In this episode, Julia encourages us to use this incredible tool that we have, the handpan, to find joy and to bless others through times of trouble.
Sylvain: Hey, it's Sylvain and this is the handpan podcast.
Sylvain: Have you ever faced a situation in life that is so difficult that you wish it could just disappear out of thin air, but it can't and it won't, and the only way forward is to go through it. Well, joining me in this episode is my friend Julia Dvorin whose powerful story of resilience and bravery gives us hope through times of trouble. Julia is awesome. She's funny and whimsical and real. Her message is meaningful and I think we need to hear it. So here's a conversation with Julia Dvorin.
Sylvain: Hey Julia, thanks for joining me on this episode.
Julia: Hi Sylvain.
Sylvain: How's it going?
Julia: It's going great. I'm excited to be here.
Sylvain: Awesome. Yeah, I'm so thrilled to have you. So you and I have met a few times over the past few years, mostly at handpan gatherings. Yep. And, um, I have personally always enjoyed your enthusiasm for the handpan art form in this community. And today I wanted to hear a little bit more about your story. Um, so perhaps a good place to start is where you're from, where you live now and how you got started with the handpan.
Julia: That's great. I have a good, how to get started with the handpan story or how I got started. Um, I currently live in San Rafael, which is in the north of the San Francisco Bay area and um, I have been playing handpan for about three ish years now and I first came to handpan, um, probably like many of us do through watching a youtube video. Um, and, but I have to give you some context for how I was, um, when I first saw that video I had been in sort of a low period of my life at that point. I was having a little bit of Ptsd I think in hindsight because I had just had some medical issues and it reminded me of a time when I was in my twenties and I am now in my forties when I had been diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma. And so I was sort of moping around the house and I couldn't do much and I would just spend a lot of time sort of surfing the Internet and, and, uh, you know, glumly watching videos and I found this video, interestingly enough, it wasn't even one of the sort of traditional, I think handpan videos.
Julia: It was a video by ICU, um, which featured not only handpan but some other instruments as well, but I, I saw that video and I went, oh my God, what is that thing and I must have it. And I had to do a lot of creative googling to figure out what was that thing and then realized I can't just go down to my local music store and pick one of these up or, you know, shop on Amazon. These, these things are hard to get. Um, and that was right around the transition time really when they weren't as hard to get as they had been, but they weren't as easy to get as they are now. But, uh, so I, I re posted the video on facebook and talked about like, oh my God, this is the best thing I've ever seen. I'm dying to play one of these.
Julia: And I had a friend of mine say, Oh, you like handpan. Well, you should talk to my friend. He's totally all things handpan. He loves handpan, He eats, sleeps, breathes handpan. You should talk to him. Oh, what's his name? Oh, Colin Foulke.
Sylvain: Oh of course.
Julia: And he very graciously invited me to come up to his workshop and check out some handpans. And so I went to go visit and that was the first time I'd seen a handpan live. Um, you know, before that I had through all my googling, you know, listen to a bunch of music and watched a bunch of videos and, you know, really tried to learn as much as I can. I found handpan.org. I signed up on everybody's mailing list and I was like, oh, but that was the first time I ever actually touched a handpan or heard it played live.
Julia: And I went even more. Oh my God, than I had before because here was this thing that really had kind of, um, lifted me out of that sad time and got me interested in something again and it was even better in person than I thought it would be. Um, and I, I had been looking at flash sales and trying to figure out how I could get one and had no luck and I'm the night I came home from that visit to Colin. I was all excited, but I was also all depressed. Like I'm never going to get a handpan. How many got one? Um, and I've been regularly checking the sites for um, different makers to see if anybody was having a flash sale. And I happened to, it was like midnight or something and I was, you know, uh, hanging out with my husband and we were talking about that day and just for the heck of it, I went on another tour of all the maker sites. And Lo and behold, there was a flash sale at Saraz and I was the first one. And so that night after visiting Colin, I got my own handpan.
Julia: I was a percussion player many, many years ago and only as a, as a hobby. I used to, when I was in graduate school, I used to play for the UC Santa Barbara, Middle East ensemble and I played dumbek them. And so I learned a lot about percussion rhythms and things like that. But um, other than like, you know, violin in fourth grade or something like that, that was the only instrument that I played as an adult. But the thing that really drew me about the handpan was how relatively easy it was. It seemed to make a good noise from it even when you didn't know too much about it. The same is not true for a violent, by the way.
Sylvain: No, you're right. Like most musical instruments are very intimidating, right? And, and they're also associated with fear. The fear of doing it wrong. The fear of failing, you know, because with the violin, you typically, you know, the average violin student or player is not self taught. It typically is alongside a classical education. And that word education. It reminds us of school and passing and taking tests and the handpan doesn't have any of that. It's free of that institutionalization, which I think is really empowering.
Julia: Because it's a new instrument. There's nobody really to tell you you're doing it right or wrong if just with the noise you're making, then it works as far as I'm concerned. And the handpan seemed to me as somebody coming sort of from percussion, it seemed to me to be this amazing freedom of like, well, you can not only do percussion, but you can do notes. That's awesome.
Sylvain: It is clear to me that you've developed a passion for this. You're excited about this.
Julia: Absolutely. And, and, um, again, you know, having come out of this sort of sad time into this passion and excitement and it's really stuck with me has been just so a life changing really.
Sylvain: And let's talk about this. If you're willing, because you've just gone through a major life event.
