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A Joyful Contemplation with Pierce Flynn



Pierce Flynn draws parallels between creating music on the handpan and surfing waves—both as improvisations, meditations, and sacred moments in his life.


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Podcast Transcription

Sylvain: Hey, it's Sylvain and this is the handpan podcast.


Sylvain: This episode of the podcast is a fun conversation with my good friend, Pierce Flynn. If you don't know Pierce yet, you're in for a treat. Here are two things that come to mind when I think about Pierce. First, he's one of the most easy going persons you'll meet. Second, he's got the biggest smile and the most contagious laughter of anyone I know. Obviously there's a lot more to Pierce than that, so I'm excited for you to hear this conversation. Oh, and one thing to note is listen to the parallels that Pierce is drawing between the handpan on the one hand and another activity that's a big part of his life on the other. Okay. Let's jump right in to a conversation with Pierce Flynn.


Sylvain: Pierce. Thanks for being on the podcast.


Pierce: Sylvain, you are welcome, very much and thank you for having me. I'm stoked and honored.


Sylvain: Well, it's my pleasure. It's really fun because we get to record an episode and also catch up at the same time. So, double the fun. So I went through my emails because I wanted to find exactly when we first met and it was in 2014 when you very generously bought all of my albums available at the time.


Pierce: Very inspiring albums for me, Sylvain.


Sylvain: Well, it's so nice. You've been so supportive over the years, but that's the way that we met and we corresponded back and forth a bit after that. And then we finally met in person at HangOut USA.


Pierce: In Asheville.


Sylvain: Yup, that's correct. Um, I think your brother was there too, that first year.


Pierce: He was. My brother, Will. Will Flynn. That was an awesome experience. It was both of our first handpan gatherings. Thanks to you, Jeremy Arndt and Ray Ford, you're, you're my first three handpan community friends and you welcomed me into the community and inspired me and have supported me, so thank you.


Sylvain: Oh cool. Well you're so welcome. And I love these guys. So it's fun. Our community is just so wonderful. Um, but uh, and I knew that after that you and I and your wife Lindsey attended as well in California, at Pantasia a couple of years in a row. I think


Pierce: That's right. Yeah. That's a wonderful gathering too. That's closer to where Lindsey and I live in southern California. We live in North San Diego County and so going out to Joshua tree is just a short, wonderful, beautiful, auspicious drive to the beautiful desert and it was great seeing you and Jill there. Loved your performance and your energy.


Sylvain: In a few words, you just mentioned that you live in southern California. Uh, do you mind saying a bit more about yourself? Like where you're from, obviously where you live now and I've got one more question which is, how come you also speak French?


Pierce: Oh, good questions. Well, Lindsey and I and our two dogs, Charlie and Jack live in San Marcos, which is part of, right next to Carlsbad. So we're about 10 minutes from the Pacific Ocean and I love to surf and I feel very blessed and gifted to be able to both surf and play handpan which are to me so intertwined. And uh, but I was born and raised in uh, California. Uh, my whole family is here, my sister is up in Seattle, but the rest of us are here and I love, I love southern California.


Sylvain: It's a beautiful area, my goodness. No wonder everyone wants to move to California.


Pierce: I like Arizona too, where you're from.


Sylvain: Yeah, and it's not too far. I think we're only five hours apart, so I know we have to, to make it down to visit you guys soon. Absolutely. What about the French? Where did you learn French?


Pierce: Well, I learned French and again, you're very kind. I, I attempt to speak the beautiful language of French. I learned it in college and then when I was at uc San Diego in graduate school, um, I was given a Chateaubriand fellowship, big, big word to do my doctoral research in Paris at the University of Paris. And so I was there for, lived there for about nine months and so I was, for me it was sink or swim, to learn and speak it better, but I, I love France and French and the French people very much. And that's why I was so excited to connect with you.


Sylvain: So in, in the first emails that you sent me, you wrote in French was really nice.


