We often write about people who, at a certain point in their lives, have re-evaluated their trajectories. After a certain amount of life experience, sometimes work that used to feel like a good fit is no longer what we wish to do. Martha Collard, 61, has made a rather radical move from a very secure, orderly, left-brain occupation in the corporate world to something entirely opposite: becoming a gong master in Hong Kong.
Hi, Martha. When did you leave your corporate job and open a gong studio?
I left 28 years of consulting in the areas of human performance and effectiveness at the end of 2014. Using my personal savings on a wing and a prayer, I opened Red Doors Studio, six weeks after signing a lease on March 17, 2015, featuring the world’s foremost Gong Master (who lives in NYC), Don Conreaux, for our first workshop and concert.
Biologist, Consultant, Gong Player
How did it feel to make a change like that?
I am a marine biologist by choice, consultant by necessity, and now gong player by passion. My life has taken many turns, each building on the other in terms of skills and experience culminating in my role today. From 1986-1992 I was a head hunter with Swiss-based TASA Executive Search, making partner in 1989 (youngest globally). I left in 1992 to gain experience in areas of Human Resources other than recruitment. Necessity required more regular income and my project-based consulting continued primarily in Fortune 200 banks. Bank Boston, Salomon Brothers, Manulife, Bankers Trust gave me the experience in evaluating people, psychometrics, and motivation as well as leadership development. Starting in 2000 I worked in advertising with Grey Global Group, GroupM and Universal McCann where I learned the importance of brand.
I was essentially a left-brained, type A personality. My MBTI type is ESTJ meaning very planful, structured and highly resistant to change.
Creating a Holistic Wellness Platform for 5K Staff
From 1992 my career was one of freelance project work for multinationals, usually to create order from chaos. From 2000 I started coaching for the Center for Creative Leadership in Singapore as well. The chairman of this privately held group tasked me with creating a holistic wellness platform from scratch for 5,400 staff in four companies. It was here that I understood the importance of motivation, values and meaning and their link to performance.
“Set up your own studio”
How did you make the decision to leave?
Actually, my boss suggested “set up your own studio.” Enjoying challenges, I set out to do so. And once I had set my mind to it, resources appeared seemingly out of nowhere. An acquaintance offered to translate with the builder and essentially act as a project manager. A student found a second-hand pile of yoga mats that had been used once — the only catch was that I had to buy all 140 mats. This was my first expense for the studio. The large sums required for the rent deposit and construction were daunting. Fortunately, I had sufficient savings and never had to borrow money. I was also fortunate in having consulting income for the first two years.
Scary, New, and Exciting
It was scary, it was new, it was exciting. If I had a business plan, I can’t find it. In the realm of spiritual work, you learn quickly that you are not in control. I feel my journey thus far has been guided by a force other than myself. Opportunities present themselves, individuals enter my sphere of influence, and I live pretty much one day at a time. I am not planful now, I do not market or pursue business development activities in a proactive fashion, yet here I am.
First Gong Experience
What was your first experience with the gong?
Seven years ago, during Kundalini yoga teacher training in New Mexico, I had my first gong bath. It was a one-hour experience within a 21-day intensive program. I felt my body drop and my soul soar through the universe where I witnessed the Big Bang.
Kidney Stones Cured by the Gong
I understand that the gong cured your kidney stones. What was that like?
A year later, I met a couple from the UK who had moved to Canada and were gong players. They said gongs would “rearrange my molecules.” I didn’t really believe them. The gong bath was on a massage table in a yurt near the ocean in an apple orchard. Expecting another cosmic experience, you can imagine how disappointed I was in that the entire time all I could fixate on was an ice cube melting on my side. For the life of me, I could not understand why they would have done that. It was only when I woke up that I realized there was indeed no ice cube and then the penny dropped that my kidney stone dissolved. If you think about it, the use of sonic lithotripsy in hospitals will have the same effect. I looked around the massage table and decided to buy three big gongs.
Gong Baths and Big Life Decisions
How did making such a radical career change feel?
