Updated: May 3
Ron Kravitz is a notable figure in handpan history. As the sole Hang distributor in the US (2002-05) and then one of only two worldwide distributors (2005-07) Ron recounts untold stories and reveals secrets from the past. A must-listen for any old-timer, Hang-lover or anyone trying to make sense of PANArt's position towards the handpan community.
Watch the jam Ron & I recorded after the podcast episode:
2005 1st Gen Hang retuned by Rivera Steel Tuning:
Sylvain: Hey, it's Sylvain. And this is the handpan podcast. I have to start this episode with a short anecdote. A few months ago, I threw my back. So I found a chiropractor online to see if that would help. I walk in the door, the usual chit chat, and the chiropractor asks what I do for work. So I start describing hand pans and she stops me and says, is it like the Hang I'm like, wait, how do you? And she begins telling me, well, I have another patient who used to sell those. Hold on. I go, is it? And it was, it was Ron Kravitz, who's today's guest on the podcast. And in a moment, you'll understand what a crazy coincidence that was because Ron is a historical figure in what would later become the handpan art form as we know it. In this episode, we uncover secrets from the past and share untold stories about the hang and about PANArt not based on rumors, but through the lens of Ron's firsthand experiences there. Now I know PANArt has been a polarizing topic in the handpan world, especially right now. And the goal of this episode is not to pitch a certain agenda or to make a statement because I believe that the stories you're about to hear, speak for themselves. So if you're curious to know about the early history of this family of instruments, we call hand pans. Well, enjoy this fascinating conversation with Ron Kravitz.
Ron: I'm ready.
Sylvain: All right. Well, Ron Kravitz, I don't think it's an overstatement to say that your name is legendary among Hong and early Handpan players in the U S a legend a story from the past. That's what you were to me until we met a few months ago in the most unusual of ways I should add, but it's really amazing to be able to sit down with you and to ask you all these questions, because there are very few people who were there at the very early stages of this art form. So it is a tremendous joy to be able to finally make this happen. Thank you for being willing to be on the handpan podcast. Let me start with this for the people who don't know you, can you tell me what your role was with PANArt?
Ron: Sure. I was, I became an PANArt's sole U S representative for selling Hangs to the U S population. I became because there was a store prior to me and we were selling at the same time, but the reason why the store lost favor with Felix and Sabina was because they were selling the pentatonic C and F and in the beginning, PANArt only had 15 scales. When I came on board, they had then up to, to either 30 or 45. It didn't make sense. Now, I didn't, I didn't get all this, you know, coming in. I didn't know the history or anything, but it made sense to them to only sell two scales in a store when you have 45 other ones available and from a retail stores, point of view, that you can't, you can't have 45 in this case instruments. And some of them are pretty out there right. Financially. It has to make sense. So that's why that's where they started out. And as PANArt grew, I just happened to come along at the right time. Yeah.
Sylvain: What inspired you to become their distributor? How did, how did all that start?
Ron: What inspired me to become their distributor? In essence, I recognized the instrumental tonal gold mine, that this instrument was just in how, it was affecting me. So I have to back up. There's a lot of stories that go tell this part first. You know, I am a part of an organization called music for people for many years, since 1988, which was created by David Darling cello player whose initial renown was for being the cellist in the Paul winter concert, a band that played with whales and wolves, there are recordings, um, and music for people, uh, we're primarily a United States, uh, organization based mostly on the East coast. And then David would do concerts on the West coast and other places. He's pretty renowned, the Maverick cellist, David Darling, and eventually Grammy award winning cellist David Darling. We had a workshop, uh, at Immaculata, Pennsylvania and music for people is a school of improvisation. And I guess it was the year 2000 must have been late 2001, 2002, somewhere in that time, it was the last day of a workshop. And David says, "Ron, check this out". I see this yellow bag, bright yellow with the kind of a black dot on the bottom. Okay. It's this flying saucer shaped instrument. And I play it briefly because briefly because we were all leaving, we were departing, the workshop's over. And I thought like, Oh, that's kind of nice. I, I like it. You know, I like it. Um, and I'm a big tongue drum fan. I have, like, I don't know what the count was at that time, but I know at some point I had 24 tongue drums. A lot of them made by Michael Thiele whom I consider the best artisan craftsmen making tongue drums, melodic, melodic tongue drums out of wood. This is kind of a similarity, but it's out of metal. So now at least three months go by. We have another workshop at, uh, in Bryn, Athen, Pennsylvania in the new, uh, the college of the new church. One of our, uh, graduates, uh, is, uh, the head of, the assistant Dean of student affairs. We are able to be in this gorgeous