“ Some Hope and Some Healing” The Sound Retreat
By Caryn B. Davis / Photos by Tracey Kroll
The top five stressors in life are the death of a loved one, divorce, relocation, illness, and losing a job or starting a new one. Four years ago, Tracey Kroll was in the middle of three out of five. At a friend’s suggestion, he visited a center in West Hartford that offered sound meditation (also known as sound healing), a practice that utilizes vibrational sounds to promote inner calm, clarity, and healing.
“For thousands of years, sound has been widely used for spiritual practice, worship, and meditation. These activities have resulted in a positive outlook towards understanding the self and beyond. Tools such as singing bowls, bells, gongs, and tingshaws are often used, and have been observed to be positively effective on the body, enabling the flow of chi (energy) throughout the body, which releases the blockages that lie within,” as quoted from deepsoundmeditation.org.
What Kroll achieved during these sessions was a state of deep relaxation, something he had never experienced before. “It was exactly what I needed. It provided me with a one hour break from a pretty hectic world. I went back again and again. Of all of the things I was doing to try to get through this difficult period, this was at the top of the list; and I connected with it the most,” he says. “A year and half later I was driving down a road in town; and for no reason at all, out of the blue, I got this message that I should be doing this kind of work.”
Kroll did not question it. He simply made the decision right there and then to leave behind his career as a successful commercial photographer to pursue sound healing. He got ready. He started by collecting gongs and crystal glass bowls and taught himself how to play. But he also took lessons with Mitch Nur, a world-renowned authority on sacred sound and vibrational healing.
“He taught me the concept of dividing the gong into a clock face and then going from the edge to middle in four steps. By playing all those intersections, I could hear the different sounds and learn the instrument better,” says Kroll. “Sometimes I can get into a flow where I am not thinking about anything…I am just acting and reacting to what I feel inside and what it sounds like to my ears. That is the kind of flow I feel I should always be in.”
Gongs first appeared in Chinese history in 500 A.D., although many historians believe they have been around since before the second millennium B.C. and in other parts of Southeast Asia, such as Burma and Java. They were considered a status symbol of the wealthy because only the affluent could afford them. Gongs were used to communicate, announce ceremonies, and as a tool for meditation and healing. Remarkably, they are still being utilized in this manner thousands of years later.
“Gongs are made of a bronze alloy which consists of approximately 75 percent copper, 20 percent tin, and 5 percent nickel. They are prayerfully hand hammered and refined by the artisans whose soul is imbued in the finished product,” as quoted from harmonyofthespheres.net.
After working with the instruments for many months, Kroll gave practice sessions to his friends that involved “creating a soothing soundscape using a variety of therapeutic sound healing instruments (gongs, crystal bowls, special drums, and chimes) to induce a deeply relaxed, meditative state.” He began each session with guided deep breathing “followed by thoughtfully orchestrated sounds that slowly emerge and immerse the senses in their healing vibration. The resonance of the instruments is holistic and not just an auditory experience, but penetrates through to the cellular level. Experiencing sound in this way has the potential to expand consciousness, relieve stress, increase mental clarity, calm the emotions, and bring the body into balance for healing and regeneration.”
When each session concluded, he conducted interviews and took copious notes about how it went, how he felt, and what the participants experienced. Then in 2015 he opened The Sound Retreat in Chester, Connecticut, a secluded nature and wellness sanctuary surrounded by 850 lush acres of forest. In addition to the sound meditations, he also hosts yoga classes, a variety of drumming and healing-related workshops, and has private guest quarters available for rent though airbnb.
Kroll offers sound healing for individuals and couples and a monthly group session that is open to the public. This is a good way for people to get acquainted with the process. He also works with private groups that could include friends or co-workers, and recently he started working with businesses that help people going through drug and alcohol rehabilitation that might benefit from this type of therapy.
“The approaches to all are quite different. The way I arrange the gongs for a single person is different than the way I set them up for a group. I believe no one can really teach you how to do this. It has a lot to do with what your intentions are with it. As an improvisational musician, I don’t think there is a specific way to go about it. It’s a feel; and I put a lot of time into practicing that,” says Kroll, a drummer and percussionist in his own right who performs with different bands.
Kroll also uses his musical abilities to teach private hand drumming lessons and a program he calls, “Drumming for Health,” which takes place at assisted living facilities throughout the state. This involves loading up his van with enough instruments for about 40 participants that include everything from full sized drums to small shakers. It lasts about an hour and incorporates a brief history of hand drumming and a discussion on geography and the traditional applications of the drum in different cultures. But mostly they play. He teaches them simplistic rhythms so they can perform together as a group. Some of the people he works with have varying degrees of dementia; others are completely ambulatory, while others use walkers or are in wheelchairs. Kroll runs it as a group activity, giving them cues as to when to start and stop.
“It is a wonderfully charged event. I did not realize how powerful it was. It’s great for joints, blood flow, brain processing, and sequencing. It’s a lot of hand eye coordination and keeps certain neural pathways to the brain firing, active, and alert. But mostly, it just makes people feel good. They love it,” he says.
While sound meditation has certainly helped transform Kroll’s life, he is quick to point out that he is a not a mystic of any kind.
“When I went for those early sound healings, something changed within me. It wasn’t because the person administering it was a magician or healer. They were catalysts to allow me to fall into a particular state of calm that sometimes has the ability to help clear stuck emotional blockages. I am just a facilitator of these instruments and hopefully opening up a little door, some hope, and some healing,” says Kroll.