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On Life With / Without Handpans, with Lewis Johnson



The benefits of the handpan are many. But could this instrument become a stumbling block for us sometimes? Lewis Johnson shares his experience, with and without handpans. He helps us find balance and purpose in our approach to the handpan.


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Podcast Transcription:


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


Sylvain: Do you remember your life before the handpan? Can you imagine a life without a handpan? Because the handpan is this self-contained, acoustic and portable musical instrument, it's easy to incorporate it into the rhythm of our everyday lives. Think about it, you don't need a full band to play with, you don't need to plug into an amp... which means you can play anywhere anytime. I like to say it becomes the soundtrack of your life. And remember, it's not accidental, it was intentionally designed that way, which is brilliant from PANArt. We also know that the handpan is clearly a powerful expressive tool that allows us to experience complete creative freedom. But could this instrument still become a stumbling block for us sometimes? On today's episode, my friend Lewis and I explore the benefits (and also the pitfalls) of owning a handpan. Lewis is on the brink of remarkable life adventure... What role will the handpan play in it? Here's my conversation with Lewis Johnson.


Sylvain: Hey, how's it going, Lewis?


Lewis: Hey, what's up? Sylvain.


Sylvain: Good. I'm really glad to catch you while you're on this side of the Atlantic. Are you packing today?


Lewis: Today is definitely a day dedicated to packing. How many things can I fit in my suitcase?


Sylvain: Wow. And when are you leaving again?


Lewis: Uh, actually leave a on Monday. April 1st April fool's day. The flight is kind of cool. It works out to where I'll be flying from Michigan to Philadelphia for a couple of days. I have like an orientation and then from there to South Africa and then all the way to Zambia.


Sylvain: Wow. So I think that's the place to start with. Um, just tell me about this amazing journey that you're about to embark on.


Lewis: Yeah. So, um, the next, I guess exciting, challenging upcoming journey that I, my life is kind of going down is I'm starting Peace Corps on April 1st. So I'll be moving to Zambia for 27 months to start working in a small village and a rural aquaculture projects. So that's essentially just like small scale sustainable fish farms. Yeah. Uh, so that's of my other passion aside from playing pan and music is just kind of working with people in the environment and finding a way to kind of all make it jam together if you will.


Sylvain: What made you decide to go to Zambia for this project over a two year long project?


Lewis: You know, there's how this quite a few different reasons. Um, I guess to start, uh, this particular project and Zambia is something that was fairly unexpected to me. Uh, when I was thinking about applying for Peace Corps, first of all, my hangup was the time commitment, right? Like two and a half years in another country. Like I can't even commit to what I want to eat for breakfast usually. But the more I thought about it and, you know, just thinking about development work and really when it comes to any project, you know, there's so many things where people come in and they'll start something and there's just not enough time to finish it. You know, you almost have to say goodbye as soon as you're saying hello to someone. And so to really like, you know, get into a community and get to know everyone. I think two and a half years is almost what may be happy about it and in the first place. And as far as Zambia is, uh, whenever I thought I wanted to do peace corps, my eyes were always set on west Africa because I wanted to go and study djembe on the side too, which is a little selfish, but I thought, you know, music culture is cool there. Um, but when they offered me the position in Zambia, it was just like, you know, I didn't even know where it was on a map and just that, I dunno the way that it all lined up and then the timeframe and where my life was at at the moment, it just seemed like this awesome adventure into something that was off out of my comfort zone or out of the realm of places where I would normally have wanted to go. And that in the end is what was just overwhelmingly exciting for me. Um,


Sylvain: Wow. Yeah. I think I've told you that I've met a number of people in the Peace Corps and those were the most amazing people. They just were such good ambassadors of this program, which I don't really know that much about, but it's a part of the US government, right? It's put together by, by the government.


Lewis: Yeah. So it's part of the u s government. Yup. Okay. So you're like an ambassador of culture and...


Sylvain: And I know you'll be bringing a handpan, so you'll also be an ambassador of the handpan. Cause has a handpan ever been introduced to Zambia? I don't know...


Lewis: You know, to be honest, I have no idea. But I'm so excited to be able to take a pan with me, um, and to be able to share that with the culture and also just, you know, so I'm going to be there for the two and a half years to 27 months and initially there's going to be a bit of a language barrier, right? Like I'm doing my best to study. Um, but Zambia has, I think it's either seven or nine official languages and then 73 odd dialects spoken throughout the country. And so I've had been fortunate enough to travel a little bit so far and it seems like every time, um, yeah. When you can't communicate with somebody directly through words, if you sit down and play music with them for a while, it really allows you to bridge that gap and feel and connect on another level. And the handpan is particular, I'm sure as everyone who listens to this podcast know it's just such a good way to express yourself and to relate as humans.


Sylvain: Yeah, that's so true. Music in general does that, but I think the handpan because it's simple to approach and sort of effortless to play, it facilitates that even more. Right.


Lewis: I agree 100%. And especially too, when you look at a lot of these African culture is and how just musical everyone is, I'm excited to just go and be a sponge until learn so much about their culture too and see how that translates into just playing in my expression as well as there is on the instrument.


Sylvain: Oh yeah. Yeah, that's a great approach. Um, what do you think that it is about the handpan that draws people in?


Lewis: That's a tough question. Um...


Sylvain: So you've traveled quite a bit with your handpan and you've introduced a lot of people to this sound. Have you ever experienced people's reactions to the instrument in a way that, um, left a mark left an impression on you?