Pierce: Thank you. I really got into France. I met some wonderful people and friends, students and, and just friends that were real, very welcoming to me and I, I, uh, I felt, I fancied myself becoming a little bit of French myself and I got to go travel back several times after that. Um, I worked, I was the national executive director of the surfrider foundation for a bunch of years, which is a nonprofit ocean organization, and I got to go over to, around Hossegor and Biarritz on a trip to help start that, surfrider France. And, uh, so I just, I'd go back tomorrow if I could, to France.


Pierce: I started surfing early, thanks to my father, he's from Minnesota, transplanted to southern California, Los Angeles, and he became a beach and ocean fanatic and he would take all of us constantly to the beach whenever he could. And so I started, uh, at about, oh, eight years old or so. So it's been my whole family surfs. There's a, my immediate family, there's seven of us and we all surf and six boys, one girl. And, uh, it's just gotten into our blood and it's a very, very special thing for me. It's, it's a very, it's a sacred act for me. It, it allows me to commune with my higher power as I, you know, as I conceive the higher power to be my creator and mixed with the ocean and the humbling power of that nature. I, I get to commune with nature and it really creates a special connection in this daily life for me. So I feel very blessed and excited to get to do it. I, I do the dawn patrol, as we call it. I get up uh often right at dawn before work and go out and it sets the whole day.


Sylvain: Wow. I bet. I Mean, how unique is that? Most of us have a hard time waking up at all in the morning. But for you to be intentional enough to...


Pierce: Well, you know, what helps me, it makes it even better is I get up and I'll play a little handpan and that will really set the energy level, um, for, for the rest of the day going into the ocean. And then the rest, the rest of what I do in the day. For example, this morning I got to go surfing early. It's my wife Lindsey's birthday today, so it's a very joyful day and I'm glad we get to speak today. And so I got up at dawn and I went to the beach down to oceanside and the waves were absolutely gorgeous. They had a fall what we call the Santa Ana wind that blows and sculpts the waves just in jewel-like quality and this morning was just exceptional and the waves were small and forgiving, but absolutely beautiful. And I got to get inside of a couple and ride them. And I was saying before it had a handpan G major Oxalis quality to the wave.


Sylvain: Wow, that is the best descriptor to a wave.


Pierce: Yeah, absolutely. Beautiful.


Sylvain: So on behalf of the handpan podcast community, a very happy birthday to Lindsey.


Pierce: Thank you very much. I will share that with her.


Sylvain: People are drawn to beauty, people are drawn to the ocean. They swim in it, they take lots of pictures of it. They paint it, they write songs about it, they surf it and it prompts the question, you know, why do we feel an urge to do something about it when we encounter beauty?


Pierce: I love it. That is a great philosophical and spiritual question and I think for me surfing and an encounter with the ocean and the higher creator that's created that beauty has a lot of parallels to playing for me, the handpan and I know we're talking, it's the handpan podcast and I feel both, um, activities for me playing the hand pan the way that I do and surfing the way that I do well. Both of them are portals in a sense. They're openings, joyful openings to higher natural, you can call them spiritual energies that can change. They do change one's life and they. There's a saying by a classic, legendary surfer named Phil Edwards and he said, the best surfer is the one having the most fun. I think the same applies to almost everything in life and it certainly applies to playing the handpan for me. The beauty there, just like with surfing, they're both improvisational for me. In surfing, for me, there's never one ride is completely unique. There's never the same wave never breaks twice and my, and so it's always changing and, and inspiring and creative it, it's different every time. And for me, that is a source of great joy, inspiration, creativity, freedom, that, uh, I rarely experienced it. It's a gift. Both of them are.


Sylvain: So I heard this quote recently that says something like, we always rush to the technique, but we often forget about the joy. I love it. And You can see that in surfing, right? Um, there's competitions and a lot of money involved and just a lot of comparison and charts and you know, who's the best. But there's also the freeing approach of just going to surf like you did this morning almost as an act of worship. Um, that I can, I can see that that is your same approach to the handpan. It's clear to me that the result is joy. You get a lot of joy out of it. You have fun with it. Was it a new experience in your life to enjoy yourself with music or did you grew up in a playing music or playing other instruments?


