Top harpist swaps Albert Hall for Caernarfon care home

19 Mar 2019

One of the UK’s most talented young harpists swapped the Albert Hall for a care home in Caernarfon.

Elfair Grug, 29, who has performed at the prestigious venue in London, gave residents at Pendine Park’s Bryn Seiont Newydd a virtuoso performance.

The concert came about as the result of a partnership between the Pendine Park Arts and Community Trust Canolfan Gerdd William Mathias (the William Mathias Music Centre) in Caernarfon which was made possible by funding from Arts & Business Cymru  via their Culture Step programme.

It is part of a series of 15 concerts at Pendine Park’s care homes in Wrexham and Caernarfon and at other venues in the community

The project will culminate with a concert by former Royal Harpist Catrin Finch at s Bryn Seiont Newydd on April 18, ahead of her performance at the 2019 Wales Harp Festival concert at Galeri in Caernarfon.

Elfair, who hails from Mynytho, in Gwynedd, is a former pupil of the renowned harpist, Elinor Bennett, at the William Mathias Music Centre at Galeri, Caernarfon, and went on to study at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester.

She was a member of the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain for a number of years playing in venues such as the Royal Albert Hall.

And in 2008 she was one of 60 harpists who played at the Royal Opera House when Prince Charles celebrated his 60th birthday.

Elfair went on to spend two years living in Bangkok in Thailand where she worked as a harp teacher and harpist in residence at the Tamnak Prathom Harp Centre which is supported by the Thai Royal Family and is twinned with the William Mathias Music Centre in Caernarfon.

She said: “I’ve thoroughly enjoyed today’s concert. It was lovely to see some residents joining in and singing along. The music clearly has a big effect on residents and we had lots of eye contact and one lady clearly enjoyed conducting me as I played.

Pictured is Elfair Grug with residents Vera Morris and Gwyndaf Williams and Nia Davies Williams, musician in residence at Bryn Seiont newydd. (Picture: Mandy Jones)

“This was purely a concert but I will be returning to Bryn Seiont Newydd as part of the project and will be working with residents as part of a workshop. I’ll then introduce some percussion instruments and we will work closely together.

“The music room at Bryn Seiont Newydd is a fantastic resource and it’s obvious to me that residents benefit a great deal from having the opportunity to listen to live music.”    

Elfair performed a mix of classical, traditional folk and popular songs including Elton John and the Beatles.

She said: “I always enjoy performing in care homes; it’s intimate and so rewarding. I work freelance as a harpist and perform with full orchestra’s or chamber groups but the reaction you get as musician from many care home residents is amazing.

“Over the Sea to Skye, a traditional Scottish folk song, certainly had residents singing along and it’s obviously a song they know well from the sessions that Nia Davies Williams as musician in residence has done with them.”

She added: “It’s been amazing and I’ve loved every minute of today’s concert. I’m really looking forward to returning and playing for residents again and working with them as part of the workshop.” 

Bryn Seiont Newydd resident and former Shotton Steelworks switchboard operator, Margaret ‘Peggy’ Morris, said: “The music is very soothing and it’s nice to have concerts like this. It’s something to really look forward to.”

“I really like it here. I come from Mancot, Flintshire but moved to Rhoshirwaun. Sali is my best friend and comes to see me every other day.

Peggy’s best friend Sali Williams of Rhoshirwaun, Gwynedd, added: “Bryn Seiont Newydd is such a wonderful place and there is always so much going on. Music enriches the lives of residents; it’s a real therapy and brings back memories. I know how much Peggy enjoys living here.”

Pendine Park’s Musician in Residence, Nia Davies Williams, said: “The concert series will take in a number of Pendine Park care homes as well as the Hafod Hedd Dementia Centre, Pwllheli and Bontnewydd Day Care Centre. The programme has been made possible thanks to funding from  Arts & Business Cymru.

“It will enable Canolfan Gerdd William Mathias (William Mathias Music Centre) and Pendine Park to build on their relationship following Pendine’s sponsorship of the 2018 Wales International Harp Festival.

“Professional harpist Elfair Grug is one of Canolfan Gerdd William Mathias’s alumni harp students.  She will deliver the 15 concerts and engage with residents in a series of workshops.

“Students will also have the opportunity to attend some of the concert sessions to have a taste of music in community settings and be mentored by Elfair.”

She added: “It’s a wonderful project and we know from past experience how much residents enjoy these concert events. It’s only been possible to put the project together thanks to the Arts & Business Cymru Culture Step Funding.

“It was clear to see how much residents enjoy listening to music and many of them joined in by singing and even whistling along. It’s lovely to see their reaction to familiar music and how they join in with songs and tunes they know.”   

Sandra Evans, the manager of Bryn Seiont Newydd, said: “This lovely project chimes perfectly with our ethos at Pendine Park because the arts in general and music in particular provide the golden thread running through everything we do to enrich the lives of our residents and staff alike.”

The Fifth Wales International Harp Festival, which will be held in Galeri Caernarfon from 5th – 11th April 2023, will be a golden opportunity for people to come together to be inspired by the music of the harp from many cultures. I look forward enormously to hearing performances in concerts, recitals and competitions and sharing the traditions of the harp around the world along with harpists from Wales, other Celtic countries, Colombia and Gambia.

Music can transcend geographical borders and military conflicts and can strengthen friendships with people in other lands. There will be a warm welcome awaiting all visitors to Caernarfon next Easter when the thrilling sounds of dozens of harps will resonate through the spaces of Galeri Arts Centre, after the silence and nervousness of the Covid pandemic.

As this will be my last Festival as Artistic Director, I have chosen music that has given me great pleasure in the past and reflects the path of my career from the folk music of my early days to the classics of the harp repertoire and new works.

Elinor Bennett.
Artistic Director, November 2022

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