A musical project with a choir who brought Christmas cheers to care home residents is in the running for a major award.
The renowned Only Boys Aloud gave a dazzling performance at Bryn Seiont Newydd in Caernarfon during a session that turned into a real family affair for one of the talented teenage singers.
Lewys Meredydd, 17, from Dolgellau was already proud to be appearing alongside fellow members but the evening was made even more special for him as his 93-year-old great-aunt was part of the appreciative audience.
The choir, which aims to introduce new generations of youngsters from across Wales to the power of music, was staging the second of its two seasonal concerts at Pendine Park’s flagship on the outskirts of the town.
Their visit came about because of the Home for Christmas project devised by Only Boys Aloud founder Tim Rhys-Evans MBE.
In conjunction with Care Forum Wales, they staged their rehearsals in the care homes with residents and staff for several weeks leading up to a seasonal concert. The project was launched at the Wales Care Awards in Cardiff in November.
Now it’s been shortlisted for in the Arts, Business and the Community at the prestigious Arts and Business Cymru Awards at the Wales Millennium Centre on Friday, May 25.
Only Boys Aloud now has more than 200 teenage boys singing with 14 choirs across Wales, including the one in Caernarfon, which rehearses each Monday evening between 6.30 and 8.30pm at the town’s rugby club.
Also a charity, its mission is to engage each new generation of young people across Wales with the power of choral singing and to promote self-belief and self-confidence, to encourage aspiration, to build skills and to develop a sense of community.
The boys have launched a cruise ship, sung at Downing Street, performed the opening song for Sport Relief on BBC1 and headlined their own fifth birthday concert at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff.
The news that the project was in line for an award was music to the ears of Mario Kreft MBE, the chairman of Care Forum Wales, who was instrumental in getting the project up and running.
Mr Kreft, who is also the arts-loving proprietor of Pendine Park, said: “We were particularly delighted to be shortlisted in the community category because care homes are an integral part of communities, large and small, across Wales.
“The idea behind the project was to enrich the lives of the boys but importantly, enrich the lives of those who live and work in the care homes.
“It was complete win-win-win. It was a win for the boys themselves to come into contact and recognise the value of the older generation and those with a disability and it was also hugely important for enriching the lives of the residents and the staff.”
Aloud Founder and Artistic Director, Tim Rhys-Evans MBE, said “This was really a project to encourage interaction between our young lads and the elderly. It is very easy for younger generations to be ‘shielded’ from older people with fewer elderly people being looked after at home nowadays.
“Consequently, young people can have a rather skewed view of people in care homes and all too easily forget that they too were young once with wonderful life-experiences, great senses of humour and colourful histories that they want to share.
“We know that spending time with young people has a tremendous impact on the wellbeing of older people and the benefits of singing together sums up everything that Aloud stands for.”
Lewys, a sixth form pupil at Ysgol Bro Hyddgen in Machynlleth, has been a member of the choir since it started about two and a half years ago and loves every minute of performing.
He said: “I was one of the first to join and have sung with the boys at events from Access All Eirias in Colwyn Bay in 2015 to Ypres in Belgium as part of the First World War commemorations just this autumn.
“It was really great to sing at Bryn Seiont Newydd, especially as my great-aunt, Edna Jennings, is one of the residents and was listening to us.
“It’s really nice that we can come to sing at places like the home and let everyone hear our music.
“Apart from making some good friends, being a member of the choir has given me really useful experience as it’s my aim to become a professional musician, possibly a classically-trained singer, after I leave school.”
Lewys’s proud mum, Haf Meredydd, was amongst the large group of residents’ relatives who were invited along to the concert.
She said: “He’s very keen on music and apart from being a singer he’s also a composer who’s well into the pop scene. In fact, he’s just recorded one of his pieces for i-tunes, which he hasn’t yet given a title.
“Being part of Only Boys Aloud has been really good for him. He’s made lots of friends and sung in some amazing places, including South Africa and Russia.
“I’m very pleased that the choir has been able to come along and perform at Bryn Seiont Newydd, particularly as my aunt Edna was here to listen to them.”
Also enjoying the choir’s performance of well-known carols such as Away in a Manger and Hark the Herald Angels Sing plus the Welsh language favourite Calon Lan and evergreen Jingle Bells was Edna’s daughter Margaret Snarr from Trawsfynydd.
“My mother has been in this home for a short time and I know she will have loved hearing the choir sing, especially as Lewys was part of it,” she said.
“When she was younger and lived in Penryhndeudraeth she loved singing herself. She took part in local eisteddfods and was a member of a pensioners’ choir.
“I think it’s marvellous that the boys have been able to come and sing at the home and the residents and relatives appreciate it very much.”
Bryn Seiont Newydd’s musician in residence Nia Davies Williams said research suggests that live music has a powerful role to play in improving the daily lives of older people in care.
She said: “At Bryn Seiont Newydd we believe in enriching the lives of residents through the arts and we know that one of the last parts of the brain to be affected by dementia is the one which recognizes music and every part of the brain lights up when someone hears it.
“It’s an important part of the Pendine Park ethos that we use the arts to enrich the lives of people across the generations. Our enrichment programme involves art in all its forms including music, poetry, storytelling and painting.
“The arts are embedded in all our staff training programmes to ensure that enrichment is a part of daily life for everybody here.
“We’re delighted to have had such a talented choir as Only Boys Aloud to perform two Christmas concerts for us at the home.
“Seeing young and old coming together to enjoy some traditional carols and songs has been very special.”
The Caernarfon choir’s team captain Andy Thomas said: “We’ve been together now for the past two and a half years and have 11 members aged from 11 to 17 who come from all over the area.
“The boys have mixed levels of singing experience but the sound they produce is very good.
“A big date for us was joining with all the other Only Boys Aloud choirs to perform at the First World War commemoration in Ypres in November.
“Also with the other groups we’ve also sung at places like Venue Cymru in Llandudno, the Pavilion in Rhyl.
“It’s great to have done the two concerts at Bryn Seiont Newydd as this is another new experience for us and all the residents and their relatives who were in the audience enjoyed hearing us and singing along with the carols and Christmas songs.”