THE gentle strains of live music from an orchestral duo are helping to sooth treatment sessions for kidney patients at a hospital.
Two accomplished players from the NEW Sinfonia orchestra are making regular visits to the Gladstone Renal Centre at Wrexham Maelor Hospital to perform a selection of favourites ranging from The Beatles to traditional Welsh tunes.
Patients who have benefited from the weekly two-hour-long sessions say they help to keep them calm and break the monotony of long spells linked up to blood exchanging dialysis machines.
Some nurses enjoy the mini concerts so much that they’ve been known to sing or even dance along with the familiar rhythms provided by violinist Robert Guy and his brother Jonathan, who plays the clarinet.
Originally from Wrexham, Robert, 28, and Jonathan, 26, studied at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester before becoming professional musicians.
They established NEW Sinfonia to make classical music more accessible to audiences across North Wales.
Rob, who is also a critically-acclaimed conductor and this month is conducting the Manchester Camerata, said: “We’ve been doing the sessions in the renal unit for the past six months. We really enjoy coming and we find it’s quite a humbling experience for us.
“The patients love it, judging by the different comments we get from them.
“We always have two musicians from NEW Sinfonia and vary the players who come along. Today it’s been myself on violin and my brother Jonathan on clarinet but other times we’ll have someone playing cello or flute.
“We also like to come in on different days of the week so we can cover as many patients as possible.
“NEW Sinfonia is becoming known for playing at major events like the North Wales Music Festival but this gets us right into the heart of the community.
“There are lots of talented young musicians from North East Wales, which is why we created NEW Sinfonia in 2011 as a professional orchestra for them.
“It’s a flexible group of anything between 12 and 45 musicians and we tailor the number according to the different scenarios we play in.”
His brother Jonathan, who has also played with the BBC Philharmonic, said: “We like to play anything that helps to lighten the atmosphere and we also do requests.
“In fact, one patient recently asked for something by an English jazz clarinettist called Monty Sunshine who worked with some of the big names back in the 1950s and 1960s.
“I had to work quite hard to find it but when I did we played it for him and he really enjoyed it.
“It’s also nice when the nurses sing or dance along to our music.”
The classically trained duo struck up with numbers as diverse as the Broadway musical hit Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man and Amazing Grace for 81-year-old patient Gwendoline Evans from Llay.
Gwendoline, who three children, nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, said: “I’ve been having kidney problems for the 10 years and been on dialysis for past seven.
“Kidney trouble disrupts every bit of your life but it’s just something that you have to accept and get on with. I reckon I still have a lot of living to do.
“The dialysis sessions, which I have three times a week, are essential but they can be boring, so I look forward to hearing the musicians when they come in.
“I ask for requests and they always try to play them for me. I really like songs from the shows and I try to sing along with them.”
NEW Sinfonia’s rendition of the Irish favourite Danny Boy grabbed the attention of 52-year-old David Garnett from Alltami in Flintshire.
“I used to teach computers before I started having kidney problems about four years ago but I can’t work now because of my health,” he said.
“I come in for dialysis for three sessions of three hours every week and it can be a bit tiring, so it’s nice to hear the musicians play to help keep you relaxed.
“I’m a big rugby fan and support the Cardiff Blues and that means I particularly enjoy listening to them do the traditional Welsh songs that are sung at matches, like Sospan Fach.
“I think the whole thing is a very good idea.”
Another dialysis patient to appreciate the music is 34-year-old Simon Richards from Gobowen near Oswestry.
He said: “I’ve been having kidney problems since I was really young and been on regular dialysis for the past 13 years.
“I’ve also had two kidney transplants – the first in 2009 and the second earlier this year – and unfortunately neither of them worked, so I have to continue with the dialysis.
“But I try not to let my health problems interfere too much with my life. I had to stop my training as an electrician some years ago but I’m now planning to start my own computer business which I need to do because I have two little girls, one at pre-school and the other who has just started at primary school.
“I have to come for dialysis three times a week and I think the music sessions are a really good idea. It relaxes me and it also helps to pass the time.
“I like all kinds of music so anything they play is fine with me.”
Simon enjoyed a selection that included Eleanor Rigby by The Beatles to American standard Fly Me to the Moon.
The musical interludes are the brainchild of Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board (BCUHB) renal social worker Drew Barnett, who is based at the centre.
He said: “It all started when one of my dialysis patients asked if I could help him to arrange some music lessons as he wanted to play learn to play the guitar.
“I was in the process of checking things out for him when I came across a mention of the Arts in Health Campaign organised by BCUHB, which arranges funding to bring music into hospitals.
“I thought it would be a good idea to have musicians visiting the renal centre to play for people while they have their dialysis, which can last up to four hours and be quite boring for them.”
He added: “The workshops are coordinated and funded by BCUHB’s Creative Well Arts in Health & Wellbeing Programme, who are gratefully able to do this work with funding grants awarded from the Arts Council of Wales. The Renal Unit itself has also contributed some of its patients comfort funds toward it.
“Two of the musicians from NEW Sinfonia come in one day a week to play for patients around the various dialysis bays in the unit.
“We find the patients really appreciate it and they say it makes a massive difference in breaking up the long periods they have to spend on dialysis three times a week.
“Feedback forms we’ve given out, to gauge how they like the musicians coming in, have been very positive.
“One person, for instance, said, `I really enjoyed the music sessions. The musicians took requests and tailored it to what we wanted to hear.’
“Another patient said on their form, `I find my dialysis sessions go so much faster. Four hours is a long time to sit in one place and the music put a smile on my face and made me feel relaxed.’
“But it doesn’t just go down well with the patients because, if they have a few seconds to spare, one of the health care workers on the unit likes to sing or even dance along with the music.
“It’s nice to give the patients something a little bit different.”
Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board Arts in Health and Wellbeing Coordinator Andrea Davies said: “We have been pleased to facilitate this six month music residency as part of BCUHB’s broader Arts in Health and Wellbeing Creative Well programme, project funded by the Arts Council of Wales.
“NEW Sinfonia have provided regular weekly live musical performances within the Renal Dialysis wards of Ysbyty Maelor, which has proven to be popular with patients and staff alike.
“The selection of music has responded to individual patients’ taste in music and has ranged from classical to modern, traditional and cultural.
“Robert Guy and the members of NEW Sinfonia delivered the sessions professionally and sensitively within an environment that can at times be challenging. The music has provided an enhanced experience of the clinical environment for patients, staff and visitors.
“Creative Well has a number of professionally delivered projects currently running within healthcare environments, local communities and cultural settings. These projects aim to deliver high calibre arts intervention and/or referral pathway of specifically tailored projects with focus on health and wellbeing, living better for longer.”