The Unmatched Power of Creativity, with Mary Mosley

Have you ever brought your handpan to work? That's what Mary Mosley does on a routine basis. As an educator, she uses the handpan in the classroom as a learning tool for her students. Speaking from her childhood, Mary talks about the unmatched power of creativity to help process difficulties.

Podcast Transcription:

Sylvain: Hey, it's Sylvain and this is the handpan podcast! The benefits of creativity are undeniable. Using our imagination to create something reduces stress, teaches us problem-solving, fosters community, and on and on. Yet, it often takes people to meet us where we're at and to empower us to pursue the creative inkling inside each of us. Today, we're gonna hear from one of these people. I met Mary Mosley at a recent handpan gathering and I immediately knew I wanted to share her story on the podcast. Mary talks about the freedom found in the handpan, after going through painful experiences which made it difficult to create years. And she reveals what she's learned from routinely bringing the handpan to the most unusual setting... the classroom. Here's my conversation with Mary Mosley. Mm.

Sylvain: Hey Mary, it's good to have you on the podcast. How are you?

Mary: Hello, I am fantastic. Thank you so much for having me. This is exciting.

Sylvain: Yeah, it's really exciting. Um, for me too because it's an aspect of the instrument that I don't have much experience in so I expect to learn a lot from you today. So we'll get to your occupation in just a moment because it's going to be a central focus in today's conversation. But first I wanted to ask you about your background specifically. I don't know, growing up, did you have experiences around creativity and art and community that set you on the path towards pursuing an instrument like the handpan?

Mary: Absolutely. Um, I was very lucky to grow up in a home with a lot of music. My father was a guitarist and a beautiful singer and my mother is a classically trained pianist and so they both played instruments and play with them often. And we're also just lovers of music. And so I remember as a child, you know, these parties that my parents would throw and they loved rock music and my dad had an amazing record collection and they would let me pick records. So, you know, I was like four or five and you know, dancing to the rolling stones on top of the coffee table and things like that. So it was, it was very much a childhood that was musical. Um, I also sang as a child, um, I sang a lot from a church and in choirs at school and things like that. And that part of me, the creative part of me was something that was very encouraged by my parents especially. Um, I sang, I didn't pick up an instrument. Um, I sang a lot and I drew, um, I liked to draw and to paint and when I was in kindergarten, they had us dress up as what we wanted to be when we were older and I dressed up as an artist and I had an artist Palette and all of that sort of thing. Um, and then my dad died when I was 10 and it, it made music really difficult for me for a bout 15 years. I quit singing and I kind of distanced myself from that kind of creativity. And, um, it was only in the past couple of years that I discovered handpan and found myself drawn to that creative part of myself that I had neglected for so long.

Sylvain: I had no idea. Thanks for sharing that.

Mary: Yeah.

Sylvain: So you went through a rough patch there in your relationship to music and art.

Mary: Yeah, it was interesting to have some thing that had brought me so much joy as a child, to be something that it was 10 tinged with sadness and you know, for me that, that happened when I was a kid. And so often children don't know how to process trauma and process things that hurt. And you know, I did what I think a lot of children do, which is I just pushed it away.

Sylvain: Yeah. Did you maintain some other artistic outlets like drawing in the meantime?

Mary: I didn't. I did find theater and the theater community in high school and in college and you know, those communities tend to be full of, of creative, Quirky, fun people. And, um, I never was someone who wanted to be on stage, but I was a stage manager and I helped with the lighting and things like that. And that was, that was good.

Sylvain: Yeah. And it sounds like theater brings in a whole new aspect of the art being community too, right. And performance. And so what drew you to the handpan? How did you discover the handpan? What attracted you to it when you did?