Julia: Um, I suspect that the major life event you are referring to is, um, when I first met you, which was at Pantasia in, I guess it must've been 2016. Um, I was in the middle of chemotherapy treatments for breast cancer, but I was determined to go to this handpan gathering because that's the thing that made me really happy. Um, and I thought I needed more happy if I was going to, you know, kick cancer's butt. Um, and I don't know if you remember at the time I had blue hair because I was wearing wigs. Um, but, uh, when I, let's see, I'm trying to think about the timeline. I discovered the handpan like maybe six months before I was diagnosed and it was something that accompanied me throughout my whole treatment. Like I would go to my, literally, I would go to my chemotherapy treatments.
Julia: Um, and if you've never seen a chemotherapy room, it's basically a bunch of people sitting around in these big comfy arm chairs while they hook you up to ivs and poison into you. But you got to stay there for a few hours. Um, and, uh, I would bring my handpan and I would sit there in the chair and play handpan and I always ask the other people in the room, is it okay if I play this? And most of the time they said yes, and it just really, um, really soothed me and really excited me to have something to look forward to that wasn't. I'm all caught up in how complicated the rest of my life was at the time with all the treatments and the recoveries and the, you know, mental space, you find yourself in when you're going through something major. Like that handpan was like a unabashed good. It just was something that every time I know accompanied it or accompanied me, um, I felt better.
Sylvain: Wow, all of this is profound because you're hinting at, you know, what oftentimes sounds just hippy ish, but sound, sound healing. The fact that these instruments are very soothing. Um, when you're in a normal state, they're relaxing, they're pleasant. But when you're in a state of distress and as you say, like when you're going through a major event like this, a major health event, what touches me in, in your story is that it seems like it was worth fighting to keep that beauty, that creative beauty in your life because, because art, you know, from a utilitarian perspective is not necessary, right? It's, it doesn't accomplish a purpose, but it's good for the soul and the fact that you pursued that creative beauty and that really when you played the handpan in that chemo room, you were a blessing to others. Um, you know, you were used
Julia: whether they know it or not. That's right. Yeah. Yeah. Well, and I, I really believe that this was actually not even my first go round with cancer as I had mentioned. Um, this was my second. Um, so I learned a couple things the first time and one of the things that was really important to me was to try to keep some sort of balance between, you know, the upset and the, the discomfort and the horror of going through all the treatments and who I really perceived myself to be. I didn't want to just be a cancer patient. I wanted to be me. And part of me at that point was handpan. And so being able, you know, and that's why, uh, I chose to wear silly colored wigs when I lost my hair and to, you know, dress in crazy clothes and do whatever I felt like doing because I really wanted to, um, let that creative and happy and enthusiastic side of me not get drowned in the rest of what was going on.
Sylvain: And so I don't know, maybe someone listening is facing cancer diagnostic. Um, what would you say that to that person, um, in how maybe creativity or art or humor can help them go through that?
Julia: Well, humor is definitely helpful, at least for me. And I have found many other cancer survivors who say that like black humor is what gets you through and it's sometimes only other cancer survivors that you can really say some of that dark humor stuff too because other people get scared. Um, but as far as how art and especially music and specifically music, like the handpan could help anybody who's in the same shitty club that I was in or I still am in. Um, I really feel it's important to you, do you to do yourself, to be yourself. Even in the middle of all this stuff that's trying to distract you and take you down some other dark path. You're going to have to walk the dark path. There's, there's usually not really any choice about that. But you do have a choice about how you show up to it.
Julia: You can show up to it singing, you can show up to it, dancing. You can show up to it, you know, tired and grumpy, but still playing handpan. So, so I, I think art is especially important for all of us, all kinds of art, but especially music in times of trouble. It's the thing that allows us to kind of tap into our higher selves if we're going to get all hippy here. Um, and to really, um, remember why we're here. It's not, we're not here just to suffer. We're also here to express ourselves and to be the people that we are.
Julia: Everybody's got issues, everybody's got sorrows, everybody's got tough times. And if we have things that are tools that help us through those tough times, we should use them. We should seize on them and use them as much as we can.
Sylvain: Yeah. And what a beautiful tool we have.
Julia: I know, I feel really lucky.
Sylvain: Yeah. Well Julia, thanks so much for taking the time to join me on this episode.
Julia: My pleasure.
Sylvain: This is profound. This is profound and I'm, I'm so glad that we can share your story and I hope that we will see each other again had been to Asia. I'll be there. Yeah. Okay. Awesome. Um, yeah, so thanks again.
Julia: Thank you so much. I really appreciate your invitation.
Sylvain: We have a tool that can help us and others through times of trouble, so let's use it. I recently witnessed a beautiful example of that idea when the matriarch of our handpan community, Carol Whitney fell and broke her arm and leg, the handpan community pulled together and self organized as support initiative to encourage carol and to cheer her up. Sylvia from Canada and Jean-Matthieu from France spearheaded that movement. It was beautiful and meaningful to see people from all over the world express their support towards Carol and I think she was really comforted by it. So how can we do more of that? How can we be a blessing to the people around us who are hurting by using the tool that we've been given?
Sylvain: That's it for this episode of the handpan podcast. If you want to experience or to share the simple joy of creating, join our community on the handpan podcast facebook group. It's a safe place to share your video and audio recordings, your thoughts and photos to invite us into your own creative journey. There is no competition or ego trip and it doesn't need to be perfect. It's just a place for us to connect in a meaningful way. If that resonates with you. See you soon on the hand pin podcast facebook group.
Sylvain: Thanks for listening to the handpan podcast and see you in the next episode.