I instinctively made the decision and never looked back. I rarely rest on my laurels and reflect on my progress or accomplishments. Every time I have a gong bath myself, I tend to make a life-changing, seemingly rash, spontaneous decision. After my first gong bath during a Kundalini yoga teacher training in New Mexico 7 years ago, I bought a gong. After my second gong bath in Nova Scotia, when my kidney stone dissolved, I spent $10,000 on 3 more gongs. This is not a rational decision for a single self-employed mom with 2 children in university. After my third gong bath, I left a career of 28 years and built the studio. Needless to say, I do not get gonged often now.
I have trademarked my company. My logo has deep meaning in my part of the world. Being made of two Chinese characters, door and mouth, meaning to ask or to question, and by coming through my doors you will receive the answers.
Playing the Gong “in selfless service to others”
How does it feel to play the gong?
When I play I am at one with the instrument. I am the means through which its voice is brought forth. Time loses meaning and I am One, in selfless service to others.
How does one learn to be a gong master?
The gong is the best teacher and the more you play and experiment the more you will learn the nuances of sacred sound. The conventional route is to take workshops with those deemed to be experts such as Don or other accomplished sound practitioners. I started with a few books, watched some videos, and attended a few workshops during which I discovered that the gong is my instrument and that I have a natural affinity and ability to connect the sound with the audience.
Playing at the Global Wellness Summit
I had been invited to play at the Global Wellness Summit in Hong Kong in Oct 2019. However, due to the protests, GWS was the first major conference to defect to Singapore. Had the event been in HK, I would have performed with at least 20 gongs; with the change in venue, however, I could only travel with one gong. Given the size of the audience, the prestige of the event, and the room size, I required a special show-stopper for 600 CEOs of luxury hotels and spas.
A Special Gong for a Special Event
I met gong maker Martin Bläse two summers ago when I was fortunate enough to visit his small studio in NW Germany. A few months later, he contacted me saying he would like to come to Hong Kong as part of his first foray outside continental Europe. His goal was to visit HK and tour Australia. In May, he arrived in HK packing his entire collection of gongs. Within a few days all his gongs, save one, was sold.
Knowing you only have one first impression, I asked Martin what his next project would be and he replied: a 55 titanium gong made in memory of his spiritual teacher. I explained my needs and asked if he would make it for me. He agreed.
He started making the gong in early September underestimating the time required to make such a big gong. He shipped the gong direct to Singapore where I unpacked the beauty in my hotel room accompanied with a few of my students. The next day I played for the delegates of the conference and, due to popular demand, played two times after the evening meal before bed. The feedback from the delegates was overwhelming and the organiser said:
“It’s fair to say you were the talk of the Summit”
“Not a day goes by that I don’t hear from someone who attended the Global Wellness Summit in Singapore telling me how your gong baths and main stage performance changed their lives. I think it’s fair to say that you were the talk of the Summit, and that’s quite something. The only other person in recent memory who achieved that status was His Holiness the Dalai Lama, when we were in India.”
“The world simply needs to stop and rest”
Who do you perform for?
My belief is that the world simply needs to stop and rest. I allow my clients to experience deeply therapeutic relaxation using the sound of gongs, leaving them refreshed, renewed and rejuvenated on all levels. Life seems better after a rest, with enhanced clarity and a new perspective on life.
I believe the people that need the relaxation the most are generally those that do not do yoga or other meditation techniques already. Basically, they are people who lead busy lives and who simply want an opportunity to reset.
Clients From Five-Star Hotels to Low-Income Schools
My clients range from cancer support centers to schools, underground bars to rooftops of shopping malls for lululemon new stores opening, five-star hotels and spas such as the Landmark Mandarin and Fivelements to new product launches for Shiseido and Cliff Von Edge. I have played in music festivals such as Wonderfruit in Thailand and the New Healing Festival in Germany to community events such as the Eco Film Festival in Singapore and IRIS in Hong Kong. I played in sensory deprivation tank centers, the Mandarin pool, on beaches and mountain tops. For Boy Scouts and special needs families, pregnant women, charity fundraisers and CEOs. New clients in 2020 include law firms, KPMG and the HK Rugby team. This month, I will begin presenting gong relaxation and walking on labyrinths to 76 low-income schools in Hong Kong during their continuing education days.
