Sonoma musician heals with sounds from ancient instruments

When he's not playing trombone with the Santa Rosa Symphony, Rene Jenkins uses ancient instruments to promote healing through sound|


What: Sound Blessing Concerts With Ancient Instruments

When: 7 p.m., Friday, April 1

Where: Unity Center, 4857 Old Redwood Hwy, Santa Rosa

Cost: $30

More information: 542-7729,

Contact Rene Jenkins:, 707-939-9827,

When Rene Jenkins blows into his digeridoo, all senses are trained on him. Sounding a deep and resonant timbre, he moves through a group with the silent agility of a wild cat, producing a cadence as soothing as a foghorn. Eyes close, shoulders drop. Minds stop clattering.

At any time he may pick up another ancient instrument - a lilting South American flute, a Tibetan sound bowl, a Conch shell, a Vietnamese jaw harp, rattles and rustling reeds that he waves as if caught up in a slight breeze - and sound it in the direction of first one observer, and then another.

These ancient sounds - trills, bleats, bells, deep droning and high pitched whistles - imitate the voices of nature, like rain, wind, a bird’s wings and animal cries. They are sounds that tug at something primal within the listener, whether it is an emotion or feeling or something more physical, from a beating heart to the pumping of blood to the rhythm of breath.

Jenkins is a musician who inhabits two wildly different musical worlds. For more than 30 years he has been a professional trombonist, playing with jazz, contemporary and big bands as well as the Santa Rosa Symphony’s pops concerts. But within his other musical world, the 51-year-old Sonoman is a one-man orchestra of obscure indigenous instruments, from flutes made of condor bones to ocarinas carved from dinosaur bones, few known beyond the corner of the world from which they came.

He describes what he does as “Sound Healing” or “Vibe Therapy.” Mentored by a range of wise elders, from Kashaya-Pomo storyteller and medicine man Lorin Smith and cross-cultural anthropologist Angeles Arrien, to Peruvian Shaman and flute master Tito La Rosa, he uses ancient ancestral instruments to mark passages, awaken or draw out deep emotion or release pent up feelings or pain.

He performs his healing sounds one on one and in groups. On Friday, he will perform a Sound Blessing of ancient music with his partner and fellow healer, Janet Janay Cipriani, at The Unity Center in Santa Rosa.

“Each instrument helps me express the qualities and elements for others to remember what has been forgotten or lost,” he explained. “Each of us has a remembrance of wholeness, or being one with the universe on some level of consciousness, and I believe there is something in the ancient expression that reminds us of a time when were more connected to the natural world. Sometimes the remembrance is a gentle nudge or gesture, like a sweet lullaby. For others it’s more emphatic, akin to a heroic call to arms.”

For more than 20 years Jenkins has been a familiar figure within North Coast healing circles. He was first introduced to the digeridoo by happenstance in 1993 when a friend, who did bodywork for The Grateful Dead, brought over his own digeridoo and asked Jenkins, then working as the wine director for Bartholomew Park Winery, to teach him the kind of circular breathing used by wind instrument players to produce a continuous tone without interruption. It essentially involves breathing in through the nose while simultaneously pushing air out through the mouth using air stored in the cheeks.

Jenkins had figured it out as a small child blowing bubbles in the bathtub and later used it to play the trombone, which he had been playing since the fourth grade. He didn’t anticipate that those first experiments with the strange, Aboriginal wind instrument would open a whole new universe of sound and music. Eventually he found himself working with Smith, a Kashaya elder and healer who performs traditional “Weya” healing ceremonies.

“The word in essence means nurturing, healing energy,” Jenkins said. “It’s moving through us. It’s a medicine that we carry when we’re nurturing and loving and wanting to give healing energy to others.”

The idea of drawing on sound for healing can be found in other cultures as well. Years later, he found himself drawn to Tito La Rosa, a Peruvian flute master, shaman and curandero de sonido, or sound healer.

“He’s considered a national treasure of Peru because he’s been responsible for reconstructing other cultures’ music by playing a lot of instruments recovered from archeolgical digs, the stuff that was left behind after pillagers took the valuable gold and minerals.”

Jenkins had already begun doing some sound healing with his digeridoo, rattles and drums when he saw La Rosa in performance at the Sonoma Community Center during one of his U.S. tours. He felt a calling to visit him in Peru in what was to be the start of his own shamanic journey.

After time spent in the Amazon jungle taking plant medicine with the hope of having a vision to guide him, Jenkins met up with La Rosa and his wife Elba for a healing ceremony at ancient ruins north of Lima. As he was about to leave, La Rosa presented Jenkins with a Condor Bone Flute, that sounds like a high-pitched breathy whistle. Jenkins said the shaman told him he envisioned Jenkins doing the same work.

He came back and became more deeply involved developing a sound healing practice and expanding his repertoire of instruments. Some of his music includes traditional songs, but a lot is improvisational. Jenkins frequently decides on the spot what instruments to use from the “mesa,” or altar he lays out to display them. It could be a long flute like the Momma Quena or an Antara pan flute made of condor quills that he may play with a feather or an Amazonian rattle of bundled leaves called a Shakapa.

The instruments he selects depend on the need or issue of those who come to him for healing.

“If someone comes to me with a specific issue, I might think of an instrument for releasing something from the past. The aboriginals use the digeridoo as a means of going into dream time or trance state,” said Jenkins, who provides sound healing in individual sessions, before groups and in classes and workshops.

Sound healing is a kind of work that he has, in a sense, been working toward all his life.

“I always knew I was going to do some kind of healing thing. Even from the time I was 5 years old, I remember looking up at the stars and going, ‘How can I affect the world with this love that I feel, this compassion I feel for everybody?’” Jenkins said.

He grew up in Santa Rosa as part of a musical mystical family. His father, Vic, taught history, played an array of wind instruments himself and led the pit orchestra at Montgomery High School. His late mother, who was part Mexican, engaged in spiritual rituals passed down in her family. He remembers her performing a healing ritual on him when he was a little boy suffering migraines, running an egg over his body, then putting it in a jar of water under a bed.

People who come to his sound performances or for personal work may have a variety of issues or pain to work through. Some things they’re simply not ready to release. Jenkins understands. He had some of his own.

In 2009, his sister, Robin, was stabbed to death by her fiancé in Las Vegas while she was on the phone talking to their father.

“I was very upset at the murder of my sister, and I was very angry. And yet, I was able to play with all of the feelings.” That included identifying what he was still holding on to and finding the right sounds for his own healing.

Jenkins said he finds peace and the expression of his own sorrow through the Mayan flute.

“It really helps the tenderizing of my heart,” he said, picking it up and blowing into it, producing a sound that is so soft it’s almost a whisper. “It’s hard to listen to that and not get to a more tender place.”

You can reach Staff Writer Meg McConahey at or 521-5204. ?


What: Sound Blessing Concerts With Ancient Instruments

When: 7 p.m., Friday, April 1

Where: Unity Center, 4857 Old Redwood Hwy, Santa Rosa

Cost: $30

More information: 542-7729,

Contact Rene Jenkins:, 707-939-9827,

Meg McConahey

Features, The Press Democrat

Like most everyone, I love a good feature story that takes me somewhere I’ve never been or tells me something I don’t know. Where can I take you? Who in Sonoma County would you like to know better? I cover the people, places and ideas that make up Sonoma County, with general features, people profiles and home and garden, interior design and architecture stories. Hit me up with your tips, ideas and burning questions.


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