It was about 10 years ago. My friend Jon had just come to my house and said, “Yo, check this out!” We walked into my study and he pulled up a video online titled, “Hang drum.”
Jon and I played music together. It’s what we did, who we were. I watched the video, and then I watched it again. It showed a guy with a UFO-shaped instrument in his lap, he was playing it with his hands. It was percussive and melodic. Even coming out of my cheap computer speakers, it sounded… amazing.
I looked at Jon. I smiled and said, “I have to have one of those.”
I started researching, but found it surprisingly hard to find any information about it. The only thing I could find was that it was called a “Hang”, sans drum, and it was made by some people in Switzerland.
Jon and I agreed that we would uncover more information, and make a trip to Switzerland as soon as we could.
Uncovering more information took time, but I learned that the company that made them was called PANArt. I also discovered that to buy a Hang, you had to be personally invited to PANArt in Switzerland. The only way to be invited was to send a hand-written letter to PANArt, and wait. So, I did.
Days passed, weeks passed, months, and years. I never heard back, but continued watching videos and trying to find out more information. Jon and I continued to talk about our (hopefully) upcoming pilgrimage to Switzerland.
But, in November of 2010, Jon died.
While mourning the loss of my friend, I thought a lot about the trip that we would never get to take together. During that time, I had a vision, a realization. I had to find a way to get invited to Switzerland to buy a Hang.
I had to do it, in memory of Jon.
I reenergized my hunt for Hang, but to no avail. The website with the address to send letters to had long since disappeared. There were more videos of Hang players online, but everyone seemed mysteriously quiet about how they got theirs. Initially, the mystery added energy to my search, but over time, it wore me down and I stopped trying. Until…
At Medium we have a fun little perk. On your birthday you get $1,000 in cash, but with a couple catches. You must spend the money and you must report back to the company about what you spent your money on and why. It’s a great perk, not only because you get $1,000 on your birthday, but because we have learned so much about each other by seeing how others have spent their money.
On my birthday, last November, I got my $1,000 and started thinking about what to do with it. Jon’s birthday was also in November, and 2013 marked the 3 year anniversary of his passing. So it hit me, I would make one last effort to try and acquire a Hang, and I will use the money to help get me to Switzerland. So I started the hunt again.
I sent messages to Hang players on YouTube. I posted messages in seemingly abandoned Hang forums online. I sent emails to anyone and everyone that I thought might have information. In all my attempts, I shared my story about Jon.
Days later, I noticed a Facebook message from someone named Dietmar, whom I did not know.
I would be happy to help you out with your task and to fulfill this promise you gave to yourself and to Jon.
I am in close contact with the Hangmakers and live northern Italy, about 1 hour drive from Verona.
Feel free to contact me.
I wrote him back immediately. He seemed genuine, very friendly, and sincere about his ability to help me acquire a Hang. Unfortunately, he also explained the current status of the Hang.
- PANArt was no longer making the Hang ☹
- They were making the next version of the Hang, called the Gubal ☺
- To get a Gubal, you had to be a Hang player ☹
All that said, Dietmar said he would share my story about Jon and my quest for a Hang with the makers of the instrument. I was ecstatic, but tried not get my hopes up.
A few weeks passed and he messaged me again.
Good to go, pal! I asked the makers and they said it should be no problem.
They will give you a Gubal… exceptionally. The “Gubal days” on May 16-18 are meant for Gubal players only, but they are making an exception for you.
You can start planning your trip, Jason!
10 years of trying to get an invite… I bought my ticket that week.
I have never been to Europe and I had never actually seen a Hang or a Gubal in person, but on May 15th, 2014 I boarded a flight to London. From there I took a flight to Zurich, and then a train to Bern, Switzerland.
Bern is a beautiful city. The weather was amazing and I couldn’t imagine a more perfect city for my first trip to Europe.
I checked into my hotel room, messaged Dietmar, and started a 20-minute walk through the city of Bern, to PANArt. When I arrived, Dietmar greeted me with a hug and introduced me to Sabina and Felix, the makers of the Hang and Gubal. They expressed their gratitude that I would travel across the world to spend the weekend with them and purchase a Gubal. I expressed my gratitude that they invited me, finally!
Friday and Saturday were spent at PANArt with some of the best Hang and Gubal players in the world. It was the first time that the Gubal was made available for purchase. I learned a lot about the Gubal and what made it special.
Choosing a Gubal was hard. They are all hand made with slightly different tones and imperfections.
Each Gubal is engraved with a number indicating the order in which they were made. After trying several, I found one that seemed to sing beneath my hands, unlike the others. It was number 140, which holds a special Twitter-shaped place in my heart.
Without hesitation, I decided #140 was the one for me. I purchased it, took it back to my hotel, and played it until jet lag hit me and I fell asleep. I needed rest and the Gubal gave me what I needed.
I went back to PANArt Saturday night to watch the open mic session in which people jammed on Gubals, guitars, piano, saxophone, and sang. There were people from all over the globe and it was a pretty magical night.
Sunday morning I woke up, put the Gubal on my back, and started my day-long journey back to San Francisco.
Jon was with me.
I thought about him a lot over the weekend. I’m sad that we couldn’t take the trip together, but making this pilgrimage to PANArt was a meaningful way to remember and honor my friend.
I smiled a lot that weekend, because I knew he was smiling also.
I love learning new things, especially how to play new instruments. The Gubal is a lot harder to play than I had imagined, but I have a lifetime to learn it, enjoy it, and remember my friend.