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Airline Pilots Play Handpans Too!

Updated: Dec 3, 2018

Little did he know that while on a business trip to New York City his life would change forever. In this episode Victor Velazquez tells us what sparked his passion for the handpan and what keeps him going to gatherings year after year.

Podcast Transcription

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

Sylvain: One of my favorite things about this new podcast is that I get to sit down with friends and hear their story. Now, the main event in most of our handpan stories is the same: we discover a remarkable instrument and it changes our lives in some way. But while the event is the same, every story is unique—that's the art of being human—and I always learn from these conversations. This episode with my friend Victor Velasquez is no different. Hope you enjoy.

Sylvain: Hey Victor. Thanks for joining me on this episode of the handpan podcast.

Victor: Well, Sylvain. Thank you very much for having me. I'm glad the podcast is back in the air because I have been missing it and I'm glad to be part of it.

Sylvain: Well, it's my pleasure and I feel the same way. It's, it's good to give it a second life. So you and I have met multiple times over the past few years, mostly at handpan gatherings and I always enjoy our conversations, but I realized that I don't know that much about your own story. Um, would you mind saying a little bit about where you're from, where you live now and maybe what got you started with the handpan?

Victor: I'm from Puerto Rico and I moved to Michigan in Ann Arbor because of my job I had to leave the sun and the surf. I'm an airline pilot and um, uh, on my trips, I was in New York City walking through central park and I heard this guy playing a handpan. So I had never seen one. I sat next to him and a little while later after he stopped, the question was, what the heck is that? And where can I get one? So, uh, he directed me to and uh, it took off from there. I had to get one right away. So I got a Bali from a shop in France, at an extra prize, but I needed to have it right then. So after I joined the, uh, the, uh,, it kind of took off from there.

Sylvain: So you joined the community right away by, by joining the forum.

Victor: Yes. Yeah. As most people say it has changed my life.

Sylvain: Yeah, that's great to hear. And it's also fun that you discovered the handpan in person, um, because increasingly obviously, uh, with uh, social media and youtube more and more people are discovering it online, which can have just the same impact, but it's pretty special to hear it in person.

Victor: Yeah. I'm, I'm not sure if I would have been so attracted to it, if I had listened to it online as, you know, being next to it and the vibration and I play guitar and I'd like to jam. And then I found in the handpan and freedom of exploration and of composition and, and was kind of something I was looking for. And you can play on your lap and you can make all kinds of music. It's great.

Sylvain: So you played other musical instruments before?

Victor: Yeah, I've been playing the guitar since I was 12.

Sylvain: Okay. Were you classically trained or were you self-taught?

Victor: No. I got some, some classes like Spanish music and singing, but I only have like music 101 and the other music I have learned has been just by the interest in the guitar. But when I found out about the handpan, I learned a lot more about music, playing the handpan and being in gatherings and talking to other people and I think that it has expanded my knowledge of music a lot and um, it has motivated me to probably in the future get some, some more classes on music.

Sylvain: So after your early beginnings, over the years, you've acquired quite a sizable collection of instruments.

Victor: I've been getting instruments and sometimes I want to sell one and then I try to make a youtube video and then I connect back with it and I say, no, I'm not ready to get rid of this one yet. So it's just been increasing.

Sylvain: I understand that because although I, I relate and I like the concept of minimalism, which is that less is more. Oftentimes it's when we have fewer things in our lives that we enjoy them most. It's hard with handpans because they sort of become the soundtrack of your life. And so parting ways with a handpan means no longer being able to play maybe the songs you've written on that instrument. I haven't quite found the answer on how to deal with that. And so you mentioned, um, handpan gatherings quite a bit and I think you and I have met, um, we were just in Colorado at a steel mountain, but we've also met up I think at Pantasia in California and maybe HangOut USA.

Victor: Yes. I think we have met at least three or four times.

Sylvain: What got you motivated to, to join these handpan gatherings in person?

Victor: Well, it was again in the forum. I just wanted to meet people and learn from them. Uh, and uh, my first one was in Song of the Forest in 2013 and it was a new experience because I met people that I never met before, their lifestyle, their way of thinking, their way of living and the way they play the handpan, especially a that first gathering had a, had a big influence on me.

