The Handpan Lets People Shine with Kevin Roddy

Long-time Hang and handpan enthusiast Kevin Roddy shares the stories that have shaped his own journey with the instrument. In this episode, we learn about music therapy vs therapeutic music, hear examples of outrageous generosity and more.

International Handpan Day:

Podcast Transcription:

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

Sylvain: We often first get into something, whether it be a hobby, an idea, a philosophy merely because it's interesting, our brain is hardwired to catch anything that's new and even rewards it by increasing our levels of dopamine, which means we have an actual physiological reaction to novelty. 20 years ago on October 13th, 1999 the concept of the hang and what would later become handpans was born. Not only was it a revolutionary work of craftsmanship, engineering and design, but it was new. It's wild to think back of these early days, the scarcity, the intensity, even the drama, and I personally find it incredibly valuable to sit down with folks who have gone the distance because novelty ultimately becomes familiar and it can lose its spark. Joining me in today's episode is my good friend Kevin Roddy. Kevin got into this instrument before the hype, before the viral videos, before the gatherings. He's not into handpan because it's merely interesting. No, Kevin truly developed a passion and yet there were ups and downs along the journey too. But these are great lessons for us. So here is my conversation with Kevin Roddy.

Kevin: Well, Kevin, I am so happy to chat with you today. Thanks for joining me on this episode.

Kevin: Thanks Sylvain. I'm glad to be here.

Sylvain: Yeah, you were one of the first people that I wanted to have on the show because you have a wealth of knowledge and experiences that I just want to get out there into the world. Um, but for reasons that we may get into at the time, you politely declined. And again, I think there are lessons there, but your, um, you're here. So I'm really grateful for that and you're a longtime member of this, uh, just really amazing community that we get to be a part of. Today, we're going to hear your story and, um, I'll just, uh, say this in advance. What has struck me, uh, leading up to this conversation is how thoughtful you are and how you've thought about a lot of the themes that I try to bring up on this podcast long before they were even on my radar. Um, and, uh, so I'm just excited about that. Um, you and I discovered the instrument I think roughly around the same time, but in very different life stages and very different geographical locations. Um, so would you tell me how this all started for you?

Kevin: Well, in Hawaii we used to have these gatherings called fire tribe Hawaii and what they were, or, um, uh, all night events, usually three nights on the solstice and equinoxes of each year. And so through the 10 years that fire tribe existed, they produced 40 of these events and what they were, were events where people could come regardless of their spiritual, um, uh, orientation, uh, or religion. They were events that were drug and alcohol free where they'd light a big bonfire. And it was just encouraged that people bring instruments, bring percussion instruments, um bring stories, and the whole purpose was to let people shine. Let people be able to bring something to contribute to this community. Um, so one night, I think it was in 2004, uh, it was the December gathering at the solstice gathering about two 30, three 30 in the morning. Um, usually the night would start out with heavy percussion around the fires, a lot of energy at 11 and Admin night and one and then people start drifting off and maybe going to bed and other people come out and start doing quieter things. And um, there was like this, you have this storytime around the fire where people would just, uh, tell different kinds of stories. And then around four 15 or so, um, it got very quiet. And then this person with this instrument came in and it was this round thing and I think the person was Bright Hawk. She might have, she used to attend these gatherings and I'm sure most of your listeners have, have met her and have even played with her. Anyway, she started playing this instrument of course, like everyone else. Like what is that? And I was close enough to her to be able to feel the vibrations from the instrument. And I believe she has a Pentatonic A or Pentatonic F perhaps. I, I forget her tuning, but that was my first, um, uh, introduction to, to, to the Hang. And that was in December of 2004. So of course, and my other friend Michael Wall, who also was in these gatherings had one. So there were actually two of these instruments in 2004 in Hawaii, um, and late at night around a bonfire.

Sylvain: Wow, 2004. That's very early. Before...

