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Finding my tune – the pathway into Manx and Celtic music

Monday 6 December in Entertainment

We can agree that learning a new hobby requires patience, certainly for music instruments. These days the majority people are drawn to the ‘cool’ instruments, but, folk instruments such as the harp still carry a heavy note to many, despite their ‘old’ heritage – especially for twenty-year-old Mera Royale.

The ex-Ramsey Grammar pupil is in her final year at Newcastle University studying Music -a subject very close to her heart. Her music has been recognised by many, with accolades such as BBC Radio 2’s Young Folk Artist of the Year under her belt, as well as composing the soundtrack for local film producer Dark Avenue Film. Before pursuing higher education, Mera took part in harp lessons on a monthly basis, organised by Culture Vannin and ran by Harpist Tutor, Rachel Hair. Turns out harp playing would be a talent which would change her life.

Islandlife’s Tia Welsh caught up with Mera to find out more about how the harp has influenced her musical career:

What makes learning the harp so different to any other instruments such as the piano or violin?

I find it so nostalgic. Playing the harp is so personal and comforting, almost as if it has become an extended part of myself. I used to play violin a little when I was younger, but I found that harder as it was more classically focused and required heaps of practice to be perfect. Compared to that I found I play harp just for fun and enjoyment. But, it was good for me to learn the theory of classical music as well as find out what music I liked.

Why did you choose to play harp?

I started playing harp when I was about nine years old. I guess I took it because it was one of the options available. I was really fortunate to grow up in a school where music was really important - it was a hobby you could do with your friends and it was enjoyable at the same time.

When Rachel started coming over I would occasionally play for dance groups, but at that age I used to dance more than I played. I was in a band called Scran that was set up by Culture Vannin. For me the harp is extension of who you are. That’s a lot of where I get my inspiration, and it’s a relief not to have the stress of music exams and have that freedom to play what you want.

How did you find learning a musical instrument on a once a month basis?

It was great! Every month we used to have lessons in the Nunnery, and I’d go away and learn the tune. I always thought that was a nice time. In a way that gap in between allowed me to grow gave me more time to perfect and build my confidence, whilst learning a musical instrument. When compared to having weekly lessons, it’s a lot more ‘relaxed’ but I think that’s a positive thing. Rachel is also a fantastic teacher, and she has helped me learn in so many ways.

Congratulations on winning the BBC Radio 2, Young Folk Artist of the Year Award for 2018– did you ever expect to achieve this, at such a young age?

Thank you! And no, not at all. I didn’t hear much about the opportunity until my music teacher in Sixth Form suggested I should enter it. I ended up sending off a few audio clips and it went from there really. At the time I didn’t know what I was signing up to, and I never thought I would win. It’s a wonderful feeling to receive that recognition for your music.

How has learning the harp contributed towards your career aspirations?

Learning the harp has definitely helped me find my love for music. I feel as if I didn’t learn the harp, I wouldn’t be studying music now, or have gotten into composition. It’s had a big impact on me - I am currently working on another composition for Dark Avenue Film and then I’ve got to finish my degree. I’ve got two EPs out, called The Ballaglass Set and Woven - both of which can be found on Spotify.

I would love to do film composition for sure. I think deep down I know it’s what I’ve been wanting to do for a while, but it’s a career based on chance. I can’t imagine how I’m going to get there, but at the moment I’m just focusing on getting through third year. After that I’ve got to see what pops up. I am currently in a band called Neear Nesañ which is a collaboration of musicians. I’m hoping to keep that side up too as I enjoy playing in that kind of environment.

Who do you consider to be your biggest influence?

Mr Bolton – my harp teacher at Bunscoill Rhumsaa (originally Scoill Ree Gorree). He used to run a club called folk group, and I would have never played the harp if that opportunity is available. He was very encouraging but he would never ‘sugar coat’ or over egg his students. Harp has been my life for the last ten years, and if he didn’t do that, I wouldn’t be who I am today. I owe him. And Rachel Hair of course!

What has the highlight of your musical career been so far?

Having lessons with Rachel every month really was unforgettable. It was cool though to have your music recognised by the BBC - to think someone there would listen to my harp and think it had potential – it’s a very special feeling. I’ve also enjoyed creating the composition for Dark Avenue Film’s short film ‘The Lost Wife’ as well as working with them. I can’t wait to play new music using my harp and for my next project!

If you would like to find out more information about Mera’s music you can visit her website https://meraroylemusic.wixsite.com/harp. Rachel Hair’s Harp Tutorials please check out our other article ‘Play me a tune and I’ll follow – secrets of the harp’

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