brand, new, fine arts building, like 30-foot high ceilings. And it's the beginning and I'm actually teaching this week and it's a Friday. And I see that yellow bag, you know, as one of the instruments on the table, because we all, I would supply percussion instruments from my massive collection of instruments that I've always done, you know? And I said, I might as well try it. And I start fiddling around with it. It's must be around eight o'clock in the morning. Workshop starts at nine. I'm intrigued. And I'm not quite getting the sound, not quite getting, but I'm, I'm in it. And then Mary Cornish, who was another person who had the Hang, here's me kind of struggling a little bit, just run, go like this. And I go like that go. Now, I don't want to do anything. I don't want to teach this weekend. I just want to play this thing, like Ron, you have to really do. I have to, every break I had, I went back and I played it. The workshop's over and say, David, can I, can I borrow this? She says, Ron, sorry, but I have a gig on Wednesday. And I can't, but here's the contact information I sell. You know, I sell a djembe here and there. I'm leading these percussion works ups in my house, uh, music for people, workshops, African drum classes. And I come from a, uh, a, a greeting card and family gift shop backgrounds. So retail sales is in my life. I've sold things and I've been in that environment, but loved working with customers, but I never liked anything I was selling in that conventional world. I've always considered myself non-conventional, not so conservative in ways. But when I played the Hang, I recognized like I was like lit up so much. So I, I sent an email to this guy by the name of Felix Rohner on Monday, the workshop's over on Sunday. And I say something like, I would love to purchase one of your instruments. Uh, David Darling, and Mary Cornish from music for people introduced it to me. And I'm just, I love the sound of it. And by the way, I also sell instruments and would love to sell yours Tuesday. I believe it is. I get an email response back says, uh, we can send you, uh, an instrument of your choice. And it was the, uh, the Phrygian scale that David had. So that's what I wanted. That's the only one, the only thing I knew, and, uh, it says your Phrygian scale would cost this, but your selling price for the instruments would be $180. Says, tell us what you'd like, how many you'd like for your order. Literally my mouth dropped open, like what what's going on? Like, I'm a no body in the world of selling instruments. I don't have a store. I sell out of my house. I just take it in. I go wow. And at some point I call him up and introduce myself. And at some point I say, I want to come visit. And they loved that, that I wanted to take the time to visit because I don't recall that the other buyer did that. I don't recall, but he, they both feel a sense of Bina loved that I wanted to come and visit. So that's how it started. And I was just, again, blown away because I have no credentials other than I'm saying I sell. And I do. I sell a djembe here and there. I sell a tongue drum here and there, but I don't support myself doing that. I'm in this other world. Well, I'm actually out of that gift shop world. I've left the family business. And I think it's two years outside that family business for, for various reasons. I left that world. And now I'm looking to support myself from and in any musical means that comes within my sphere to try it out. Well, I knew that this was, I didn't have to think about it. Like now the original selling price was $345. That was the first year. If I'm not mistaken, I know there might've been a 400 jumps somewhere. I know there was a $550 point. And then the second generations, I was selling them for $1,500. And I remember my first order was, uh, there was 12 instruments. One guy got three. Um, uh, and I just went down my list of percussion friends because I'm, I'm a percussionist and a vocalist. That's how musically I, I, how I identify. And I, you know, I told my friends, check this out, look at whatever resources and they'd say I'm down for this. So that's how it started. And at some point in that period, I bought my ticket and I remember flying into Geneva, which is not Bern, and it's not the other closest airport. I forget where, where it would come in. But I flew into Geneva because that's where, that's what was available at that time for me to get in during this time period, I've never been to Europe before and Felix met me at the airport and we, we took a train together to, uh, to Bern. Um, and then I kind of recollect, maybe we drove, we drove in his car and it was a very warm and cozy, very friendly. Um, and the hang house is located on the river at that time. Um, the, I forget, which is the Hang house in the hangbau house. There's the, to cross the street is one or the other. And, uh, but it wasn't the other one wasn't there yet. Um, so those were the, the roots of the, the beginnings of how it all happened. And then there is an evolution of stories. Um, I felt very, in some ways it felt very comfortable, privileged, and part of my payment, like I wasn't paid directly with money. I would get paid in Hangs. Like, I think there was a certain amount. I mean, I forget how the equation worked, but I know that maybe it was a certain amount that were free to me. And then the other amount I would have to purchase and, and whatever I sold, that was my income. And then they would get paid, you know? Um,
Sylvain: It's an interesting arrangement.