Singing Bowl lesson with Michael Ormiston
My lovely friend Amanda gave me a singing bowl as a gift after I expressed how much I liked the sound. In order to learn how to play it properly, I decided to have a singing bowl lesson with Michael Ormiston.
Why Michael? Initially I contacted several teachers that came up on google search. Then one of these teachers’ teacher wrote back and recommended him and I thought ‘That’s the one!’ By the way, all the teachers I contacted seemed wonderful and friendly and gave me useful information. Thank you!
Michael is based in Hackney and he offers private lessons at his living room which is filled with treasures – many musical instruments that I don’t know the names of, books and CDs and a wide variety of objects that he seemed to have gathered from his travels to the East. The room also felt very peaceful which is always good for a learning environment.
After a short introduction, the lesson began by Michael playing singing bowls for us (a whole family of bowls!). But before that, he guided me through a breathing exercise which prepared our minds to the theta state so that our minds would be more receptive to the sound vibration. He also asked me to think of what I want to work on (just like what I asked my clients all the time!), because whether I know it or not, there is always something there.
I’ve always enjoy those Zen-like music but to hear it live totally takes the experience to another level. My eyes were closed during most of this but I couldn’t help having a look to see what Michael was doing from time to time. There’s stillness about him as he gracefully move his arms and hands through his various tools. It is amazing how such simple instruments can produce so many different kinds of sound. It also felt unplanned, he seemed to be improvising as he went along. The sound reverberated all around the room and vibrated right through me, left me feeling cleansed and peaceful.
I was in a daze when Michael finished. My mind was so empty that I didn’t even say ‘thank you’. He, however, said ‘thank you’ to me. I thanked him back, a bit too late, and asked, ‘Why do you thank me for? I should be the one who says thank you!’ I was feeling a bit shame faced.
‘It’s a gift to have someone to receive,’ said Michael. Which is so true – most of us were taught to give but we forgot to learn to receive. When no one receives, how can we enjoy giving?
Michael then gave me some background information about different kinds of bowls as well as strikers and mallets and how to use them. ‘The trick of striking the bowl is to let go and not to linger.’ I like what he said as this is such good reminder for me whenever I play the bowl – to let go. I also really like what he said about not having rules. ‘It’s all about the sound we produce.’ So it’s ok to hold the bowls or mallet/strikers whatever way we want. It’s good to experiment different ways so as to produce the sound that we are after and to know what ways are most comfortable to us.
Some sites that talk about singing bowls said we need to move the mallet in the clockwise direction. Michael said, ‘Clockwise and anti-clockwise are the same thing depending on which way we look at it.’ As in everything in life, it’s all a matter of perspectives.
Before the lesson I thought I had a superior bowl, because it looks lovely with the engraving and it looks solid. Michael’s bowls are all a bit wonky and uneven looking and have no decorations at all. Only during the class I realized that the bowls that he had were all hand beaten, hence the irregular look and they can do more things then the one I have, like playing them with water in it. Mine was made with mould and the most unfortunate part is that the decoration rubbed off onto the mallets. He said he had been seeing more and more of this type of bowl, probably because they were easier to make and they look nice. If I could choose now, I would definitely get one that is like Michael’s.
Michael said, ‘But your bowl is a very nice bowl because it’s a gift.’ I felt shame faced again… moments ago I was dismissing the bowl and my friend’s choice… Sorry, Amanda!
Towards the end of the lesson, Michael said now it was time for me to play the bowl as I would at home. He said to just experiment and enjoy it and not to try to play very loud or whatsoever in order to impress. So first I was to prepare my tools and to sit in a comfortable spot. Then I prepared my state of mind with Michael’s breathing technique. Just before I started playing I had sudden panic attack – stage freight! Remembering it’s not about impressing people but to enjoy, I told myself not to be silly and to get on with it. And I did enjoy it. The last part after playing the bowl was to sit quietly for a bit to enjoy the silence. It was quite incredible how the silence could become so big. I have no words to describe how I was feeling. I wish I could stay in that state for longer but we only had very limited time so I had to open my eyes in order to let Michael know that I had finished. He pointed out that my body was still vibrating slightly and it was and it seemed to be rather happy too.
I wish Michael would also sell mallet and beaters and other singing bowl related stuff but he doesn’t. Instead, he gave me a list of shops in London that stock these products and told me to go and try things out to see what I like and not to buy online. I did however buy a mallet online because I didn’t have time to go to the shops and Kevin Goulding from www.soulnote.co.uk seemed really nice. He gave me good advice on the phone and he actually dissuaded me from buying more expensive mallets, knowing that I was a beginner. I would recommend his online shop if like me, you don’t really like hanging out in shops. You also don’t need to own a singing bowl to have lessons. You can borrow the teacher’s bowls (just let them know ahead) so that you get to know what you want to buy for yourself.
So that was the end of the singing bowl lesson with Michael Ormiston. I purchased the Tibetan Singing Bowl Technique DVD that Michael and his partner Candida Valentino produced in case I forget anything.
Michael and his partner Candida Valentino have produced many CDs that are for sale on their website www.soundtransformations.co.uk. They offer a variety of singing and instrument lessons and workshop and have regular public performances too. They also give therapeutic sound massages which is definitely in my to-do-list on my next visit to London.
Watch a short extract of the Tibetan Singing Bowl Technique DVD here.