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Sheila Whittaker
Category: Gong Work

Making A Gong

Recently I had the greatpleasure of attending a gong-making workshop in Germany with master gong makerBroder Oetken. For those of you who don’t know, Broder makes the gongs for theMeinl company, and for Ollie Hess, and also his own superb range of gongs,which he is constantly expanding. He is arguably the best gong maker in theworld at this time. Broder was trained by Walter Meyer at Paiste, and was theirlead gong maker before branching out on his own a few years ago. So to have theopportunity to be tutored in making a gong by Broder is a great privilege.

The class consistedof 15 people from various different countries, and with varying backgrounds –not all sound healers or gong players, interestingly, but certainly gongenthusiasts. We worked on the gongs over a weekend, and it was quite a journey!On the first morning we split into three groups, each group of five workingwith either Broder, Willy or Nico – the two other gong makers who work with himat his factory. I was in Broder’s English-speaking group, and we started off bychoosing our pre-heated gong blanks – we were all making 16” gongs. Then thehammering process began! 

I have to say it wasnerve-racking to place the first hammer blow on a pristine blank of metal! But onebrave soul volunteered to go first, and then we all did it in turn, andcontinued hammering right around the rim of the soon-to-be gong with Broderwatching carefully and encouraging all the way. This was the first of fourhammering processes to get the rim turned over – it has to be done in stages.It’s skilled, painstaking, patient work, and having now made a gong myself, Iappreciate even more than before the skill and art of the gong maker.. thereare so many things that could go wrong and render a half-made gong useless!

Then we had to tuneour gongs, and decide what type of gong we were going to make. Several of usopted to make a little heart gong, and so the heart template was used to drawthe shape we needed to hammer to tune the gong and start forming it into a heartgong. Others had their own designs, or made a small Water gong, and a fewpeople were planning to make a little Earth gong. There were various differentthings happening in the class, tuning-wise, with Broder and his two team-matesoverseeing everything, and Broder’s wonderful wife Ines constantly supportingand helping in the background. This initial tuning process (there was furthertuning the second day) went well for me, on the whole, and brought us to the endof the day, as I recall. It had been a long hard day’s work – mostly hammeringor preparing to - and we enjoyed a relaxing dinner together before retiring toour respective hotels for the night.

At 9am the next daywe re-convened and briefly reviewed what we had done the day before. I washappy with where my little gong had got to the previous day, and now it wastime for the scraping process! For those who don’t know, in a nutshell thescraping on the front of the gong helps to open up the sound and allows thegong to “speak” more easily as well as being decorative. Scraping is done witha special tool, like a small chunky thin chisel; every gong maker has his own,and it is a skill that needs a lot of practise to become expert. And now we -all beginners in gong making - had to scrape the front of our own gongs! Becausethe scraping is on the front of the gong, any mistakes or veering off theintended line can easily be seen. So for me – something of a perfectionist - thiswas the most challenging part of the gong-making process. We were given sparepieces of metal to practise scraping on first. It wasn’t easy to get the toolat just the right angle, and you need to start in exactly the right place eachtime to make a tidy line with your scraping. It needed lots of practise.

I’m not quite surehow I managed the scraping – it was a challenging journey, for me at least.Broder’s assistant Willy was very helpful with guidance, and at some point Ifelt confident enough to transfer from the practise pieces of metal and switchto scraping the front of my gong, guided by Broder. I then realised that themetal we had been practising on was somewhat softer than the nickel silver ofthe gongs we were making, so that also had to be taken into account whenscraping. It definitely helped that we were using all Walter Meyer’s old tools,with his name on the handles, which had passed to Broder after Walter died in2013. Anyway, I started, and the scraping process happened – not sure how, butI gradually worked around my little gong in carefully marked sections, andeventually, after about an hour I think, my gong was fully scraped – what arelief! Must have had some off-planet help.

And it looked OK,amazingly! Rustic, but totally presentable. I had scraped from the edge of thebigger heart, outwards into the outer rim of the gong, and I realised, lookingat it, that the scraping now looked like thin flames, setting the heart on fire.This effect happened quite inadvertently, but I now feel it is one of thenicest features of the gong. And I am proud of having met the challenge ofscraping, and conquered it, which was my biggest concern during the wholeweekend. After the scraping I had even greater respect for the gong makers – anenormous amount of skill and confidence is needed to scrape the larger gongs –a 40” or 50” for instance. One wrong move and the whole front of the gong isspoilt.

The last process formy little gong was to do something with the smaller heart in the centre, andlike one of my colleagues who had already started his hammering on this area, Idecided to hammer the centre heart with a small hammer, to bring it out fromthe larger heart. This took about an hour, and was painstaking and tiring work.But when it was finished, the centre small heart looked like it was meltinginto the larger flame-surrounded heart – an effect and finish I didn’t plan,but which just happened as the gong progressed. The tuning was expertly checkedand adjusted again by Broder, then the gongs were cleaned, and their hangingholes drilled, and they were finished off and packed for us to take home. I feltvery happy and fulfilled by this point. Making a gong is no mean feat I cantell you! And most importantly, my gong sounded OK. As it turns out, it has aparticular application for use in sound healing sessions, which I may writeabout another time.

The discerningreader will realise that I’ve massively topped and tailed here when writing aboutwhat happened during the two-day gong making workshop – of necessity, as Icould write a small book on the whole amazing process. And that’s just thephysical side – the emotional and spiritual journeying involved in making your owngong are a very individual and personal matter, which I’ve only touched on here.And there were many other small but important things that were done to all our gongsto make them into the healing instruments they now are. Crucially, the tuning ofall our gongs was checked constantly by Broder throughout the process, and weall received a huge amount of help with this and everything else from the threeexpert gong makers. It was a weekend like no other I have experienced, and oneto remember for always. Grateful thanks to Broder and Ines, his gong team, and alsoto my new gong-making friends – it was a pleasure to share the experience withyou all. I hope to be back another time to make a larger gong – maybe..

You can find Broderat his website : andon Facebook.

Sheila Whittaker20/8/17

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