Québécois pan-flute player Sylvan is a self-taught musician. This traveling maestro resides in Taipei where he memorizes crowds with his gentle tunes.


Davi: Sylvan, you play the pan flute. How did you start playing this instrument?

Sylvan: I was about 14 when I heard Zamfir play “The Lonely Sheppherd” on the radio. That was it. I was  instantly in love. I bought a pan flute that I could afford at a local instrument store. My best friend at that time thought it was a complete waste of money [laughs]. Anyway, I started teaching myself over the next few years. Sometimes I would give up for extended periods but always came back to it. It had only two octaves and was not well tuned. I realized that I needed better and a wider pitch range to keep me interested but I had no money to buy a better flute. That’s how I started making my own, out of necessity sort of.

D: What does the process of making a pan flute involve?

S: Lots of trial and error… and some imagination as there is no bamboo in Quebec. I took a good look at the few other pan flutes I could get my hands on in order to better understand their proportions and structure and went from there. It would take too long to explain the whole process here. I might make a video about it eventually if I ever decide to share my trade secrets. I think my method is quite unique and I am still trying to improve it with every new flute I make.

D: Do you teach other people how to play?

S: Kind of. I do sell my flutes on occasion and will spend some time with the clients to make sure that they know the basics of the instrument. However, it’s more about making them comfortable with the instrument itself, their posture, breathing, etc. I can’t really teach much music as I am self-taught and have little background in music theory.

D: How did you start busking?

S: I was always fascinated by street performers, even though I never expected to become one (I was studying science). After making my first flute though, I became more dedicated and started to feel that I was not too bad. I started busking in the subway stations in Montreal when I was in college to help earn extra money.  It was just me and my flute, I  didn’t use an amp or backtracks, only the natural reverb of the stations. Much to my surprise I really enjoyed it and the money was not bad. Sometimes I miss those days when I had nothing else but my flute to carry around.

D: How has your experience busking influenced the way you relate to fans?

S: The gigs I get sometimes are from people who meet me while busking. Actually, I have even refused some gigs because I prefer being outside. I like the direct contact with people, and the freedom. I do have some fans who come back to my regular spots and it’s really touching. But busking being what it is, I think the internet is changing our way to relate to fans. However, I still have lots of work to do on that front and I’m a bit lazy. The Busking Project could be a good help.

D: Has busking influenced your performance style?

S: I’ve been a busker from the start so obviously, yes. I’ve kinda settled in a certain style but I’m keeping my mind open to try new things.

D: What do you hope to communicate through your music?

S: I think that “stop and enjoy the moment” summarizes it. It seems to work. I love to see people who are all stressed out and running around suddenly stop completely, start listening and calm down for a while. Then I know I’m doing something good.

D: You’re originally from Montreal but you now reside in Taipei. What has inspired your travels and this move?

S: After a few years in the Montreal subway I managed to get myself a license for the Old-Port of Montreal. It was much to my surprise as there were hundreds of talented people at the auditions and they accepted very few. The money was much better outdoors. That was an amazing experience and that’s when I realized that I could actually make a living out of this. The only problem is that Summer is way too short in Montreal and it’s hard to make enough in the subway the rest of the year. So my first big move was to Vancouver where the climate is much milder. I was really able to make a living there. Vancouver being about half Asian, that’s where I met my Taiwanese girlfriend. You can guess the rest…

D: How has traveling influenced your music style and/or preferences?

S: I learned some nice Asian music along the way and I’ve picked up the shakuhachi which I have integrated in my show for a few songs. I now like this instrument almost as much as the pan flute so I’m sure I’ll use it more in the future. I bought myself some Chinese flutes too that I have used on one of my own Asian-inspired songs. Everywhere I go, it seems that my most popular songs are the softer ones so I am leaning more towards this kind of music. I’m even considering venturing into meditation music as I often see people doing just that when listening to me. We’ll see.

D: Final question: what kind of music always puts you in a good mood when you listen to it?

S: Hmmm, tough one. I like all kinds of music but Flamenco guitar would be near the top of my list.