In the summer of 2014, Jill and I went on a road trip to Asheville in North Carolina, and we had the amazing opportunity to visit the Saraz workshop! Let me try to share this unique experience with you.
But first, let's take a step back. I've got to tell you why the heck we were in North Carolina. In mid-June that year, one of the world's biggest handpan gatherings was held, the HangOut USA. People came from as far as Australia, Germany and even Finland to spend a few days at Lake Eden, a beautiful venue located in the Great Smoky Mountains.
HOUSA (abbreviation for HangOut USA) was truly the meeting of different worlds, a bridge between the past and the future. If you know anything about handpans, you probably know that it all started in Switzerland with the PANArt Hang. In the first decade of our century, the Hang was the only handpan out there, even before the term "handpan" was coined.
At HOUSA, there were original Hang players and newer handpan enthusiasts. Renown musicians were also attending like David Kuckhermann and River Guerguerian. And HOUSA introduced new handpan makers like Sean Beever and his Symphonic Steel and Michael Colley and his Aciel.
But the main star at HOUSA this year was the Saraz. Mark Garner and his team had gone a long way since first revealing their handpan the previous year at Handpangea 2013. Moving from hammered shells to Pantheon Steel's rolled shells, they blew everyone away with top-shelf-quality instruments. Since their workshop was located only a few miles from the HOUSA venue, Mark and his team were huge contributors to the event. And yhey also put on a great show performing (what I believe was) the first chromatic piece ever on handpans.
Anyway, we'd been on the Saraz waiting list for about a year so we were excited to pick up our fresh new Saraz at HOUSA. Mark also kindly offered to give us a tour of his workshop. How cool to see where our handpan had just been made! You bet we jumped on the opportunity!
At first glance, the Saraz workshop looked pretty simple. There were hammers of all shapes and sizes everywhere—but no big machine or assembly line in sight. That's the thing; handpans are handcrafted and visiting the Saraz workshop reminded us of just that.
Mark later said "we are just barbarians" referring to the hours spent hammering steel, alluding to the dichotomy that such delicate instruments are made by such brute force. But don't be fooled, handpan-making isn't accidental. It takes tremendous talent and discipline to get where the Saraz team is at. It made it all the more meaningful to experience the place where the Saraz team has perfected their art with sweat and blood.