hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


Arts & Culture October 2023


Rich tones, healing vibrations

Saratoga cellist focuses on her instrument’s therapeutic potential


Demetria Konisis sits with her cello and other instruments she uses for sound therapy in her studio in Saratoga Springs. Joan K. Lentini photo


Demetria Konisis sits with her cello and other instruments she uses for sound therapy in her studio in Saratoga Springs. Joan K. Lentini photo


Contributing writer


Demetria Koninis takes a seat and gently pulls her cello to an upright position in front of her.
Slowly she glides the bow across the strings, as gentle, resonant notes reverberate across the room.

Although the room is filled with people who’ve come to hear her play, Koninis is not performing a classical sonata or suite. Instead, she’s offering cello music as tonal vibration therapy.
Next to her is yoga instructor and meditation facilitator Judy Pawlick, who sits cross-legged on the floor in front of a row of white crystal singing bowls. For the next hour, the two women will intersperse their gentle streams of sound while participants, in repose on yoga mats, soak in the vibrations.

Koninis and Pawlick offer their sound healing sessions in Roosevelt Building 2 at the Saratoga Spa State Park, directly across from the Roosevelt Baths. The two met several years ago at one of Pawlick’s yoga classes. Their collaboration began when Pawlick invited Koninis to play cello during a class.

“She played cello during the last 5 minutes of the class, where everyone is lying down in a resting position, also known as shavasana,” Pawlick recalled. “Everyone loved it. Demetria and I discovered we shared a love of providing a holistic environment where people can tune in to their inner truth and wisdom — and improve their overall health from the inside out.”

Pawlick’s husband had recently given her a set of crystal singing bowls, and both women recall the sound healing partnership naturally falling into place.


Music for healing
Koninis, who grew up in Bennington, Vt., began playing the cello in fourth grade. Although she jokes that it became her chosen instrument because it can be played while sitting, it was only decades later, after embarking on a career in sound healing, that Koninis could pinpoint the true reason behind her affinity for the cello.

“I didn’t understand it at a young age, but there was always something about the sound of a cello,” she recalled. “The vibrations of it called to me, it sounded brighter and louder to me than other string instruments.”

Koninis continued playing throughout her school years and later earned a degree in therapeutic recreation. It was at hospitals and nursing homes that she first began using her cello as a therapeutic tool.

“It was part of my job to think of ways to get patients to come out of their rooms and participate,” Koninis remembered. “Back then, there wasn’t a name for what I was doing. Sound therapy as a modality didn’t exist. I just played the cello to make people feel good.”

After marrying and moving to Saratoga Springs in 1991, Koninis continued her therapeutic work and cello playing at Saratoga Hospital, Albany Medical Center, and at a nursing home in Glens Falls. For the next decade she honed her skills, finding creative ways to help mitigate patients’ stress, depression and apathy after traumatic injuries.

“I worked with people with spinal cord injuries or who had just lost a limb and couldn’t do the same things anymore,” said Koninis, who came up with smile-inducing group activities including a cello-centric version of “Name That Tune.”


Discovering sound therapy
After becoming a mother to two boys, Koninis decided to leave hospital work to focus both on her family and her musical passion.

“I didn’t consider myself an amazing cello player,” she recalled. “I always said to my husband that when I retire, I’m going to really learn how to play the cello. I decided at that moment that life’s too short and I’m going to do it now.”

Koninis went back to school, earned a music certificate from Schenectady County Community College and began taking private cello lessons at Skidmore College.

Along the way, she was introduced to the Suzuki method. This intensive teaching method for string instruments originally was intended for young children but now is used by aspiring musicians of all ages. Koninis began studying the method in earnest in 2008.

She also began offering private cello lessons and embarked on a 14-year stint of playing at weddings. But her true love, she discovered, is sound therapy.

“During the pandemic, I used the lockdown time to take online music classes, learning various modes and scales,” Koninis said. “A classmate mentioned she did sound therapy, and I was instantly intrigued. I visited her in Oregon to check it out and decided that’s what I want to pursue.”

It didn’t take long before she became certified and offered sound healing sessions around the region to a growing audience.

Rita Marinello, a Saratoga Springs yoga teacher and functional medicine health coach, has known Koninis as a yoga student for 15 years. Koninis counts Marinello as one of her most ardent cheerleaders as she was transitioning into the unknown of a new career path.

“Kripalu-style yoga is very meditative and about quieting the ego and listening,” Marinello explained. “I would encourage Demetria to drop out of her head and into her heart and get out of the inner-critic mindset. She came from a specific Suzuki training background, and I’d ask her to pay attention to how it feels in her body when she’s playing the cello and to be in tune with what the participants are feeling and absorbing.”

Koninis began practicing Marinello’s advice and says her work in sound therapy feels like a full-circle complement to her previous therapeutic work.

“It works with my background and with who I am,” she said. “I played in chamber orchestras, but I didn’t love it. When I studied modes, it was more improvisational. You’re really listening to yourself and what you’re feeling in the moment, and that inspires what I play in the moment when I do sound healing.”


‘Imperfect sounds are important’
In addition to her cello, Koninis also has a growing collection of other instruments including Tibetan bowls, a gong, a singing drum, an ocean drum, and chimes.

“I have all these fun toys and keep buying more,” she said, laughing. “I purposely don’t always play perfectly and in tune. Everyone’s body vibrates to different frequencies, and those dissonant imperfect sounds are important too.”

Kathy Rittenhouse of Saratoga Springs has attended both group and private sessions with Koninis and describes the effect as restorative.

“The cello has such resonance, and Demetria also incorporates Reiki and breath work into the sessions,” Rittenhouse said. “Her sessions have allowed my brain to go to a quiet space. It’s like deep meditation — you feel like you’ve cleaned your closet and made more space. Demetria has a very calming demeanor, and she knows music. … It’s just an overall relaxing experience.”
No longer tied to mapping out her schedule months in advance for wedding gigs or logging 40-plus hours per week at a hospital or nursing home, Koninis is relishing this creative and free-form stage of her life.

“I’m doing my own thing as a sound therapist,” she explained. “Sometimes I work with other practitioners, and other times I’ll work solo and use a combination of Reiki and energy work with the sound therapy.”

Two of her most recent collaborations are her sound baths at the Adirondack Salt Cave in Glens Falls and with craniosacral and energy medicine therapist Dee Beckler at the Abanakee Wellness Center in Warrensburg.

“I play cello while Dee works on the client,” Koninis said. “It’s a very powerful combination.”
At her Saratoga Springs studio, Koninis also welcomes small groups of up to four people for sound bath sessions. Her rates for private sessions are $90 and most group sessions range between $25 and $30.

Koninis said sound therapy now is much better known than it was even a decade ago, and her list of satisfied clients keeps growing — a fact she finds gratifying in the era of electronics and binaural beats headphones.

“You can get results from listening to recorded music,” she said. “But when you’re in earshot of live music, it penetrates the body in a way that headphones never could.”


For more information about Spa City Cello, visit www.spacitycello.com or call (518) 461-8470. For information about Judy Pawlick’s meditation and yoga classes, visit yogawithjudy.org.