Gotz Rausch squats on a cushion on the floor of his studio in Lunow-Stolzenhagen and lightly caresses the strings of a rectangular wooden box on legs.
It creates a soothing and vibrant buzz. Rausch, a luthier, then uses his other hand to adjust something under the box, creating a slight hum.
“It’s a kotamo, a mix of three different instruments,” he says.
Rausch does not need sheet music to create the soothing sounds of his combined instrument.
“That’s the great thing about therapeutic musical instruments. You can play them without taking long lessons to do it, and it creates soul access.”
That’s why these wooden musical marvels are so versatile, being used in settings ranging from hospitals and children’s facilities, to music schools and psychotherapy or physiotherapy practices, he says.
Rausch has spent the past five years building a total of 20 different instruments in his workshop in rural Brandenburg, the German state that surrounds the capital Berlin. Originally from Hamburg, he learned the trade 25 years ago in Berlin.
At the time, his teacher was one of the few people who knew how to make therapy instruments, he says. Today, Germany is home to about 20 specialists, according to Rausch.
After all, the benefits of music therapy are well-studied and widely known. More and more sound therapists are trained.
There is a six-term master’s degree in music therapy at the University of the Arts Berlin (UdK), explains Professor Susanne Bauer. Annual intake is 14 per year, with 42 future music therapists currently studying at UdK.
Across the country, seven universities teach music therapy, according to the German Society for Music Therapy.
A federal task force has now introduced its own certification procedure for the profession, explains executive director Judith Brunk, noting that it is not yet regulated by the government and “as a result there are unfortunately also dodgy providers on the market”.
Music therapy is a practice-oriented scientific discipline used in child and adolescent psychiatry, in therapeutic pedagogy or when working with patients with dementia.
The way it works is that a patient lies on a sound couch and their body absorbs the musical tones directly, through vibration. It also works with the monochord, which is placed on the abdomen, where people have very sensitive receptors, explains Berlin psychotherapist Gerhard Tuschy.
“Vibration leads to a truly blissful experience. Monotone sounds have a distinctly harmonious effect, can lead to an enhancement of the basic feel of life,” says Tuschy, who has worked with sounds in her practice for 30 years.
“Hearing has more meaning than we realize. It starts in the womb. The experience is stored in the body’s memory.”
Meanwhile, Rausch is selling his instruments around the world, saying they are generating a lot of interest.
“We are struggling to keep up. His team includes a piano maker and a sound technician. Despite the strong demand, Rausch does not plan to expand his operation.
“It won’t make me happier. I’m happy the way things are,” he says.
He lives with 40 other members of the cooperative on a former estate in a village which has now become the home of many creators and artists.
“What is nice and special for me is that the newcomers do not separate themselves from the villagers. In the volunteer fire brigade, for example, we all join,” says Rausch.
Making your instrument by hand is a process that takes time, countless steps and selected “ingredients”, he says.
“The most important component are the wooden coverings over which the strings are stretched. The wood for these comes from mountain spruces in Switzerland – very light and with a wonderful sound,” he says.
All the great luthiers of past centuries have used this particular wood, whether they build violins, pianos or guitars.
“When it comes to the wood used for the frames, it’s all about appearance and weight, so I use local alder, but also maple or beech.”
Unfortunately, fewer and fewer young people want to learn the trade, says Rausch.
“No one has asked me to apprentice yet.” For Rausch, life without music would be unimaginable.
He is also a guitarist, plays freely, without sheet music and sometimes goes on tour with his band.
“My approach is to make music accessible to everyone, even without first learning an instrument. It’s the sound that makes the music, a sensory experience that everyone can actually perceive.” – dpa