On a recent sunny Saturday, Valerie Sonnenthal, writer, poet, artist, and doyenne of our Island arts community, picked me up in Vineyard Haven and drove me all the way up to the quintessentially Beatrix Potter landscape of Tabor House Road, after which we swooped up one lane and down another until we arrived at her wide-angled house set on a number of green acres, with a stunning view of a silver-blue sea in the distance. Already I was in a chill mood from the setting, enhanced by a cuddly greeting from Zero and Gracie, Ms. Sonnenthal’s King Charles spaniels.
Ms. Sonnenthal shares her house with her husband, photographer Edward Grazda, but after a quick hello to Ed in his west-wing study, we headed east to Ms. Sonnenthal’s sound bath studio, where a cushioned table awaited me. The maestro got me comfortably installed, face down in a velvety doughnut pillow, and then the bliss-out began.
Ms. Sonnenthal placed some heavy objects on my legs and back. If I’d had to guess, I’d say they were slabs of granite (I was wrong) — heavy but surprisingly comforting. Then for the next half-hour, there were sounds of “singing bowls” (brass and copper, played with mallets around the rims and rung like gongs), chimes, tuning forks, and harplike instruments called monochords (which turned out to be the items Ms. Sonnenthal had settled on my back).
Ms. Sonnenthal somehow made the sounds come from everywhere, chords resonating in the space for an ethereal length of time, punctuated by silence to make way for the next roster of sound. It wasn’t pretty, exactly, nor melodious, but it was trippy and all-enveloping. “It’s the music of the spheres,” I found myself thinking, having always wondered what that particular soundtrack was like, and whether or not I’d ever hear it.
I kept thinking I never wanted this to end. Ms. Sonnenthal said that had been her exact reaction when first introduced to the process.
In February 2015, West Tisbury artist Sandy Bernat invited Ms. Sonnenthal to attend a healing modalities workshop in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Ms. Sonnenthal contributed her own teachings in hand and foot fitness through the MELT Method. “It’s designed to rehydrate connective tissue in a proactive self-care program,” she explained. In return, she was treated to her first restorative sound bath.
After that, she was off and running, discovering branches of this ancient art: There were monochords to be ordered from a factory in Pulow, Germany. She ordered two, one in the key of C, the other in F. She trained in holistic pelvic care with chimes called The Elvin, developed by a woman in Australia. She studied with Satya Brat of India, now teaching and playing his singing bowls in Manhattan and, when he has the time, all over the world. She took continuum courses with Emilie Conrad, who uses sound tones and breathing for patients with paralyzed spines.
“Sound baths access the fluid body,” Ms. Sonnenthal explained. “After all, we grow from a sea squirt, so the fluid body reunites us with the original perfect balance we knew in the womb.”
Ms. Sonnenthal is a woman possessed by her new fieldwork with restorative sound. This past Monday at Howes House, she conducted a group session as evening darkened the downstairs room, and about 20 people, spread out on yoga mats, absorbed the almost voluptuous tones of Ms. Sonnenthal’s full roster of instruments. At times, she played before us amid her chimes, bowls, and monochords, a one-woman band, at other times, as notes and chords still resonated from the front of the room, she walked among us with a singing bowl, the hem of her long skirt sometimes brushing our heads. The experience felt shamanistic; we could have been drenched in this sphere’s music in the heart of the Amazon jungle.
By the way: That night, this reporter and insomniac slept clear through till morning, a personal best not achieved in years.
Ms. Sonnenthal will host a monthly program at the Peacegate Dojo off State Road (see schedule at PeakedHillStudio.com), and she also treats lucky souls such as myself at her home studio.
Like all good New Age therapies (could we please find a less obnoxious nomenclature for “New Age”?), restorative sound baths are becoming all the rage in New York, Los Angeles, and other cosmopolitan hot spots. I happen to have spent some precious half-hours at an unusual site near Joshua Tree National Park in California, where they’re doing this all the time: It’s a parabolic-shaped structure called the Integratron, built after WWII by a UFOlogist named George Van Tassel who, apparently, received architectural guidance from aliens.
At the top of the Integratron, an oculus is open to the sky. I once visited with my sister and my son. We’d been in a collective familial crappy mood, but after some 20 minutes spent in the Integratron, we left giggling and delighted with ourselves, each other, and life all the rest of the day. It was as if those aliens of Mr. Van Tassel’s had protruded a straw through the oculus and sucked all the bad stuff out of our brains.
Just think what an experience it would be if the Integratron owners added their own signature crystal bowls sound baths to this galactic space.
Stay tuned for further events with Ms. Sonnenthal, or book her for individual sessions, after which you may need to be gently and carefully scraped from the stars.
For more information, contact Ms. Sonnenthal at firstname.lastname@example.org.