Music and healing at the Caring Circle Café

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Photo: Shirley Nadeau

Jimmy Thériault demonstrates the healing power of Tibetan singing bowls to the Caring Circle. 

The Caring Circle Café, organized by Jeffery Hale Community Service’s Jan Anderson, invited caregivers and friends to partake in a vibrational musical experience at Jeffery Hale Hospital’s Coin de Soleil on Thursday, August 6. The fascinating event was attended by some 20 people. 

Christiane Ruggiero, a licensed occupational therapist from Florida, visits Quebec City as much as her health will allow to spend time with her Québécois fiancé. In discussion with Jan Anderson during a Caring Circle Café she was told music was not used in health-care settings and Ruggiero volunteered to help organize this one-time event.  

“In 20 years of working with people through some serious health issues, I have  learned that music and art are part of life, and part of recovery and healing. It continues to help me in my own recovery from neurologic Lyme disease,” said Ruggiero. “Write yourself a prescription today to add more music and art to your life, and that includes the instrument you all carry around, your voice.”  

Ruggiero explained that music can improve learning development among children from infancy to kindergarten. Melodic intonation therapy has been proven to help patients with communication disorders caused by brain damage. Music therapy has been shown to improve movement and muscle control, increase speech and communication, promote improved cognition, and elevate mood and motivation. Therapeutic listening helps people of all ages who have difficulty processing sensory information, listening, attention and communication. 

But as luck would have it, Ruggiero’s collection of musical vibrational (therapy) instruments, including her Tibetan singing bowl, was in Florida. “All I have here are a few home-made water bottle ‘shakers’ and some yoga ‘eggs,’” she said. She hoped to find someone local who could demonstrate Tibetan singing bowls and handpans, which she considered to be the top two instruments for sound healing. 

“By chance I met a woman who knew someone in Quebec City who had Tibetan singing bowls. She put me in touch with a full-time practitioner of sound healing, Jimmy Thériault,” said Ruggerio. At his studio on Rue Saint-Joseph, Thériault gives massage using Tibetan bowls, and trains people in the ancient technique of singing bowls. 

Through Facebook, a friend in Florida referred Ruggiero to someone in France – who knew someone in Quebec City – who plays the handpans, Philippe Gagné. On very short notice, both Gagné and Thériault came to demonstrate their art at the Caring Circle Café’s meeting. 

Jimmy Thériault travelled to Tibet and Nepal some years ago to obtain his first “singing bowl” and master the technique of playing it. Thériault brought along a total of 17 large brass bowls plus two smaller ones, a pair of hand-held cymbals, and wind chimes. He sat on the floor and arranged the instruments around him. After explaining his life journey and the history of the bowls (originally used by Buddhist monks while meditating), he gave a 15-minute demonstration: “Just listen, and let the vibrations into your body.” As he gently struck the bowls with padded hammers,  harmonics and overtones reverberated from the bowls, enthralling the group in a kind of aural massage. 

Members of the audience were then invited to experiment with the bowls to produce their own good vibrations. 

The handpan (also called hang) has a beautiful, mesmerizing sound. When Philippe Gagné struck it with his fingertips, the hollow, beaten steel instrument (it looks like a little flying saucer) gave an absolutely unique sound. The top of the instrument has a centre “note” and eight “tone fields” hammered around the central one. Gagné delighted the audience with his recent composition, inspired by the sound of rain – something we’ve heard a lot lately!  

For more information about Jimmy Thériault and his therapeutic use of Tibetan singing bowls, visit his bilingual website at www.sereniteparleson.com/  

You can see and hear Philippe Gagné play the handpan on a YouTube video at www.youtube.com/watch?v=hMtUh2sWyz8