Making a Gong
Recently I had the great pleasure of attending a gong-making workshop in Germany with master gong maker Broder Oetken. For those of you who don’t know, Broder makes the gongs for the Meinl 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 the world at this time. Broder was trained by Walter Meyer at Paiste, and was their lead gong maker before branching out on his own a few years ago. So to have the opportunity to be tutored in making a gong by Broder is a great privilege.
The class consisted of 15 people from various different countries, and with varying backgrounds – not all sound healers or gong players, interestingly, but certainly gong enthusiasts. 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 working with either Broder, Willy or Nico – the two other gong makers who work with him at his factory. I was in Broder’s English-speaking group, and we started off by choosing our pre-heated gong blanks – we were all making 16” gongs. Then the hammering process began!
I have to say it was nerve-racking to place the first hammer blow on a pristine blank of metal! But one brave soul volunteered to go first, and then we all did it in turn, and continued hammering right around the rim of the soon-to-be gong with Broder watching carefully and encouraging all the way. This was the first of four hammering 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, I appreciate even more than before the skill and art of the gong maker.. there are so many things that could go wrong and render a half-made gong useless!
Then we had to tune our gongs, and decide what type of gong we were going to make. Several of us opted to make a little heart gong, and so the heart template was used to draw the shape we needed to hammer to tune the gong and start forming it into a heart gong. Others had their own designs, or made a small Water gong, and a few people were planning to make a little Earth gong. There were various different things happening in the class, tuning-wise, with Broder and his two team-mates overseeing everything, and Broder’s wonderful wife Ines constantly supporting and helping in the background. This initial tuning process (there was further tuning the second day) went well for me, on the whole, and brought us to the end of the day, as I recall. It had been a long hard day’s work – mostly hammering or preparing to - and we enjoyed a relaxing dinner together before retiring to our respective hotels for the night.
At 9am the next day we re-convened and briefly reviewed what we had done the day before. I was happy with where my little gong had got to the previous day, and now it was time for the scraping process! For those who don’t know, in a nutshell the scraping on the front of the gong helps to open up the sound and allows the gong to “speak” more easily as well as being decorative. Scraping is done with a 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! Because the scraping is on the front of the gong, any mistakes or veering off the intended line can easily be seen. So for me – something of a perfectionist - this was the most challenging part of the gong-making process. We were given spare pieces of metal to practise scraping on first. It wasn’t easy to get the tool at just the right angle, and you need to start in exactly the right place each time to make a tidy line with your scraping. It needed lots of practise.
I’m not quite sure how 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 I felt confident enough to transfer from the practise pieces of metal and switch to scraping the front of my gong, guided by Broder. I then realised that the metal we had been practising on was somewhat softer than the nickel silver of the gongs we were making, so that also had to be taken into account when scraping. 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 in 2013. Anyway, I started, and the scraping process happened – not sure how, but I gradually worked around my little gong in carefully marked sections, and eventually, after about an hour I think, my gong was fully scraped – what a relief! Must have had some off-planet help.
And it looked OK, amazingly! Rustic, but totally presentable. I had scraped from the edge of the bigger heart, outwards into the outer rim of the gong, and I realised, looking at 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 the nicest features of the gong. And I am proud of having met the challenge of scraping, and conquered it, which was my biggest concern during the whole weekend. After the scraping I had even greater respect for the gong makers – an enormous 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 is spoilt.
The last process for my little gong was to do something with the smaller heart in the centre, and like one of my colleagues who had already started his hammering on this area, I decided to hammer the centre heart with a small hammer, to bring it out from the 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 melting into 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 checked and adjusted again by Broder, then the gongs were cleaned, and their hanging holes drilled, and they were finished off and packed for us to take home. I felt very happy and fulfilled by this point. Making a gong is no mean feat I can tell you! And most importantly, my gong sounded OK. As it turns out, it has a particular application for use in sound healing sessions, which I may write about another time.
The discerning reader will realise that I’ve massively topped and tailed here when writing about what happened during the two-day gong making workshop – of necessity, as I could write a small book on the whole amazing process. And that’s just the physical side – the emotional and spiritual journeying involved in making your own gong 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 gongs to make them into the healing instruments they now are. Crucially, the tuning of all our gongs was checked constantly by Broder throughout the process, and we all received a huge amount of help with this and everything else from the three expert gong makers. It was a weekend like no other I have experienced, and one to remember for always. Grateful thanks to Broder and Ines, his gong team, and also to my new gong-making friends – it was a pleasure to share the experience with you all. I hope to be back another time to make a larger gong – maybe..
You can find Broder at his website : www.oetken-gongs.de and on Facebook.