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The Guardian News April 2024 - En Coda at The Art Gallery of NSW

The Guardian News En Coda Symphony Orchestra performing at The Art Gallery of NSW

Renowned Australian comedian Jennifer Wong, writing for The Guardian News, recently attended The En Coda Experience in Sydney.

In her insightful piece, she offered a nuanced perspective, blending humour with thoughtful analysis. Here's a glimpse into her reflections on the performance...

The Guardian Newspaper, Jennifer Wong

My first time at a sound healing: ‘Is this the longest I’ve gone without checking my phone?’

In her fortnightly review of fitness and wellbeing activities, comedian Jennifer Wong gets immersed in music and lost in a sunset.

We recommend that you can do this experience either with your eyes closed or open – but it’s definitely better with hearts open,” says Mark Coughlan, the conductor of En Coda Symphony Orchestra as we settle in for the group’s hour-long sound-healing session. The man next to me chuckles.

It’s a sunny evening and 300 of us – attracted by the promise of a meditative, transportive and therapeutic experience – have gathered inside the Art Gallery of New South Wales for a one-off concert by the Perth-based group, comprising three instrumentalists who perform alongside an ensemble of 13 local string players.

Floor-to-ceiling windows look out on to green lawns and clear skies, and already I can feel my eyes relaxing and adjusting to the novelty of looking at things in the middle and far distance, instead of squinting at a screen.

En Coda Symphony Orchestra performing at The Art Gallery of NSW

Julian Silburn walks into the hall of the gallery’s North Building playing a crystal didgeridoo. As he approaches the audience, he lifts the instrument, pointing it towards the faces of people in the front row.

The string section pick up their bows as En Coda’s composer and vocalist, Tenille Bentley, joins in with a Māori prayer, her powerful voice filling the room. The group’s percussionist and vocalist, January Kultura, begins playing a half calabash (a large drum made from a hollowed-out gourd) on alternate beats.

I look around the room and see people with their eyes closed. A small child climbs into her mother’s lap.

In the next piece, Bentley and Kultura sing together about the spirit of a woman. Strings swirl and surge around the vocals, recalling the melancholic arpeggios of Philip Glass or Max Richter. The song reminds me of something you might hear on a film soundtrack when the main character stands on a beach and stares at the waves while the wind blows her hair into an unfixable mess.

The songs continue, traversing themes of love, growth and renewal. With their fast-moving fingers and brows deeply furrowed with concentration, the string section executes the works with a sense of ease. Behind them, through the gallery windows, a different world unfolds: flocks of birds fly from one side of the park to the other and back again. The white-grey sky turns pink.

I don’t think I’ve ever spent an hour doing nothing but sit comfortably, listening to live music and gazing at the sky while the sun sets. Turns out it’s pretty nice. Relaxing, even. Also, I can’t remember the last time I have gone this long without checking my phone. Am I … healing?

En Coda Symphony Orchestra performing at The Art Gallery of NSW

At the end of the concert, when the didgeridoo’s final low note ends, silence hangs in the air. The audience hold back and don’t clap, as if not wanting to break the spell.

I count to 52 before Bentley starts to speak quietly, like a yoga teacher murmuring before she sends you back into the real world.

“And as we bring our awareness back into the space, take in a deep breath,” she says. “Bring all that love and that peace that we have conjured up in the room today. And with our next breath in, we place that into the centre of Mother Earth.”

We breathe in. We breathe out.

“And as we give love and peace to all of those around the world that currently need it. We cultivate the essence of this vibration and frequency and feeling, and we radiate that out to all that need it on planet Earth.”

She thanks the musicians and the audience, who respond with rousing applause, sending some vibrations back to the sound healers.


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