Come out of Your Shell with Jaden Chavez

Updated: Jul 18, 2019

Jaden Chavez is 16-years old and he's the first Gen Z guest on the podcast. For Jaden, the handpan is more than just a new hobby. It's helped him to come out of his shell and it's changed the trajectory of his life. A reinvigorating conversation about art, passion and life.

Bonus Content: Handpan Jam with Jaden Chavez:

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Podcast Transcription:

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

Sylvain: On the podcast, we tell the transformation stories of people, like you and me, whose lives have intersected with this instrument called the handpan. The transformation is often more than just finding a new hobby. For some, it's discovering they can be creative for the very first time. For others it's belonging to a community of like-minded people. And for yet others it's finding their purpose and pursuing their life's work. It's pretty cool to watch. Today's guest on the podcast is my new friend Jaden Chavez. The handpan also changed the trajectory of his life, at a very strategic time I should say. His is a powerful story of finding the things that light you up and to pursue them passionately. Here's my conversation with Jaden Chavez.

Sylvain: Okay, so here we are.

Jaden: Yeah.

Sylvain: Jaden, it's good to have you.

Jaden: Thank you. It's good to be here.

Sylvain: Yeah.

Jaden: It's truly a pleasure.

Sylvain: Yeah, likewise. Um, we just had an awesome jam.

Jaden: Ah, it was, it was too good.

Sylvain: It was a classic too, it was a D minor jam. Like in the old days, in the, in the first 10 years of this instrument existing, all the Hangs were in D minor for the most part almost. And so it feels good to get back into this key, this tone.

Jaden: It's almost nostalgic for you, Huh?

Sylvain: A little bit. Yeah.

Jaden: Yeah. It's a, it's a classic hand pan kind of, um, character, you know?

Sylvain: Yeah.

Jaden: Yeah. It's like, think of like Daniel waffles and all that.

Sylvain: All these guys. Yeah. And now obviously it's all over the place, across different keys and different pitches.

Jaden: Like there's even a blues scale like for jazz and all that.

Sylvain: Yeah.

Jaden: It's truly, uh, it's getting pretty versatile now, so that's really cool.

Sylvain: Do you feel like you would enjoy having a super specific sound model, like a blues scale? Or do you want to have more open possibilities with an instrument?

Jaden: I think the fact that it's so limited leads to it being so handpan-esque.

Sylvain: Sure. Yeah.

Jaden: Cause I feel like if you have very versatile instruments, like a piano. It gets really too complex. Right?

Sylvain: Yeah.

Jaden: And Yeah, you can play any scale, any rhythm, any whatever you want, but at the cost of having to learn a lot of training and it gets really complex, you know. But the handpan, the fact that it only is so limited to however many notes you can fit on, that little leads to it being so unique. And what's the word? Creative freedom. Is that the...?

Sylvain: Yeah, you're right on the money.

Jaden: Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

Sylvain: Um, yeah. I mean I feel like the way I've heard it described, which is not a perfect analogy, but if a family has children in a front yard and there's a road that passes right next to the front yard, if they want to give their kids freedom to play in the front yard, they might decide to put up a fence, which protects them from getting run over by cars. Um, and so the limitations, which means they can't go past the fence actually gives them freedom to explore, um, that play area.

Jaden: Yeah.

Sylvain: And so we have limitations with this instrument, but within those limitations we have complete freedom to explore. Exactly. And if the handpan were like, um, a cheap xylophone or some sort of cheap toy where the notes would be pure tones with no overtones or no harmonics, it would be fairly limited. But we know that there is just a wealth of sounds within the instrument, right? The, the partials, the Helmholtz, the attack, the sympathetic resonance between the notes. So it's simple, but it's not simplistic.

Jaden: It's very complex how it, it sings with itself, you know, it harmonizes with itself because there's so many different parts and bits to the handpan and every note is so versatile. You know, I think there's like three notes in one pretty much. And you don't get that with a lot of instruments.

Sylvain: You're right.

Jaden: Yeah. That, that's again, why the handpan is so unique.

Sylvain: Totally. And even like with a center note, you might have five notes. You have the fundamental, the octave, the fifth and then two partials tuned into the shoulder. Um, so that's, there's really, um, a richness to it, whether you play with your flat finger, with your thumb, with your palm. Like there's just a lot of possibilities.

Jaden: And that's why I prefer playing hand percussion is cause you can get so many different tat sounds and timbres with just your hands and the fact that you don't need like a mallet or anything. You'd just play anything. And that goes for anything. I drum on tables myself, you know, pant legs or whatever.

Sylvain: Yes, learning on tables, right? Isn't it the best, the best teacher.

Jaden: Honestly, that's how I've learned how to play all hand percussion and that's how I got really good at it. I would just drum on a table or like anything that had a good base to it. You know, like um, my dad had this big old water tank in his backyard once and I hit it with my fist and it made the biggest base and I was like, oh I could use this.

