'I created an opportunity for myself'

Pedal harp artiste

'I created an opportunity for myself'

It was the sound and the unusual character of the pedal harp that got Meagan Pandian hooked on to it. The instrument wasn’t popular in India and there weren’t any teachers in India.

Meagan found herself a teacher and attended a few classes before she decided to carry on learning the instrument on her own. Although just two years since she learnt the pedal harp, Meagan has performed across the country and also with A R Rahaman and Arijit Singh.
She recently performed at the ‘15th East West Music & Dance Encounter’ organised by the Bangalore School of Music. In an interview with Nina C George, Meagan shares her love for music.

How did you come across the pedal harp?  
I first saw the pedal harp as a child on television and I almost instantly connected with it, and wanted to learn it. But the instrument was not available here. There were no music books or teachers imparting lessons. So, I began learning to play the piano and violin. It was when I went to France on a scholarship that I saw the pedal harp and tried playing it. I had made up my mind once again to learn it. I created an opportunity for myself to learn the instrument and haven’t looked back since.  

How did you take to learning the instrument?
I began learning the instrument in India from an expatriate from the US who was about to return home for good. She taught me a few lessons and even sold her pedal harp to me before she returned home. I took a few lessons on Skype as well from a music teacher in North Carolina and later began learning the instrument on my own.   

What are the challenges involved in maintaining the instrument?  
The instrument has to be taken by road. It cannot be flown on a domestic airline because the dimensions are different in a domestic airline. The pedal harp is an extremely delicate instrument with 47 strings. It is one big piece that cannot be dismantled. Also, the strings aren’t available here and have to be imported from the US every time it breaks. The weather here is also not very conducive for the instrument. It tends to break.

How often do you practice?
Unlike a guitar, while playing a pedal harp, you have to pluck the strings. I practise playing the instrument as regular as I can. This helps me stay in touch with it. I practise at least six hours a day.

How important is the technique when handling this instrument?  
Technique is very important. I move the notes on the harp with the feet. There are seven pedals and each pedal has three notches. When you are reading the musical notes, your hand, feet and eye movement must be coordinated.

Describe your style.
Every individual has their own unique style. I am actually in the process of discovering a new music and trying to play Indian classical music on this instrument.

You have performed with A R Rahman. How was that experience?  
A R Rahman has used the pedal harp rather extensively in all his performances. I was one among the musicians who performed with A R Rahman’s production for ‘Tu Hai’. He is a perfectionist and an extremely down-to-earth person.

Arijit Singh is another musician who uses the pedal harp in all his compositions. I
have performed with him in over 20 concerts across the country.

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