Pierce: It was a new experience for me, Sylvain. I grew up in a home and personally where we listened to music. I listened to music all my life, my brothers and I and sister records and music, but I never played. No, I always wanted to, but it just wasn't the right time. So when I encountered the hand Pan, uh, in 2014, it was a freeing revelation for me. It allowed me have, uh, an opening and a freedom and a joy to play music again like I never had before. And I have spoken to other handpan players that have had that same experience. And, and so to your answer your question, it was, it was new experience for me and it continues to be new every day and it, it produces for me a joy and a freedom where, you know, I don't, I'm not a professional musician, I'm not a trained musician. I'm not a professional surfer. But I love both of those deeply. It's an art form and it's, it's a, it's a meditation. Both of them are meditations. They're a form of, like you said, it's contemplation, it's a prayer. It's, it's a sacred. Both are sacred acts for me in a world that is full of full of sacredness, in my opinion. It May, this may sound corny to some, but I think that the more we open ourselves or have the gift of opening ourselves to music and surfing or whether it's hiking or whatever, you know, art form we do, it connects us again with a higher energies, the higher powers, however we conceive them to be, and it's in the end, it makes us, I think, thankful for whatever's happening.


Sylvain: When we experienced nature and science, we experienced it almost as artistic beauty. Yes. You know, you look at a beautiful sunset or the, the waves breaking before sunrise. Um, it's something someone have drawn, right? Or something someone could have, could have designed. It's artful and it kind of hints at who we are and how we're designed as humans. Yes. Yes. And I think that narrative helps to explain why we're drawn to communing, to actually being a part of it, um, and um, and just enjoying and being thankful for it. So it's all, it's all beautiful and profound.


Pierce: It is beautiful and profound. And, and in all shapes and colors. I mean, uh, even, I mean the handpan there, there's major scales and then there's minor scales. There's darker and, and happier. But, and same with waves. There's, you know, perfect waves, but also there is the waves, the wind can come up and they can be very choppy but it's both are so beautiful. They're both a high and the lows have something to teach us that I think as we, as we align ourselves and commune with the real source of it, it teaches.


Sylvain: I love it. And you know, it's funny because although we didn't talk that much about the handpan, I think we covered it all, but thank you for your insight. Thank you for, um, taking the time to share your vision and your approach to the instrument. It's refreshing to hear and it's going to make a whole lot of people want to go surfing.


Pierce: Well, when you and Jill come visit, we'll go surfing. How's that? And we'll play hand pan.


Sylvain: That sounds perfect.


Pierce: Thank you.


Sylvain: Thanks, Pierce. Talk to you later.


Sylvain: Hey, I hope you enjoyed this conversation with Pierce and even some of the tangents we went on. I used to surf in France, so I got all excited to hear from Pierce about that, but again, here I think there are insights we can apply to playing the handpan. Remember these two sayings that Pierce quoted? The first was the best surfer is the one having the most fun and the second the same wave never breaks twice replaced the word surfer with handpan player instead of riding a wave, make it about when you pick up your instrument to play.


Sylvain: As a reminder, the handpan podcast community is a facebook group where you can share your video and audio recordings, your thoughts and photos about your own creative journey. There is no competition or ego. Trip is just a place for us to connect about the simple joy of creating, and that's where we bounce off ideas for future episodes. Speaking of, I started documenting those into short blog type entries at thehandpanpodcast.com. I call it the "just a thought" series, so if you want a sneak peek at what's coming or if you have stories that overlap with some of the themes I'm exploring, feel free to chime in. I'd love to hear your insight.


Sylvain: Oh, and one last thing. The handpan podcasts now has merch. There are three awesome designs made by my friend Jef Cain, who's a graphic designer and illustrator at my church. Pierce was actually wearing his shirt when we recorded this episode. The most popular design is a wacky illustration of an alien playing the Handpan. It's totally whimsical and I personally love it. It's available on tee shirts, hoodies, tote bags, stickers, and even shower curtains. Thanks everyone who already ordered one. Your purchase helps support this ad free podcast. To check out the merch, go to thehandpanpodcast.com and click merch. That's it for this episode of the handpan podcast. Thanks for listening and talk to you in the next one.

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