Sylvain: I heard it was a really special gathering.

Victor: Yeah, that was a, that was a special gathering. Yes. A wonderful place to have a gathering.

Sylvain: And so what do you get out of these events the most? What keeps you going there?

Victor: Uh, learning things. So the, uh, the workshops, meeting other people and being able to play all these handpans. It's a, it helps my creativity when you play them all their instruments and uh, the, the patterns you play on yours sound different than the other ones and it expands your vocabulary of music and a different environment. It also, um, it's also helpful in your creativity especially in the early morning and when everything is calm and you're in a different place and it's beautiful and you have all these wonderful instruments to experiment with.

Sylvain: Yeah, yeah. There is an element of creativity boost in handpan gatherings. And I was chatting with Dawn Mcgee recently about, about that and about the fact that sometimes we can get bored, you know, or feel stuck in our own creative journey. And these handpan gatherings are just such a refreshing, um, refreshing experience to hear new things, new perspectives on the instrument. Now handpan gatherings are gatherings, right? It's very different from playing music at home. It's a very social event. Um, what are your tips for folks who might be considering attending a gathering, but it's a big step for some, it may be stepping outside of their comfort zone. What would you say to that person?

Victor: If they can, just go, and if you don't want to play, don't play just sit around and listen and nobody expects anything. Everybody is very accepting and if you like handpans that's probably the best thing that you can do. Yeah. I always learn from the most experts, two players to beginners and intermediate players. There's always something to learn from, from just about everybody. And the age spread is from very young to very old. Everybody is attracted to this instrument. So, so we, uh, I treat, everyone in the gatherings as my friends because we are connected on this same interest.

Sylvain: Since you're a pilot, maybe you could be our lobbyist for the handpan community so that we can travel more easily with our instrument.

Victor: It is not easy for me to travel with an instrument. I tell you, I become like a rat when I have to leave my instrument and put it in the baggage compartment, but uh, I think I found some pretty good protection now and I don't worry as much as I used to.

Sylvain: Do you bring instruments with you sometimes when you're just traveling for work.

Victor: No I did once but it's too hard and I'm always concerned that I might have to put it in the baggage compartment and I don't carry the protection with me because it is so heavy and bulky so. I don't. Maybe sometime I'll buy a one of those mini handpans that they have around. I might, I might carry it, but not with what I have right now.

Sylvain: Yeah. So, um, what is the next gathering that you're planning to attend?

Victor: Pantasia, that will be in March in Joshua three. Oh yeah, that'll be the sixth Pantasia. I hope Stevan keeps doing them because they're one of the best.

Sylvain: Yeah. Yeah. I'm planning on being there as well and it'll be fun to hang out. Yeah, those are great events in that venue. Wasn't that venue built by Frank Lloyd Wright, the famous architect?

Victor: Yeah, I believe so. It's a unique structure, yeah.

Sylvain: Yeah. Well that's awesome. I really appreciate your time and your insight specifically into these handpan gatherings and the ways that we can connect in a meaningful way and learn from one another and celebrate our differences. So Victor, thanks so much for taking the time to be on the handpan podcast. I appreciate you.

Victor: Sure. My pleasure. Anytime.

Sylvain: I hope you enjoyed this conversation with Victor. As always, I can't help but comment on a couple things we discussed that sparked ideas in my mind.

Sylvain: First, how cool is it that Victor discovered the handpan in person in Central Park in New York. It's like a scene out of a movie. Do you realize that some people are going to hear the handpan for the very first time through you? Yeah, you. I'm talking to you. We have the chance to create the same kind of magic around that first encounter for others. What a privilege!

Sylvain: As a reminder, you can join our community on the handpan podcast facebook group. It's a safe place to start conversations, to share your video and audio recordings, your thoughts and photos about your own creative journey. There is no competition or ego trip. It's just a place for us to connect in a meaningful way, and that's where I personally test out ideas for future episodes, and I've really enjoyed the interactions there.

sylvain: Speaking of, I started documenting those into short blog-type entries at So, if you want a sneak peek at what's coming or if you have stories that overlap with some of the themes I explore, feel free to comment there. I would love to hear your insights.

Sylvain: Thanks for listening to the handpan podcast and see you in the next episode.

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