Is it a Hang Drum or Handpan?
Players commonly use the terms hang drum, handpan, or pantam to describe the Saraz and similar instruments. Many builders of these unique instruments use multiple terms to describe their work, whether they create instruments with tuned membranes or cut tongues.
At Saraz we choose to call our instruments handpans instead of hang drums or pantams. Our reasoning can be explained by sharing a short history of handpan terminology.
The PANart Hang
Around 2000 in Bern, Switzerland, a new type of musical instrument emerged when PANArt HangBau AG developed the Hang®. The Hang is sometimes referred to as a hang drum, but the inventors, Felix Rohner and Sabina Schärer, have considered that variation a misnomer for over a decade and they strongly discourage its use.
One reason PANArt discourages the use of the term hang drum is because it subconsciously leads people to believe that the instrument is a drum, like a djembe or a conga, and therefore can be played very hard with hands or mallets. In reality, the tuning of these instruments is not developed to be sturdy enough to maintain its tuning when hit aggressively or with mallets.
PANArt has also stated that they consider themselves to be the only true manufacturer of the Hang®. The term hang drum is basically a proprietary eponym. Other builders who have been inspired by the Hang® to develop their own instruments have been encouraged to use a different name.
Early on, the Hang could be bought through distributors around the world. However, once the Hang gained in popularity, it became increasingly difficult to purchase. Buyers were required to travel to Bern Switzerland to purchase the PANart Hang directly from the builders. With limited supply, other people began exploring this new chapter of tuned steel and creating their own singing steel instruments.
One of the next builders to emerge after PANArt was Pantheon Steel. Pantheon Steel’s tuner, Kyle Cox, coined the name handpan around 2007 to describe a type of steel pan that is played with the hands. This new term emerged as the moderators of HangBlog.org explained PANArt’s wishes to be the sole user of the term Hang.
Soon after, Handpan.org was created to discuss and explore the new builders who were inspired by the Hang®. While Hangblog.org has become primarily an information source about the Hang® in recent years, Handpan.org remains a forum with a community of thousands of members who explore endless details about established handpan builders, playing, making, and maintaining handpans. The site also shares information about handpan festivals and gatherings around the world.
It is worth mentioning that the term handpan has not been officially solidified either. Is it a handpan or a hand pan? While most people use the term as one word, not everyone does. The topic has come up in discussion between builders more than once. Ultimately, in the evolution of this young art form, it is up to each builder and player to use these terms as they wish.
The term pantam increased in popularity after Victor Levinson used it to describe his own SPB instruments. The term pantam was actually used early on by a distributor in Israel to describe the Hang®. The term is slowly gaining steam and is now commonly used by a couple of other builders including Yishama and Ayasa. A number of Saraz customers commonly refer to our instruments as pantams as well.
Perhaps in 100 years, a singular term will dominate how we discuss our favorite instrument. At Saraz, we refer to our instruments as handpans in reverence to the roots of tuned steel in Trinidad and in respect to the inspiration that first sprouted in Switzerland.
It’s really all semantics. At least one player refers to his SPB and Aciel instruments as cupolas. Whichever name resonates most deeply with our players is fine with us.
Explore our collection or immediately available instruments and accessories in our Online Shop. You can also custom order a Saraz Handpan with the scale of your choice from the largest available Offered Scale List on earth. Learn More about our classic “Professional Series”, our stainless steel “Meditation Series” and our most budget friendly “Enthusiast Series” of Saraz Handpans. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to Contact Us. We look forward to hearing from you and welcoming you to our global family of players.