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 so