Mary: So I found handpan by watching someone play and it was actually a, someone who is now a good friend of mine, Lawson Yeager. And he was playing, he was busking at this little community in San Antonio called the Pearl. And I, I walked by and I, I heard this magical sound and was fully distracted by it because I believe I was walking on my way to somewhere or to do something. And I don't even remember what now because I sat down and, um, I had, uh, I make Malas, which are meditation beads. And so I had one with me and I, he was playing on the end of the bench and I sat at the other end of the bench and worked on nodding my Mala and just listen to him play for about 45 minutes. And I found the sound to just be enchanting and calming and grounding and exhilarating all at the same time. And I remember feeling really bad because I didn't have any cash. And so I went up to him and I was like, Hey, you know, can I, can I get you a coffee? Cause he was playing right outside of a coffee shop and he was like, yeah, that would be great. So I got him a coffee and you know, went on, went on my way and it stuck with me. And a couple of months later I made a new friend who busks often in, he plays Didgeridoo and djembe and a few other instruments and he had a hand pan and he let me play. And the first time I sat down with it, I think I sat there playing for two hours. And, you know, I've, I'd never played or percussion instrument before it. It wasn't a thing that I had any training with. And I remember so much joy. I just felt joy when I was playing. And it was funny because we were outside, like we were busking, he was busking when I did this. And so, you know, there are people walking by and I thought about it afterwards and there wasn't a moment where I was self conscious or felt odd about people watching me play despite the fact that, you know, I didn't really have any idea when I was doing. Um, and I remembered telling him, you know, when I first started playing, I looked up at him and I said, it sounds like fairies singing.

Sylvain: Hmm.

Mary: And I still, you know, still with, with hand pans, I like to find a description of their tone or something about them that is a little more whimsical and more fairy tale. Like, cause I think I'm drawn to that quality in them.

Sylvain: Yeah. And you're not the only one. I think a lot of us are drawn to the magic of this sound. And I love that you used the word joy because kind of the tagline for this podcast is the simple joy of creating and joy is this powerful thing because it implies the absence of fear. And you just described it, right. Busking being out in public and playing and not being fearful of doing it wrong or not being fearful of what others are going to think. And this kind of freedom from fear produces so much joy. Um, but it's, it's so cool that you had this experience and I had no idea that it was Lawson who introduced you to the handpan. That's awesome.

Mary: Yeah, it will. And it's great because now he and I played together, you know, at least once a week, often more.

Sylvain: Yeah. I've seen a number of recent videos of the two of you playing duets and uh, it's really neat that you seem to have a, a great chemistry and that you can make music together.

Mary: It's been a really beautiful thing to, to create with him and to, to grow in that together.

Sylvain: Yeah, he's a great guy. And he's going to be on the podcast at some point in the near future.

Mary: Yes, I hope so.

Sylvain: All right. So I missed it, but yesterday was national teacher appreciation day, so I'm sorry I'm one day late, but cheers to you and to all the teachers who have impacted us. Um, this is partly why we're chatting today about the topic of hand pans and education. You're an educator, you're a teacher. How, how did you celebrate yesterday?

Mary: Well, so it, the whole week is teacher appreciation week and um, I've, I've Kinda just been celebrating by, by doing what I usually do with, with the kids. Um, this week is always a really interesting one because often times other teachers in the building will prompt kids to like write little notes to their teachers for why they appreciate them and things like that. And so every year I always get like one or two cards or little letters that really stick with me. And I got a really sweet one today actually from a student that I taught two years ago and she wrote this beautiful letter about how she appreciated so much that I helped open her eyes to the world around her is I think how she phrased it. Um, and actually she mentioned a musical instrument in the letter because she plays Ukulele and I invite my kids to bring their instruments to class and they can play basically any time they want. Um, and as you know, if they get their work done or if it's something that they could do while while they're still working, they're more than welcome to you. And so this particular student, there were two of, um, two kids in her class that also played Ukulele and so they would bring them and they would work on things together. And, um, she mentioned in her letter that she appreciated, you know, being to able to do that in my class, which was really nice.

Sylvain: Yeah, that's really cute. Um, and so what ages are your students? What grade?

Mary: Yeah, I teach sixth graders, so they are 11 and 12 years old for the most part.

Sylvain: And so that's kind of a crazy age, right?

Mary: Yeah. There are a little up and down.

Sylvain: A lot is going on. They're being introduced to a world of options and subject matters and they're being introduced to the handpan through you. Um, so I understand that you've brought your handpans to class to introduce it to your students, um, to have them try it, share some observations that you've had of their experience.

