Music has accompanied my life. I started playing the recorder and added classical guitar at the age of 12, followed by the clarinet and later the violin. Stringed instruments are my favourites and I have played different lyres since my late teens. I also play African instruments such as drums and Sansula (thumb piano).
My work background is in care, education and social work and for more than 10 years I worked as a therapist (Eurythmy Therapy and therapeutic Sounding Bowl work). With over 20 years of experience accompanying the dying including work in a children’s hospice, I came to use sounding bowls in this field as there are moments when words can not do any more – yet music can reach a person in distress and allow soothing. I have initiated a local group bringing gentle music to people who are terminally ill and dying and there I was introduced to Sounding Bowls in 2007.
I am now also offering bereavement work, in combination with Sounding Bowls, because music allows including a dimension that cannot be expressed in words.
Sounding bowls are wooden, stringed instruments, designed and developed by Tobias Kaye in Devon, England (www.soundingbowls.com).
Tobias, an artist and wood turner by profession, worked with many different types of wood and was looking for a encounter of sculpture and music in one instrument. He was already known as an artist and master of his craft when he discovered the music in his beautiful wooden bowls, noticing how the bowls seemed to ‘catch’ sounds in their concave forms, amplifying them and making them softer and fuller – in short the shape of a bowl made the sound more beautiful.
Tobias thought about how this could be made visible or audible until a picture arose whilst he was meditating. Since making his first instrument Tobias has developed a wide variety of Sounding Bowls, which are successfully used worldwide – albeit only by some individual therapists – in schools, hospitals, hospices and other therapeutic settings.
The picture below shows another type of instrument based on the form of bowl. These are called Singing Bowls. They are widely used in the tradition of religious services, meditation, yoga, healing and for recreational purposes.
Singing bowls might have been made as early as 3000 years ago originally in Asian countries such as Nepal, India, Tibet, Japan and others. The best know type is from the Himalayan region and is called “Tibetan singing bowl.”
Sounding Bowls are not yet widely known and I had the privilege of developing the first regular group use of Sounding Bowls, which has opened my enquiry into researching the effects of the instruments on the quality of listening.
I worked with young people who suffered trauma in early life and with children and adolescents diagnosed with deteriorating illness or ongoing conditions such as Asperger’s Syndrome and Autism. Many displayed what is termed ‘behavioural difficulties’. The young people responded by trusting, engaging and expressing themselves with the help of the instruments.
Working with adults with learning difficulties, and I found that people who were unable to speak or chose not to use speech used the instruments to express themselves with the music they created. In small groups Sounding Bowl players engaged with each other over time, co-creating music on an equal contributory basis in an atmosphere of respect and enjoyment. Prejudices about each other and their own ability to achieve were gradually dismissed and self-confidence and trust in the other members of the group increased.
For some of the people Sounding Bowls stimulated their wish to sing, which they did as they were playing a Sounding Bowl.
I began using Sounding Bowls through starting an initiative in the local community, which aimed to bring music to people who were terminally ill and dying. Up to then I had been using the lyre for this purpose.
The alto or soprano lyre has many strings, tuned chromatically, and playing it requires some musical knowledge and technical skills, similar to playing the piano or other instruments.
I too was first attracted by the beauty and simplicity of Sounding Bowls. Their full, yet gentle sound touched me deeply. It seems to hover above the instrument for a long time afterwards, as though creating its own ‘sound–structure’ there. Most of all it was the exquisite quality of the tones of Sounding Bowls that I couldn’t stop listening to. These instruments made each tone appear in their unique beauty and it was like every tone was a world in its own right.
I found sounding bowls very suitable to use with terminally ill people and their loved ones. Some experienced pain relief or more ease with breathing, for others it soothed anxiety and loneliness (particularly at night). The added bonus was that patients and family were not afraid using the Bowls as they look so simple in structure and plucking their strings or strumming them seemed straightforward.
All Sounding Bowls can be used for improvisation. There is no need to fear improvising might not sound good, on the contrary; the quality of sound compensates for occasional disharmonies and anything played on a Sounding Bowl usually sounds beautiful. The beauty of each tone invites active and genuine listening, which I found seems to have a balancing effect on the listener. People on opposite ends of musical skill range did enjoy playing the instruments together and co-created their music.
It is also possible to play a specific piece of music as someone else improvises alongside, creating a musically enjoyable experience. This makes Sounding Bowls ideal for co-creation in the musical realm. It is also possible to include other sounds, such as rhythmical tapping on the instrument and strumming of the strings or the use of plectrums to get a brighter tone.
Sounding Bowls can be used together with other instruments such as lyres, rhythmical instruments, nature instruments such as rain sticks and more.
In summary, Sounding Bowls do not need prior musical training or experience from players – their attention is all that is required. Anybody who can perform the physical action of plucking a string will be able to enjoy the exquisite beauty of the sound. I found that the instruments seem to stimulate joy, love and inner peace in a very simple and direct manner.
They are ideal for group work and improvisation, including singing. Apart from this they are also individual works of art, which bring beauty so close and also allow the player to feel the vibration of music immediately through the wood. Although they do not demand any pre-learned musical skills from their player, Sounding Bowls offer an excellent quality of sound. There is no doubt in my mind that they are of immense therapeutic value and that their effects do need further research and exploration.
No description of the quality of their sound can do Sounding Bowls really justice – it needs to be experienced in order to be fully appreciated. In my experience listening online to a recording can give some idea but does not reach the quality of listening to a bowl in the same room.
From an article by Tobias Kaye
“In 2011 Rampton Hospital completed a Patient Select Clinical Trial in Music Therapy. Their music Therapy dept is extremely well equipped including various forms of singing bowl and gong, xylophones, drums etc as well as Sounding Bowls, which they have been using for over ten years. The trial took them many years to put together and broke new ground in various ways. Amongst conclusions reached from this trial was one clear statement: “Sounding Bowls are more effective than other instruments.”
My research continues and I am currently undertaking pilot projects relating to aspects of this work.