Sylvain: So maybe the, I mean maybe we're onto something here because I think like yourself, I taught myself to play percussion on like a school table or whatever I could get my hands on. And so unlike other musical instruments that have a high entry barrier, the handpan is accessible, like playing on your lap or on a table. And so it just resonates. It just connects, right. It clicks right away.

Jaden: Yeah. It's cause it's kind of something natural to do, at least for me anyways. I'm a very fidgety person, like shaking my leg right now. You know, I'll fidget pencils all the time. And now the, I learned hand percussion, that's my new fidgeting toys just to drum on stuff at the bonus of, you know, practicing. So a nervous habit is now benefiting me in like that musical way, which I think is really cool.

Sylvain: Yeah. So Jaden, give us a little bit of an introduction, um, saying maybe where you're from, where you live now, how old you are, just a little bit about your background.

Jaden: Okay. Okay. So I grew up in a tiny little town in New Mexico called Tularosa. Right. And the population is around 3000 right now. I totally forgot. It's small, tiny, tiny little place. So I grew up there for a majority of my life living on a farm with my dad. And uh, yeah, I feel like the school was very basic, you know, and everything was very basic. But there's a huge sense of community there that I really enjoyed. Everyone was like family and you know, that's why I love living there. But I wanted to explore, you know, at the time over it, cause my mom lived over in a city like an hour away called Los crucis and the family over there had, or my Auntie, which was over there had a piano and she would always play it. And my little self, I was probably, I don't know, six, seven, something like that. And I got into it and I was like, wow, like teach me. And so she teach me little songs like chopsticks and you know, like little things like that. And that totally sparked my musical journey. I began learning piano and I started getting really good at it and I was like, you know what, I want to play in an orchestra. My school doesn't have an orchestra. We never had music. I mean we did, but it was very basic, like maracas and like little things, you know, um, like elementary stuff. So I, uh, I moved with my mom to los crucis and I went to middle school there and I joined a little orchestra in middle school and it was, it was good ice began to learn the cello and that was a new instrument and I was psyched, you know, it was such a beautiful instrument. And, uh, I started getting really good at that and then I eventually decided, you know what? I want to take this to the next level. And I started going into the big orchestras like southwest music academy. That was that, that was the big one in New Mexico. So I joined that, eventually moved to Houston and joined the best orchestra I've ever been in. I made regional competition there. I, yeah, it was, it was such a beautiful thing, but I don't know, I guess my heart was, belonged in the desert and, and Houston wasn't a great place for me. I mean, it was kind of sad. I thought like the greenery and the beauty of being there would be good, better than like the boring desert I thought at the time. But then I realized how suffocating trees are, you know, it was like blocking the sun and I was like missing home a lot. Anyways, I got really sad and eventually was like, I can't do this, you know? So back to New Mexico. I went back to my little town and uh, there I was, you know, with little bit of instruments, I didn't know what to really play cause I didn't really have like an orchestra to play with. So I just kind of played my own stuff. But for the most part I fell out of that musical, whatever. But then I discovered the rav drum and the handpan.

Jaden: You know, I show my dad and I was like, look at this thing. And he was like, okay, that's cool. He's like, can you make it? And I was like, no, I don't know how. I was like, I need to research since I did a bunch of research and uh, eventually came across the Rav drum on that. You know thing. And I was like, this is like the affordable hand pan. I thought it sounded cooler. It was relaxing. That's kind of the tone I wanted. And a, I was like, okay, let's, let's do this. So I started working up enough money and eventually bought myself a Rav. Got that. And I was like, all right, cool. This is, this is good. And um, yeah, then I moved to Phoenix, right. And so in Phoenix, I, yeah, I got back into the orchestra, I got back into a big school and I started doing music again. You know, my music, cello and piano. Everything started taking off again and I was good. And I was busking at the time. This was my first time busking with the Rav and I was a little nervous, but I met really, really cool people. I literally just sat on the floor and my little like hat in front of me and played and I, I wasn't concerned about making money. I just wanted to share this instrument, you know, cause I thought of how beautiful it was and uh, you know, I met that. That's something beautiful about this instrument is you can meet so many great people. Cause I feel like a lot of people just walk by musicians. Like it's just like they, they, they see us like beggars sometimes just looking for spare change. But other people see the beauty and the music and uh, they'll always like come up to me and talk and it's great. You know, that's something I haven't done cause I'm too antisocial for my own good. But, um, it got me out of my shell and at this time I started really getting into handpan music and I was like, you know what, I'm going to try to work up for one and I busked and busked and busked and you know, started working up for a hand pan. And then one day in Sedona, it was a very rainy day and whenever we went, cause the rain Benchley stopped and it was like bad. Like the place was flooding. It was walking in the little like tourist shops just to get an out of escape the rain. And I met some guy named Chad and he had a handpan. This was the first time I've ever seen one in person. And I was like, Oh...

