Hit enter to search or ESC to close

Three Melodies in One

While most orchestral musicians are content to master a single instrument, some embark on more challenging journeys. Melody Duan is one of our orchestra’s celli, but her fingers fly seamlessly between piano, cello and harp.

A full-time piano teacher, Melody’s music career began in China, aged five. “We were living in a relatively remote part of Hunan province, and by chance I heard my kindergarten teacher playing on an ancient organ – one of those foot-pump models. I was smitten.”

After months of pestering, her weary parents were able to find an electronic keyboard and a teacher. Things progressed quickly and culminated in her winning a local talent show. The teacher bent the ears of her parents, quietly suggesting they’d be wise to invest in their daughter’s talents.

“In the mid-eighties proper pianos were very scarce in that part of China, so my father placed an order for a new piano with a manufacturer on the other side of the country – there was a six-month wait list. It eventually arrived – but without a stool. Dad had to make one.”

High school lessons evolved into a four-year Music Education degree (majoring in piano) at a university in a larger but distant city. “It went well, and I began teaching before I graduated. I taught for two years and then decided to come to New Zealand.

“I arrived in 2003 and immediately began teaching. Of course, my English wasn’t great, but luckily there were plenty of keen Chinese students.”

With the piano teaching keeping her relatively secure financially, she enrolled in a four-year Bachelor of Product Design at Unitec (she’d always been keen on design and fine art) – a move that provided a significant side benefit: “My English improved in leaps and bounds.”

The cello was a welcome change from the piano.

She also took the opportunity to follow another ambition: “I’d wanted to learn to play an instrument different from the piano. One of my students suggested the cello – as well as a teacher – Dora Green (the PSO’s principal cellist).

“Dora really pushed me and after a few years I passed my Grade 8 exam. The cello also created the opportunity to play in the orchestra – and I love it. Such a fun, warm group of people – there’s a great camaraderie.” 

The Harp

But her true passion had not yet been addressed. “Playing the harp has been a dream for as long as I can remember. Even though harps were almost unheard of in China, I was familiar with their history – they predate so many of the other instruments. I love the shape and it captivated my imagination – for me the harp is one of the ‘original’ music instruments.”




Melody has been learning for about 18 months and is already playing Grade 4 pieces. She has a dedicated teacher and proof of her commitment is her investment in a harp. “It has the most beautiful sound, and I think it is much more difficult than the piano because all four limbs are actively involved.

“There are 47 strings – seven octaves – but there are also seven foot-pedals for the sharps, flats and naturals. It demands huge concentration – and it must be tuned every day!”

The harp has 47 strings - and it has to be tuned every day!

Community Concerts

When she’s not teaching (or playing in the orchestra or perfecting her plucking) Melody orchestrates a variety of community concerts, mostly in local retirement villages, rest homes and libraries. “They typically involve my students, arranged into solos/trios/quartets – and larger ensembles. It’s good experience for the students, and the audiences seem to appreciate them.”

Any time to relax?

“Well, I like to unwind with pottery and ceramics. It’s very therapeutic and allows me to listen to my favourite music while I work.”

Applying the finishing touches to another musical chook.

Most of the work involves animals – particularly chickens and rabbits. The pieces are fired at a nearby kiln that’s part of a community centre. These creations, she stresses, are largely for her own satisfaction, but many have been sold at local arts and crafts markets.

Perhaps we’ll eventually see few musical chooks emerging from her studio. They’ll be called the Melody Trio – and they’ll be playing the piano, a cello and a harp!

A happy roost of chooks.