ULE – Metaphysical Disneyland

October 10, 2013

I’m wrapping and packing for the Universal Light Expo in Columbus, which opens Sat. Oct 12 at 9 am, which means most of us vendors are putting our booths together on Friday afternoon. I ordered some gorgeous, antique Remuna bowls (see previous post) and some new cast or turned bowls, which are a bit of a departure for me. the new bowls I found have good quality sound and are in a lower price point for my customers. Finding any bowl of a decent size (5 to 6 inches) that I can retail under $80 is a challenge. Costs are understandable since the price of metals is up. I remember buying my first bowl at ULE from the Tibetan monks. The hall was so noisy I couldn’t even hear the bowl in my hand, but I could feel its vibration move up my arm. I loved it. That was the start. This feels like only the early middle, so who knows what will happen next?! Anyway, come to the Expo yourself, it’s colorful, crazy and loaded with crystals (and some terrific bowls!). Lots of free seminars are available (including one on singing bowls at 5:30 pm on Sat.). The Buddhist monks will be making a sand mandala throughout Sat. and Sun. Good food. Let’s see, how else can I entice you? Did I mention beautiful, wonderful, magical singing bowls? Image 

Remuna Bowls

October 2, 2013

Guess what just arrived? Oh, I kind of gave it away in the title. But no matter, Remuna bowls, are amazing whether you already know the punch line or not. The bowls that arrived are 18th or 19th century and one is even a 17th century bowl (but it’s not giving any historic secrets away).   

What’s so amazing about these bowls? It’s their shape. They’re not straight up and down like a regular thadobadi, nor are they shallow and wide-mouthed like a manipuri. These bowls have a big, belly at the base and then turn inward to be more concave, which amplifies the sound.

I always find these bowls rich with vibration and resonance. Easy to play as well! Of the bowls I have and sell, these consistently have one of the smoothest rims. The shape seems to help beginners too. However, these bowls are well worth the price for novices or connoisseurs. 

If you haven’t had the opportunity to play a Remuna, stop by and enjoy trying your hand at one. I’ll be at a couple of expos in the Cleveland area and down at the Columbus Universal Light Expo on Sat., Oct 12 and Sun., Oct 13. I also Skype, so distance doesn’t matter either. 

  Image Three Remuna beauties sitting on a zafu ready to meditate.

ImageRemuna with Sanskrit inscription 

Do you hear what I hear?

March 27, 2013

I hear sounds that others don’t seem to. This has been happening for a long time. I was a child when I first heard them. At that time, the sounds were high-pitched. One would laser through my head in a line from my right temple to my left and out again. Another type of sound would come into my right ear at an angle. It seemed to have a different pitch.

People tell me that they have heard sounds. Some think it’s tinnitus. Some have received that diagnosis but don’t believe it or feel there’s more information to be had.

I suggest that people listen. This was the guidance I was given more than ten years ago. Over the years, the sounds have changed for me. I have heard them as bells, similar to the crystal bowls I play. Now I have the sense of gentle waves over my entire body, not just focused on my ears. And, as I say to audiences, “We hear with our whole body, not just our ears. Think of a jackhammer.”

Our bodies respond to vibrations all the time. We’re meant to, we’re tuned to resonate. But we are such a visual culture, and we stay in our heads so much that we don’t allow ourselves to relax and listen and feel.

Why not give yourself ten minutes even, to slow down. Listen to your breath or your heartbeat, the wind outside. See how quiet your home really is. Or is the fridge humming, the furnace or air conditioner blowing? Are there birds lilting in the yard, windchimes pinging on the porch, mowers trimming the lawn next door, cars skidding down the street?

And what do you savor in this moment of greater quiet?

 

The Art of Listening

December 7, 2012

As always the bowls have more to teach me. Sometimes, it happens when I play them. At other times, people’s responses to hearing them create new discoveries for me. And sometimes, it’s in the phone calls or emails I receive.

Lately, more people are calling. They find me online, someone gives them my name and number, or they were at a concert. I realize I have a public presence now more than any time in the past, but still it surprises me. And I think, what do I have to give them?

They call for a number of reasons — they want to buy a bowl; they want to know more about them; they just feel a connection… the list goes on. Of course, I enjoy that they’re interested in one of my favorite subjects, and I’m intrigued by their questions. Sometimes I have some helpful information. Sometimes we just share the question and the not knowing. Sometimes I just listen, because that’s what’s needed.

The bowls have enhanced my listening. Once you realize that you “hear” with your whole body (as the bowls taught me), not just your ears, listening takes on another level of meaning and quality.

What a small and monumental state at the same time listening is. And what a gift in a busy season.

May you listen well to what is said and also what can be heard and to what is not said and may not be audible. And may you receive the same.

 

Transformation

October 18, 2012

I am always amazed by the bowls. First, their composition — whether they are the gem-infused ones or the old metal ones — is a wonder. With the gem-infused ones, the gems or metals must be crushed with the quartz and then fired at 4,000 degrees in a centrifugal mold. And for the metal ones, since I use hand-forged ones, the alloy has to be “raised” into a bowl with countless hammerings and heatings to keep the metal pliable enough to form. Then, once we get beyond compostion, it is the sounds they create that just stop me.

Sometimes now I try to play with a bit more silence in between notes or chords I create. I want to linger and listen and absorb. And isn’t silence a sound all its own? Or do we even know silence?

Of course, the gorgeous melodies at this time of year just reinforce all the colors outside and their concerts. I learned recently that the active production of chlorophyll, which makes the leaves look green to us, only “masks” the colors underneath. Those colors are there all along, but until the chlorophyll production slows, due to reduced sunlight, the true colors don’t emerge. Some wonderful metaphors there!

In any case, I am just glad to play the bowls and surprised by the offering and opportunity the Universe gave me with them. Not generally a very humble person, I am pretty astonished that after I play my usual feeling is one of humility, that it wasn’t me playing, it was all of us who created that resonant experience.

Blogging for Bowls

May 14, 2012

Or should I say slogging? I just don’t have the breezy style of some of the bloggers I admire most. Although I noticed my favorite Mexican food blogger has been quiet a while. I have the feeling she must be writing her book finally.

My favorites also have the advantage of fabulous photos. Again, I mostly subscribe to food and travel bloggers. Maybe I should try subscribing to writing bloggers and then not feel so bad.

In any case, I’d taken a hiatus from blogging. No one was reading, I wasn’t playing, and to be honest, I was barely keeping my head above the waters of workaholism.

It’s the curse of free-lancing. You either have nothing to do, and so you sit and play Sudoku for hours, or spend several hours trawling the internet or thinking about cleaning the house while you trawl the internet or you’re working your butt off to meet deadlines and client requests.

So when do I have time to blog? It’s currently 10:44 pm on a Sunday evening. This is when I can blog.

Tomorrow as I scribble away for one of my clients know that I will be endeavoring to think up some clever way with great photos to catch your attention about singing bowls. Perhaps if I was in Provence in a field of lavender with my bowls and some fresh vegan dish dripping with tomato sauce, truffles and cheese, maybe then I’d get some notice.