This article was originally written for the Rasmuson Foundation.
Gail Jackson’s morning routine begins with meditation and Qigong, a Chinese practice of movement. Then she plays her gongs. She carries a friction mallet across the metal slower than a second hand on a clock. The sound starts low, then grows louder. When she slows even more, the sound is brought out. One light hit from her mallet, Jackson says, brings forth many different tones and resonances.
“The first tap of the gong … I was just sucked in by the sound,” Jackson said. “Even though I never learned to read music, that experience helped build to playing the gong today.”
Jackson didn’t turn to a gong until she was 52 years old, but music was always intertwined with her life. She listened to the radio growing up in her childhood home in central New Jersey, and her cousins often played bongo and conga drums in her grandmother’s house. Jackson went to a Pentecostal church with her grandmother, and in school, she played the pan drum. That’s where the seed was planted, Jackson says.
In June of 1999, Jackson moved to Alaska and was introduced to the Alaska Center for Spiritual Living. One of her band mates told her about a musician who taught a drum camp and played the gimbal, a type of percussion instrument. In one camp workshop the following year, she heard something strange.
“I looked around [and] there were women that were crying, and that’s when I found out the power of the drum,” Jackson said.
Since that enlightening experience, Jackson has attended multiple drum camps and circles and learned about drumming and percussion from around the world. She attended a sound bath in St. Louis, Missouri, and drum circles in Hawaii where she played until three o’clock in the morning. Jackson says after attending a rhythm church put on by Arthur Hull, a well-known rhythm ambassador, she was so full from the experience that she wanted to listen and experience other notes and tones.
Jackson now has multiple certifications including in drum circle facilitation as well as in healing arts, using the drum, Native American flute and her voice. She’s a mentor for other drummers and teaches monthly drumming circles. In one program, she’s studying how sound affects the body. The most common practice of using sound is for meditation or relaxation, and rhythm and drumming are used to release stress. Many indigenous groups even use sound to reach a higher level of consciousness.
“What I’ve learned in my gong training is that the gong has something to say,” she wrote once. “We listen to it and play it accordingly.”
Jackson purchased her first two gongs from a friend. Now she has six set up wall-to-wall in her living room. They range in price from $1,500 to $8,000, depending on size. She wants to expand her ensemble and is looking at a variety of instruments, like bell plates, a percussion instrument that sounds just like a church bell, and a monochord, an ancient musical instrument with just one string. Jackson says she enjoys experiencing how music flows with the drums and bells.
“I’m open to the universe for whatever comes,” Jackson said. “It’s still just the beginning.”