Kevin: Before, before everything happened. I actually, and, and you know, since these gatherings would, would happen every three months, Bright Hawk wouldn't come over for every one. She mostly came over for the, um, the solstices generally the winter solstice because it came for a break from Colorado to be in Hawaii. Um, but Michael, um, would share his instrument with me. And then I'll tell you kind of the story of how I was able to obtain one of these instruments. In 2006, Michael had loaned his, he had a pentatonic A and he had loaned it to a, a djembe player who threw two of the tones out of tune by hitting it too hard. And so Michael was pretty much in morning. I mean, he, he felt like, oh, what am I going to do with this instrument? And he just didn't want to see the instrument for awhile. He felt really bad about it. And I said, well, could I just shepherd it for awhile? He said sure. And what I did was I contacted Felix in Switzerland and asked him if I could send it in for a retuning to surprise Michael. And, um, he said, sure. And prior to his setting the instrument back, it took about a month, he contacted me, he said, well, I have another one of these instruments available. Would you like me to send it to you in, uh, the box that I'm sending back Michael's Hang? And I said, and of course, I said, sure. And I said, how much would that be? And he said it would be 750 USD and you know, I almost hit the floor because I thought, oh my gosh, this is going to be amazing to get one of these instruments. So that's how I got on my first, my first and only Hang was, um, through retuning Michael's on through, um, Felix in Switzerland.

Sylvain: No Way. Wow, that's incredible. And I can't help but see the, the fruits of generosity because that was a super generous move of you to care enough for your friend to facilitate that and, and you were rewarded for that in an amazing way. Um, wow.

Kevin: I had no idea. Yep. I had no idea that that would even happen. I just thought, well, um, you know, and of course I asked him if he had any instruments at that time and I think he was a, Felix was a little vague. And whatever I did, that was when I first sent it in and I just said, well, I just want this returned. And I think that he and Sabina and I think this instrument, Colin Foulke looked at it and it has some strange markings on it and it has what Colin called some kind of like Sabina markings where he felt that this instrument was developed by her. And Colin really likes this instrument. In fact, he was the first person to ever retune it. So I got it in 2006 and I took it to where I met you at Hangout USA in 2014 and he retuned it there and he thought that it, you know, it held its tune pretty well over the years. And of course I didn't know, um, you know, where I could get retuned and it detuned such that I could still play it any instrument if it detunes, if all the, all the notes detune the same way you can still play the instrument and not feel that it's flat or sharp or anything. But, um, so yeah,

Sylvain: And if I remember correctly, you have a second Gen Hang in that, that's a remarkable, that's a remarkable era of the Hang, probably the climax, right. When you, when you talk about Pan Art, uh, in handpan circles, I think everyone's favorite. Um, sound texture is that of the second Gen Hangs so it's pretty cool that you have one.

Kevin: Well, I know that there are high, there's a list of people that say if you ever want to sell your Hang or please contact me. So, um, I don't know. Eventually I plan on just giving it away because you know, I don't really want to sell it. I was reading how, um, who was it, one of your other interviewees had talked about how they had developed an emotional connection. Well it was you, I believe you talked about you developed an emotional connection with each of your instruments, with each of the builders of the instruments. And it's quite unusual that in the handpan community, we actually know our, um, the builders of our pants. I mean, how many people, how many pianists really know the builders of their pianos? I mean, sure. You know, um, professionals in, in Virtuoso, musicians will develop a relationship with whoever creates their instruments. But in our particular circles, I think there's more hand pan people that know they're the creators of their instruments than probably any other musicians.

Sylvain: I agree. And that adds so much value to the whole experience and it turns them into these sentimental items almost regardless of the quality. Cause you know, a lot of us may have early prototypes of builders who are now world renowned and some of the world's best makers. But having a prototype that maybe isn't as good quality still holds so much value, historical value, sentimental value. Um, so we really truly are in the golden age of handpans. I think with the level of connection that we all enjoy. Um, okay. Let me come back to something that is so incredible that you just said and I don't want to miss it. Um, you said that ultimately one day you might just give it away, give away this, this instrument that's so precious to you. Um, I'm not going to put you on the spot and I don't mean to embarrass you, but I know that you have given away handpans before. Uh, we won't say any more than than that, but man, this, uh, this is really incredible and, um, I just want to acknowledge that, uh, this kind of generosity. It's a thread in your story. So thank you for providing a model for, for us to, to, to explore that kind of outrageous generosity.

