A bevvy of top class musicians provided a magical start to Christmas for residents and friends of a dementia care centre of excellence in Caernarfon.
Acclaimed North Wales flautist Dr Rhiannon Mathias was amongst the group which performed a selection of much loved carols and traditional Welsh seasonal songs during a Christmas concert at Bryn Seiont Newydd.
The home was opened a year ago by Mario and Gill Kreft of the award-winning Pendine Park care organisation on the site of a former community hospital in Pant Road on the outskirts of the town.
The £371 raised at the special evening, attended by 30 residents, relatives and supporters of the centre in its purpose built music room, will go to the charity Music in Hospitals of which Dr Mathias and a number of the other musicians at the concert are official ambassadors in Wales.
Music in Hospitals has a mission is to improve the quality of life for adults and children with all kinds of illness and disability through the joy and therapeutic benefits of professionally performed live music in hospitals, hospices, day care centres, special schools and care homes across the UK.
The charity won the prestigious Bryn Terfel Foundation Award at the Wales Care Awards.
Bryn Seiont Newydd’s musician in residence Nia Davies Williams, who also sang at the concert accompanying herself on the Celtic harp, said that a growing body of research suggests that live music has a powerful role to play in improving the daily lives of older people in care.
“At Bryn Seiont Newydd we believe in enhancing the lives of residents through the arts and whilst doing my Master’s Degree in music and dementia I realised how beneficial music can be to people with the condition,” she explained.
“One of the last parts of the brain to be affected by dementia is the one which recognises music and every part of the brain lights up when someone hears it.
“I have been an ambassador in Wales for Music in Hospitals for the past year and was therefore delighted to host the Christmas concert in aid of this excellent charity at Bryn Seiont Newydd.
“Music and the arts in general are a golden thread running through daily life here at Bryn Seiont and I work closely with my colleague, Nia Lloyd Roberts, who is the artist in residence here.”
Dr Rhiannon Mathias is a lecturer at Bangor University’s School of Music and also a tutor at Caernarfon’s Canolfan Gerdd William Mathias, the internationally renowned music centre named in honour of her late father who had a distinguished career as a composer, conductor and Professor of Music at Bangor University and also founded the North Wales International Music Festival.
Dr Mathias is a flute player and author with a great interest in modern music. She studied music at Surrey University, St. John’s College, Cambridge, and continued her research on Schoenberg and Stravinsky at Reading University.
At the concert she won warm applause with her performance of a piece for flute and piano entitled Sonatina composed by her father.
She said: “He wrote it whilst he was a student at Aberystwyth University in the early 1950s and then forgot about it. I rediscovered it in the corner of his music studio when I was a teenager. He made some tiny changes to it, dedicated it to me and published it. The piece has since become quite popular.
“I played it at the concert accompanied on piano by my colleague from Bangor University School of Music, Professor Pwyll ap Sion.
“As an ambassador for Music in Hospitals for the past year it’s been wonderful to take part in the concert which was in aid of the charity.
“Music in Hospitals does a very important job in hospitals and care homes, particularly those which like Bryn Seiont Newydd which look after people who have dementia.
“I have had relatives with the condition, so that is a cause close to my heart.”
The evening’s programme included favourite Christmas carols such as Once in Royal David’s City and Away in a Manger, sung in Welsh and then in English.
Some of the music was arranged by Andy Macfarlane, another skin specialist at Ysbty Gwenydd who also plays piano and has been a Music in Hospital ambassador for 18 months.
The carols were interspersed with traditional Welsh Christmas songs performed by four students from Bangor University’s School of Music, Dafydd Aled, 20, from Llanerchymedd in Anglesey, Caleb Rhys, 19, from Bethesda, Lowri Elen Jones, 19, from Lampeter, and 20-year-old Seren Haf from Coedpoeth near Wrexham who sang and played the harp.
All four are part of the health and wellbeing module at the school and looking on proudly was their tutor, music lecturer Gwawr Ifan, who said: “Music in Hospitals does an extremely important job bringing music into health care settings for people who can’t access it every day, which is why the students were all keen to be involved in the concert.
“Research shows that music makes a big difference to elderly people, especially those with dementia.
“We have all enjoyed taking part in the concert in such a wonderful setting as the Bryn Seiont Newydd music room.”
One of the residents who enjoyed the evening’s festive flavour was 82-year-old Daphne Egan who lived at LlanfairPG on Angelsey before moving into Bryn Seiont Newydd.
Before joining performers and guests for mulled wine and mince pies she said: “It’s been a wonderful evening which I’ve enjoyed very much.
“I liked hearing the harp but all the music was good and everything had a nice Christmas feel to it.”
Watching the concert was Alex Anstey, a skin specialist at Ysbty Gwynedd who is also North Wales chair of ambassadors for Music in Hospitals.
He said: “It is a very successful charity which is growing in strength in Wales. All the money we raise through events such as this goes to pay for concerts by professional musicians in hospitals and care homes.
“With dementia, music activates parts of the brain which have been dormant for years.
“It’s been fantastic to see Bryn Seiont Newydd hosting this concert and it’s clear this the centre recognises the importance of arts and music in a care setting.”