A percussionist by trade, Billy Zanski gradually discovered he wasn’t fond of making significant amounts of noise. Moving away from the typical ear-rattling approach, he started playing instruments that are quiet, beginning with the kora, a West African harp.
The progression led him to sound healing, which he’s explored for the past 12 years, both at his Skinny Beats Sound Shop on Eagle Street and places like the nonprofit OM Sanctuary at the Oshun Renewal Center, where he’ll lead a New Year’s Sound Bath on Saturday, Dec. 29.
“When I started drumming 20 years ago, I saw how much fun people had with music,” Zanski says. “You’re an entertainer — an influencer of people’s situation. Sound therapy does that, too. It helps people relax, and you get to feel them being grateful.”
Consistent with Zanski’s weekly sound healing sessions on Saturdays and Sundays at Skinny Beats, participants in the OM Sanctuary gathering will lie on their backs in Savasana, aka corpse pose, on a pad with a bolster under their legs. For people who have trouble getting back up from the ground — the sessions are popular with older folks — he also provides couch seats and chairs for those who prefer to sit up. Zanski brings gongs, crystal bowls, a didgeridoo and the kora, and plays sounds for 45-60 minutes, working through a set of harmonic transitions while attendees close their eyes.
“It’s like a story. You feel it take you to places, and as you go there, hopefully, you’re working something out,” Zanski says. “It’s almost like a dream — you’re trying to find closure.”
Each session is different, however, and Zanski is careful to read the room and himself in determining how long to play. He feels that “less is more in sound healing” and that having people lie still for 10 minutes once the music concludes is often better than restarting and pulling the energy back to the progression’s beginning.
“Sometimes a session is just done. If you play more than you need to, you might have ruined a really powerful thing,” he says. “There’s a resolution feeling, and you shouldn’t crack that open unless you’re going a lot longer. Music is communication, and people are receptive to it. It can even be subconscious. You can’t help but follow what it’s saying, so if you get going again, then stop, it can leave them hanging.”
For the year-end session, Zanski may speak about actively clearing and letting go of the past 12 months and allowing space for a new start. He’ll definitely encourage participants not to perform loud processing, such as audible exhales that can be distracting to others. (He says he can offer a session focused on catharsis but that the New Year’s Sound Bath is not one of those times.)
The sessions also carry no religious dogma but instead tap into the notion of music as a universal language and each person’s heartbeat as a unifying link across belief systems. Zanski’s goal is to provide a neutral experience and bring people into harmony with instruments tuned to planetary frequencies. But although that realignment has the potential to better the lives of others, he stresses that he’s not a healer.
“Sounds help you relax, and you heal yourself,” he says. “It’s a cue — I’m just giving people the opportunity and the space. Once they’ve committed to coming to the space, right there, that’s a big thing. They’re out of the house and in the space, now it’s up to them. I don’t play a magical set of sounds and that solves it, but it nudges them to feel something.”
For 2019, Zanski plans to train more people in how to lead sound healing sessions. He says it’s an easy way for people who want to play music to achieve that goal — versus the complexity of learning how to play the piano — and that after a few classes and with a few instruments, they can make beautiful sounds.
Zanski also wants to do more specialized sound experiences, collaborating with other practitioners to offer such opportunities as acupuncture and sound at the same time. In that vein, he’ll additionally pair his new album, The Journey Within, with movement, using sounds to relax a room of people, then playing music meant to inspire them to dance.
WHAT: New Year’s Sound Bath
WHERE: OM Sanctuary, 87 Richmond Hill Drive, omsanctuary.org
WHEN: Saturday, Dec. 29, 7 p.m. $25