Kevin: Well, thank you. I, I have been very lucky in my life to have had been around people who were, who showed me this way of just, um, giving things and you don't, you don't know what's going to happen. Um, once you give something away. And I know that with this community, I've seen people who swore that they could never play a note of anything, have this, um, have a handpan, um, maybe come to gathering and they don't have one yet. And they're playing other people's handpans. They get their own. And after, you know, a year or two having their own, they come to gathering and now I see that they're carrying a native American flute or they're carrying, you know, some other instrument because the Hang opened up a world of music to them so that they could actually, they feel comfortable playing a Hang or playing a handpan rather, and then they could play other instruments. So that is what is truly remarkable about this instrument because I, I believe everyone is programmed to play music. Uh, many people are shut down early on in their lives because they aren't the best singers and they aren't the best musicians, but they just haven't had enough time to practice. Um, or it wasn't their passion because I think that many people are drawn to this incident because of the resonance of the instrument because of the beauty of the sound. And I think that's something I'd kinda like to talk about maybe a little bit later, that I believe that we all have a resonant frequency within us. And we, um, when we play these instruments, it actually activates something deep within us that is resonant with the instrument. Um, for example, I really like music and I didn't realize this until about eight or nine years ago. I like music that's in the key and, um. My resonant tone, pretty much people have, have tested it to see, you know, what I respond to an F#, F to F# is sort of my resonant tone. So, um, I think that these instruments affect us on a physiological level and maybe we don't know very much about that, but we just know that it pleases us and it makes us feel good. So I think that the instruments, um, you know, have that, um, potential and to be able to see someone open up who has never ever, um, played an instrument before, to see them explore and to see their face light up is just, it's worth it. It's worth, um, anything you can do to give that opportunity to someone. And I want to do that.

Sylvain: Yeah, I couldn't agree more. And there's so many things you just said that are so powerful. Um, the handpan being a gateway instrument to um, teach us how to get pleasure from creating music as opposed to feeling intimidated, being afraid to fail. Um, and, and what you mentioned about finding that, that pitch, that frequency, that's amazing. That's super perceptive. Um, how, how do you think someone can, can find that? Did you sort of pay attention to how you felt around, um, certain ranges of, of frequencies and to make it very concrete? So with handpans it's easy because the center note is within a certain limited range, you know, pretty much between like F2 for the lowest to A3, maybe for the highest pitch of the center note. Did you just identify that there's certain instruments where the center note really resonated with you? Is that how it went down?

Kevin: Well, actually I discovered this more with doing of my heart therapy because the other instrument in my life and besides the Hang, um, handpan, was a harp because it just very quickly I grew up, my father was a musician, he was a piano player. And a singer and I played piano for awhile and I was the only one of four children that really showed an interest in music. And, um, I played the guitar for a while, but it just, it wasn't resonant. The Piano didn't resonate with me and there are all these kinds of songs we had to learn. And the guitar was, I just, you know, wasn't into the guitar, wasn't into the pain of the callouses on my fingers and I let it go for a long, long time. And it was the fire tribe Hawaii that really reawakened, um, first of all it was percussion and since they, um, they, uh, pretty much based their percussion on North African rhythms and belly dancing and that kind of thing. So I learned how to play doom back, how to play frame drum. And then the Hong came into my life there as did the harp one night around the fire, a woman brought a very small harp and then about two years later I found that there was this program online of harp therapy of using the harp for healing, um, purposes. And one of the main tenants of the international harp therapy program of where I'm certified is that, um, there is a, everyone has a resonant tone and if you find someone to rest, if someone, when someone is ill and they're, they're feeling weak, their resident tone is probably weak as well. And if you could find out what the resonant tone is and play mus