Mary: Yeah, so it's, it's interesting when I'm playing for them, which I'll bring my pan and I'll play if they're taking a test or quizzes or, you know, if it's a quiet work day, there aren't very many of those days in my class. I'm the teacher that likes things to be a little bit rowdy, but they're still, it's quiet. I'll, I'll bring the handpan and play for them and they immediately fall, completely silent. If someone starts to talk or, um, you know, do something that's kind of disruptive that other kids will shush them. Um, it's cute when I'll, I'll have it with me. When the kids walk in, they recognize the case and they recognize the pan and they knew what it is and they'll get excited. And I have kids who have said that it's really calming. Usually that's the word that they use when I'm playing is that it's really calming and it helps them breeze. I had a student say that it helped remind him to breathe, which I thought was really special. Um, and so just kind of as as background sound for them. Um, the kids really like it. I've also used it with kids who were having a tough day, who were angry about something or sad about something or anxious about something. And those circumstances I have found to be really powerful. So I have had some kids where, you know, I'll, I'll have them sit on the ground and I'll bring the pan to them and I'll put it in their lap. And if I haven't already shown them how, play that, how to play it all, you know, kind of explain how, how to play and then I'll just leave it with them. And I'll tell them like, just take five minutes, make some music, do you, and leave them to it. And that has been a really powerful tool for some of my kids. I had a student last year, her name is Izzy and you know, she had some, some tough things going on at home and I knew a lot about that context and you know, she trusted me enough to confide in me, which I, you know, was, was very appreciative of. And she had a couple of days where she just couldn't concentrate in class and that happens sometimes because you know, kids have lives outside of school and sometimes those lives make doing school impossible. And so she was one kid that I actually, I let her sit in the hallway and I brought her the pan and I just left her out there with it for five or 10 minutes and I popped back out in the hallway and she looked up at me. I didn't even have to say anything. She looked at me and she said, Ms. Mosley, I feel so calm. And it was an immediate, you know, like a straight shot to the heart. It's like, oh good, okay. It worked. I'm happy.

Sylvain: Good on you for trusting her and for being so generous and for empowering her to experience the instrument. I'm really impressed by that. But I think what you did there and what you do on a routine basis is really powerful because you, you trust them and you empower them

Mary: And it's, you know, I do have a lot of trust with my kids. Um, and I think that part of that is, you know, it's with hand pan, especially I, I always introduce the instrument to them and I'll, I, I tell them a little bit about the history of it and I show them how to play it and I tell them how expensive they are and I'm like, you know, this is a $2,400 instrument. It's very expensive and it's very special to me and you know, I, I also am upfront with them. That is something that for me has helped me deal with my emotions and that it's something that helps me find joy and that it's something that if they would like to try, um, you know, like I'm, I'm happy for them to, but you know, they need to be careful. And you know, by and large when, when kids have all of the information and they understand what something is and why it's important and how to handle it, they're very careful and they're very respectful and honestly, if they're like to, to be trusted in that way, like they, they take it seriously that an adult and someone that they have a relationship with has something that's special that they want to share.

Sylvain: Hmm. Which makes it in all the more meaningful connection for you, but also for their own development and for them to perhaps develop a passion and come to own, um, an interest for themselves. Right. There's always this point in, in this transition from childhood to becoming adults where we no longer just do things that were passed on to us, but we start owning them for ourselves and, and I, I wouldn't be surprised if this sense of ownership happens through meaningful connections and trust. Do you feel like some of the students that you've introduced to the handpan have taken it to heart or I wanting to go farther than other kids?

Mary: It's kind of hard to say the case for, for middle schoolers so often their interests are, are still in so many directions that, you know, what they're going to hone in on is, is still a little uncertain. But I do have some kids that every time I bring my pan with me, they always want to play. I've had a few kids ask like where they can get one. And so I, you know, we'll give them information about the things that they can look at in different makers and um, you know, tell them the names that they can search for. And, you know, I have a few kids who have come to me and said, oh, you know, Miss Mosley, I, I've looked at some hand pan videos that are night. I watched them for a few hours. And so for those kids, the ones that ask questions and then they go home and do something with it, I think that those kids might, you know, pick it up later on. But I, I am, I have been surprised and impressed by the number of students who have said to me like, I'm not good at things like this or I'm not creative or I'm not talented or I'm not musical. And then I'll sit with my hand pan and like diligently play and work at it for half an hour. And for those kids, I hope that even if it's not hand pan that they under or begin to understand themselves as creative, um, and you know, even if it's not an instrument, even if it's not music that they see that, you know, they, they are, that they, they can create and that, that is a powerful thing. This year it's, it's been fun. I have an advisory class. So normally I teach world culture and geography. That's, that's my content. Um, and so I teach five sections of that. And then I have one advisory class and my advisory class, we've spoken a lot about creativity and I've done lessons on creativity and how that can be a lot of different things. And we've talked about how, um, young kids will embrace the idea of themselves as creative. And then by the time we get to adults, we have somehow started to, to think that we're not, uh, and so I have a day every week that is just