PanMarco Festival Brings the Unique, Calming Sounds of the Handpan to the Front of the Mix

PanMarco festival impresario John Giunta playing flute and Melissa Penrose and Stanislov Shaposhnikov playing handpan along the Riverwalk

The handpan is widely regarded as one of the most calm, peaceful and meditative musical instruments out there.

That sound, and the settings in which it is most often heard, are about as far as it gets from the ambient sounds that used to surround John Giunta. In a previous life, a time that feels so long ago, Giunta was an air traffic controller, which is known to be one of the most stressful jobs in the world. The job is so stressful that they are required by law to retire no later than the age of 56, and those with 20 or more years of experience can retire even earlier than that.

Giunta was a very much different person at the time he first discovered the handpan. To say that it changed his life would be a huge understatement. Giunta started Streams of Sound, an organization that takes music far beyond traditional concert settings to places like schools, hospitals, nursing homes, churches and yoga studios all over the First Coast. 

The orgs list of sponsors and partners reads like a who’s who of high-profile helpers in our community: Art With a Heart in Healthcare, Baptist Health, Boys & Girls Club, Brooks Assisted Living, Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens, UF Health, Wolfson Children’s Hospital and the Jacksonville Public Library. All that is to say that his passion for handpan is infectious, in a good way.

Giunta has become positively evangelical about the handpan, and his passion has slowly spread across the region. This trend reaches its current peak this weekend in San Marco with PanMarco 2023, which marks the return of an event that debuted back in 2018. PanMarco 2023 is one of only three national gatherings that are centered on the handpan, and it may well end up being the biggest. 

This event is the culmination of years of diligent work by Giunta and his colleagues, who have raised the profile of handpan music in this region through relentless hard work and sheer will. The PanMarco Handpan Show group on Facebook currently has almost 900 members, so one should expect a substantial crowd this weekend.

PanMarco 2023 takes place over the course of three days, Friday through Sunday, November 17-19, with tickets starting at only $10. It begins with a Friday night concert on November 17 from 7-9 p.m. at the Cummings Cathedral at St. Johns Cathedral on Church Street in downtown Jacksonville. Anyone interested in the handpan can get an ideal introduction to the instrument by watching some of the best players in the world, including Ricky Hillson, Sarah Paz Hyde, Maximillian Edison Johnson, Natalie McCalla and Stevan Morris.

The bulk of the festival takes place on Saturday the 18th from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. at Friday Musicale, 645 Oak Street in Riverside, which is a location that Streams of Sounds have played at several times before. The PanMarco Trade Show (with food provided by Conscious Care) will cover pretty much everything one would need to know about the handpan, from building to maintenance to selling. There will be new instruments for sale from vendors like Axiom, Hamsa, Isthmus, Luna, PanSmith, Peacepan, RAV and Tacta. There will also be  at least two premium handpans raffled away that day: a Saraz G Dorian Mini, as well as a limited edition B flat Sierra sound sculpture mini handpan. Both of these instruments are worth well over $2,000 each.

After a little evening break, everyone returns there for another all-star concert from 7-9pm, featuring players like Dan Mulqueen, Peter Levitov, Rafael D’Arco, as well as a special set by Jonathon Sadler and Clint Wilcox, performing in duo as “More Than Physics”.

The festival finishes on Sunday the 19th, with five different teaching workshops going from 8:30am to 3:30 pm. This offers a unique opportunity for newer and older players to not only learn more about the instrument, but also to network with fellow fans. After that wraps up, everyone reconvenes back where they started, at the St. Johns Cathedral, but this time in Parish Hall for a special Donor Banquet from 6-9pm. The banquet includes food, drink and music, as well as a silent auction featuring artists like Krishna Acath, Jim Draper, Rebecca Hepburn, Lelani Leo, Kali Levitov, Gena Martinelli, Matt Richards, and Brett Waller.

PanMarco 2023 is not just about this one particular instrument, but about the vast community that has sprouted up around it. The soothing tones resonate, not just in the ears, but in the soul, and for many it has proven to be a perfect antidote for these toxic times we’re living in. 

PanMarco 2023 is held in various locations around Jacksonville beginning Friday, November 17. Tickets here.

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