I have the only gong studio in Asia, the largest collection in Asia…I now teach in Hong Kong, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, and Thailand with interest this year from Australia, Turkey, and Morocco. I support my teacher, Don Conreaux, as well in the preservation and dissemination of his teachings.
Red Doors Is A Place of Calm
What can people expect if they visit you in Hong Kong?
When people visit Red Doors, it is a place of calm in the city. The sign on the door asks the client to leave their shoes and their worries outside. The ambiance is warm and friendly, feeling like you are in a private home. The furnishings are my own, as I live on a boat, thereby reinforcing the homey feel. The smell of warming spices lingers in the air and the sound of mantras playing in the studio beckons you into the main room through double doors where you will find a light-filled gong chamber. Windows on two walls, mirrors on the other with gongs hanging in the windows and on a number of stands that imbue a sense of calm, serenity, stability and innate power and presence.
There is a large labyrinth painted on the white wood floor, fresh flowers near the Buddha seated in the corner. The mats are laid ready for you to lie down and partake in the rejuvenating sounds of the gongs.
The studio is intentionally casual and reception is simply an old school desk with a clipboard for attendance near the door. Signature homemade spiced tea and chocolate brownies finish our evening gong events.
The Gong and Health
What are some of the effects of the gong on health?
Imagine the body comprised of clusters of molecules. Each is vibrating. Sound, especially the sound of sacred instruments, will support the fully functioning body by balancing energy, by unlocking energetic blockages, improving circulation and thereby the functioning of our liver and kidneys, circulatory and respiratory systems leaving you feeling refreshed and renewed.
The gong is related to energy medicine. How would it compare to what we in the west think of as energy?
To heal is to make sound. Edgar Cayce said, “Sound is the medicine of the future.”
The gong is the most powerful tool for personal transformation and is capable of altering your state of consciousness in between 1-30 seconds. “No one can resist a gong well played” according to Yogi Bhajan. The gong creates a state of spontaneous relaxation, activating the parasympathetic nervous system. Activating the release of NO in the body which serves as a vasodilator and muscle relaxant.
Energy healing has to do with balancing the electromagnetic fields within the body. Each organ, each bone is said to resonate to its own frequency and emotional wounds, physical wounds — even diet and the lack of sleep can impact the fully functioning body. Think of a car. Some days you turn the engine on and it just doesn’t sound right. This is similar to how a traditional energy healer works either with their hands, voice, a bowl or other instrument to find the source of the blockage. The reason behind the source can be important such as in NLP. The use of mechanically/electronically produced sound to alter states of consciousness is now popular with programmed apps taking you into Alpha and Theta, even Delta. The gongs are capable of doing so, usually to the state of Theta or lucid dream state. It is said “being asleep in a dream.”
The Universe Speaks in Vibration
Tesla said if you want to find the secrets of the universe think in terms of energy, frequency, and vibration. The ancients all knew Pythagoras said “the Universe doesn’t speak in English, it speaks in Vibration.” Think of all modern medical devices – the ECG, MRI, XRAY, sonic lithotripsy, etc. — they all rely on vibration.
The ancient Chinese even knew. The character for medicine combines the characters for vibration and plant. They believed in preventative medicine while western medicine tends to only address a disease.
“Everyone can benefit from a good nap”
I feel I am approaching gongs and sound differently than my peers. I do not use the term therapist or healer, feeling these terms are somewhat limiting. I believe my audience is vast and inclusive — that everyone can benefit from a good nap. If it is life-changing, so be it. I call myself a “catalyst” inspiring and training others to serve as change agents in their communities. My oldest student is a cancer survivor, Jean Wong; and my youngest client was 11 months, suffering from a brain tumor.
The gong is a low tech, scalable, effective, and efficient way to offer audiences large and small the opportunity to rest.