Harpist makes a home in Bloomington


In a practice room at the Music Building Addition, first-year harp major Rodrigo García Castrejón improvises for a warm-up before practicing. Emily Abshire and Emily Abshire Buy Photos

Childhood memories of mermaids plucking harp strings in fairy tales inspired Rodrigo García Castrejón to begin studying the instrument nine years ago.

García Castrejón, 26, a first-year harp performance major from Mexico City said he was always enchanted by his perception of harp music.

“I have always loved the ocean and water and fish and mermaids,” García Castrejón said. “Even the necklace I’m wearing right now is a mermaid. I remember reading fairy tales and books, and mermaids usually play the harp. And even the sound is very watery. It’s very aquatic and ethereal.”

When García Castrejón first arrived in Bloomington, he said he didn’t even have a place to live. He stayed with a local artist for a few weeks before Susann McDonald, the chairman of the harp department at the Jacobs School of Music, offered to let him stay in the apartment attached to her house.

“She knew that I was from Mexico and that I didn’t have lots of resources,” García Castrejón said. “I didn’t know the town, and I didn’t have the opportunity to look for other housing. Because she knew that and knew it was very expensive trying to find a place for living, she offered me to live with her.”

McDonald housed two students before García Castrejón, but said it is not something she considers the norm. She decided to offer housing to García Castrejón to make his commute to campus more manageable and to ease his 

“I have always tried to help our international students — for example, working with admissions on necessary scholarships and trying to find housing for them off campus to save money,” McDonald said.

After earning his first undergraduate degree in political science at a university in Japan, García Castrejón worked as an interpreter for a car company before coming to IU.

He had never visited the United States until his March audition to the music school. He said he decided to pursue a degree at IU for two reasons: his passion for the harp and the opportunity to study with McDonald, a “legend in the harp world.”

McDonald said she was impressed with García Castrejón’s demeanor and passion for music since she met him at his audition.

“My first impressions were very positive,” McDonald said. “He has a charming and grateful personality, a kindness and also sense of humor which has endeared him to our large harp class.”

As an international student in Bloomington and in Japan, García Castrejón said he’s learned to notice cultural differences that people who have always lived in one place sometimes take for granted.

“Every time you go to another place, you have to encounter different cultures and different ways of living,” García Castrejón said. “For example, in Mexico we are very expressive and direct with our emotions. If we want to hug someone, we do it. It’s different, the way you relate to people here, and that was hard at the beginning. But I’ve started to not take it so personally when people aren’t as close.”

García Castrejón said he is unsure when he will return to his home of Mexico City, a place he associates with friends, family and affordable fresh fruit. If he can’t go back soon, he said he hopes he’ll get the opportunity to show his younger brother around Bloomington, which has proven to be a welcoming town.

“Bloomington is a very safe and tranquil place and that makes people friendly,” García Castrejón said. “That’s something I really like about being here.”

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