Jaden: I talked to him and he saw that I played the Rav. He's like, you want to play it? And I was like, yes, this is, this is amazing. And I played it and I was, sounded actually good at it and it's not, it was like, cause I had experienced with the Rav at the time and so it was good to play with that. And He, I feel like really, really inspired me and turned me onto the handpan. He's a traveling musician. I don't know where he is now. Maybe you can hear this. That'll be cool. Yeah, you've inspired me Chad. And so yeah, he, he's the one who really sparked the handpan journey. See, and that's something I want to do is make an impression on someone like that with music.

Sylvain: Yeah. And there are so many golden nuggets in what you just shared. Um, first I want to come back to something you brushed over really quickly, you, which is when your dad asked you, can you make it, is that something you can make? Was he implying that you could possibly make a handpan from scratch at home?

Jaden: Um, yeah. I mean, we lived on a farm in, like I said, you know, we had a lot of just tools laying around. We had a shed, I had the tools I really needed to. And at the time I was actually making didgeridoos, cause you know, I'm in the desert. Agaves grow just naturally. And so we'll, whenever they put out the flower stocks, they dry out and the outside is hard, like wood. But whenever you cut it an open, the inside is real pithy and it feels like styrofoam. So I started making didgeridoos and I was hoping to, you know, use those to buy my hand pan and all that. And um, you know, I was making instruments and I showed this to my dad and he was like, wow, that's, you know, that's different. And he's like, what is it made out of? And I was like, it's steel. And he's like, I bet you can make one out of like a barrel. And so I did research and uh, what is it? I came across the Caribbean drum and I knew what the Caribbean drum was, but I never really delve into the history of it and how it works and the mechanics. And I was like, I could do this. And I was like, it's basically a controlled dent and boy was I wrong? I mean it was a, yeah, I did more research and realized how incredibly complex this instrument was. But I tried anyways. I knew that I was going to crash and burn. So I literally went outside into this junkyard that was right by my house and got this rusty barrel and rolled it all the way back to my farm. Or I got a sledgehammer and hammered a big hole and, uh, you know, a big old shell and I just kept hammering until I came across the shape of the hand pan. I kinda knew the dimensions and the um, you know, how the shapes of the note, tone fields would work in correlation with the dimples and all that. And I don't know, I bit off more than I can chew right now. It's in the shed kind of rusting away because I totally messed it up. But it was a start.

Jaden: I think I was 14 whenever I began to make instruments, probably 13. Actually I was exposed to the Didgeridoo in the renaissance fair whenever someone made it out of bamboo. And I was like, oh, that's different. You know, like I've never heard of a wind instrument become a rhythmical instrument. Those were two things I never thought it was possible. So I was like, okay, that's, that's different. I want to, I want to explore this. And at the time I was kind of getting into the rhythm of music. I've always explored melodies but never rhythm. And so this is a different aspect of music that I was interested in. So I got this Didgeridoo for like 30 bucks, you know, and played it, got used to, started learning it and I was like, it's just a tube. I literally can go outside, pull up a piece of PVC pipe and play it like a Didgeridoo. And I was like, how hard this could this be? I want to make one. I started making them and uh, I mean, yeah, I have like probably 4 big ol' agave didgeridoos in my shed right now. Oh yeah.

Sylvain: So what would you say sparked your interest in making stuff? Cause not every 13 year old makes musical instruments in their backyard.

Jaden: Yeah, that's true. And uh, whenever I was little I was, I mean, I'm a very artsy person to begin with. I, I draw, I make poetry, I make music, you know, and um, and truly it's such a small town with very little to offer it that it adds a sense of boredom that leads to creation, right? Boredom is the mother of creation. And I, you know, like whenever you have nothing to do and you have, are given a pile of mud, right. I began to make little clay sculptures. I made little clay snow man, you know, and I was little at the time. And you know, little things like that, you don't know you're a kid and your mind can do whatever it wants because it doesn't, no limitations like an adult would associate limitations too.

Sylvain: Do you feel like this outlet of making stuff was a channel for your imagination and creativity? Were you a very creative kid growing up?

Jaden: Yeah, I was the different kid. You know, I was the one who would be content with getting a little toy and then going in the corner and just kind of playing with it. I wasn't very quiet. I mean I was very quiet. I wasn't very loud like a lot of my other, like the other kids I hung out with, you know, like I, I was Kinda kept to myself and I did my own thing. So,

Sylvain: so how did you experience that transition? A more classical, traditional setting through the cello you're experiencing in the orchestra?

Jaden: So, you know, and from going like playing like a child and just doing whatever, I became to this very structured music. Right. They'd had to be played a certain way because it's always been done that way. You have to play it and no other way else. I didn't really care for that, but I did it anyways because I wanted a good grade in that class. And um, you know, I learned it, I did whatever cause I was is what was expected of me, but that was only for the cello. I've self taught everything else. You know, I tried piano lessons but I didn't like that control. And um, yeah, pretty much the Internet taught me and that's the beauty of the Internet. It is so accessible and you can get so much information just at your fingertips, you know? And I feel like that&