10 Ways to host a great gong soundbath.

I really can't recall what it was like the first time I hosted a gong bath for other people. The whole thing happened very slowly and very organically. As I mentioned at the end of 'Buying your first gong - Part 1', after my training, I spent many months playing a cathartic Pluto gong every day, to start working through my own 'stuff', before I even thought of sharing the gongs with anyone else. I then went out and bought a much friendlier Earth gong to share with the public. This gong had very different playing characteristics to the Pluto gong so I then spent a month or two getting to know it and helping it loosen up.

All this work was done in my front room, which had enough space for 6 or so people lying on yoga mats and one on the sofa. So when I felt ready, it was pretty easy to transition a few friends in, get used to playing for small gatherings and then eventually start promoting weekly paid sessions to the public, all based from home.

As I say, everything was very organic, for the first couple of years all of my playing was in a known, safe space which could be left set up between sessions and, as time went by, became more and more gong friendly. I was getting invited out to other venues; festivals, retreats etc. But having a home space to work from gave me a very gentle start. And by the time I was ready to move on to sessions at bigger, public venues I felt very comfortable with holding space and channeling the gongs.

You might not be so fortunate, perhaps you are going to have to rent or borrow a space from someone else straight away? If so, here are some pointers that might help you take your first steps.

1. Are you ready?

When I introduce new players to the gongs I typically see one of two behaviours. Most common, people are intimidated by the gong, particularly the larger gongs; their size, their presence, their power and in some cases what they feel the gong represents in 'spiritual' terms. So their playing is timid, they are the servant afraid to raise their head to the master.

Less common, but certainly not rare, are those who are unable to work calmly with the emotion that the gong generates within them. Like a choco-phile demolishing a box of chocolates, but only tasting the first one or two, they charge in, louder and louder, faster and faster, on some sort of emotional roller coaster, until they are locked into relentless crash and thunder. I was one of these and secretly still get a thrill out of the occasional 'controlled climax' - but now it really is a controlled climax with lots of foreplay and only if and when I know the room is genuinely ready...

You may recognise some of these behaviours from your own early days of playing. If either still remain then perhaps it isn't really the right time for you to start taking the gongs out yet? Maybe continue working on yourself with the one(s) you have, or perhaps listen to a few new ones and see if there is one out there that resonates even more deeply with you and can help you move on a little further.

2. Take little steps...

Having a bald patch and grey beard, very occasionally people with neither of those attributes share some of their uncertainties and challenges with me. One thing I hear myself saying time and again is 'take little steps'. This applies to almost every aspect of your gong practice.

Certainly when you are 'on the path' you will find that life is constantly throwing you opportunities that you don't feel ready for, and perhaps you should take them anyway. But of your own volition, when synchronicity isn't driving you forward, then jut take one small, steady step after another.

There is a concept called 'gong time' - that is the time that the gongs take to decide that they are ready to move forward. Gong time can be very slow, like when you are waiting for a specific gong to be made to order for you. Sometimes it is breathtakingly fast, as in a festival texts you and asks you to be available for 3 days next week! Either way gong-time is never measured to the regular beat of a clock - learn how to sense it and be at ease with it. Your intuition can hear the erratic flow of gong time, but your ego can't; it wants action and outcomes... Trust your intuition.

Some examples of little steps might be:

  • When you want to start playing for other people, start with just one person who you know will understand and be affirmative.

  • Increase your audience size gradually.

  • Initially take on a small venue where you feel safe.

  • Don't take out too many gongs to start with. - Playing multiple gongs (beyond just randomly 'bonging' them) is an art in itself which requires that you know all of the gongs you are playing intimately and have spent a lot of time working with them in combination, to really understand how they interact. So keep it simple when you start out. In truth, if you take out just one reasonably sized gong and play it competently your audience will get far more out of the session than listening to someone displaying 10 gongs and bonging on all of them, less competently.

  • Don't try to fill your sessions with other sounds and instruments when you start out. The full blown soundscape can come if you decide that is something you want to do after you have genuinely found your place with the gongs.

  • Don't overwhelm yourself with things that you have to say and do before you start playing. Your tutor should have coached you on how to introduce the session - cover the essentials, keep it short and to the point, let the gong speak for itself; it is more than capable of holding the session for you.

3. Find a safe space that you know is going to work.

I was lucky to have enough space and flexibility to be able to use my home for my first gongbaths, but if that is not the case for you, then find a space where you feel safe and that you know is going to work for you. Typically this will be a room or hall that is not too large, is in a quiet location and feels 'right' when you walk into it for the first time.

Make sure that the owners know what you plan to be doing and are happy with it, so that you aren't going to worry about making a noise. Spend time sitting in the space before you hire it; to make sure it has the right, calming atmosphere for you. Is it next to a hospital, police station, pub, club or anywhere else that is likely to get noisy? Does the room need and have heating? And if so is it going to be noisy? If the centre you are using has other rooms, find out what is going to be happening in them when you are playing, is it likely to distract your guests?

If your session is going to end in the dark, then are there harsh streetlights outside? Can you pull the curtains or shutters? Does the room have strip lighting or softer 'mood lighting' that you can turn on gently when the session is over? Are there facilities for offering a warm drink to your guests when they have finished their session?

Don't forget to check access and parking, are you going to be able to get your gear in easily? I heard a remarkable story from a friend recently. Apparently he had use of a huge 80" Paiste symphonic which needed 4 people to carry it. However, he didn't check access to the room he was hiring beforehand and discovered, a short time before his session was due to start, that this massive gong simply wouldn't fit up the stairs.

Unperturbed and a builder by trade he set about cutting through the stairs and overhead beam with an angle grinder, still no success, dust everywhere. Hardly the right preparation to get him in the 'zone' for his performance, nor the right atmosphere for his guests to walk into. In the end he gave up and used smaller gongs for the session. Spending the rest of the night, once his guests had left, repairing the damage he had done earlier.

Obviously a few minutes checking access arrangements might not have led to such an interesting 'war story' but would have resulted in a far better outcome for the practitioner, guests and owners of the property alike.