A world leading authority on the use of music in the care of people with dementia has a new role at a centre of excellence in Gwynedd.
Nia Davies Williams, who is also an internationally renowned musician, has been appointed as the musician in residence at the £7 million centre created by the Pendine Park care organisation in Caernarfon.
Bryn Seiont Newydd (New Bryn Seiont) is on the site of the former community hospital, Ysbyty Bryn Seiont.
The bilingual centre provides “world class” facilities for 71 residents and 6 companion living apartments are also being built to enable couples to stay together remain independent.
Nia, 43, has been a runner-up in the annual Song For Wales competition on S4C and composed music for well-known welsh language bands as well as having wowed 10,000 plus festival audiences.
Another claim to fame is that she helped persuade music legend Leonard Cohen to allow the translation of his song, Hallelujah, to be translated into Welsh.
It was the first and only time Cohen has allowed the iconic hit to be translated into any language.
As a result, the popular Glanaethwy choir wowed the judges of Britain’s Got Talent when they sang the Welsh version during the show.
Nia has been playing piano and harp player for over 30 years and is one of the world’s leading authorities on the use of music in dementia care.
She said: “I have been working professionally as a musician for 10 years now, going round care homes and playing music for residents.
“It is amazing to see the effect it can have. Many dementia patients have lost so much of their memories and can’t remember their words when they try to speak but you start playing a tune they know and they’ll sing along and remember every word from a tune they heard 50 years ago.
“I do my research and find out what ignites them, what stimulates them, and I take my small Celtic harp around with me to play the music.
“It’s easier to transport but the harp also has great therapeutic qualities. People recognise it and have been associating it with that for centuries.”
Nia, who has been teaching piano for many years and working at both the University of Bangor where she graduated in music, and the William Mathias Music Centre, is designing a programme of musical events for the residents and hoping to attract visiting bands, musicians and performers into the new centre.
She said: “I will do a bit of everything, whatever the patients need. Folk music, hymns – I was singing a bit of Rod Stewart for someone last week – and hand round instruments so they can join in.
“I also bring other props, maybe flowers or herbs that are scented or photographs – anything that can evoke a feeling or stimulate a memory.”
Nia first started visiting care homes with her music 20 years ago and once she realised the dramatic impact it had on dementia patients in particular she went on to further study the subject completing a Master’s degree in Music in Dementia at Bangor.
During her studies she was invited to present the findings of her research to a conference of experts in Detroit and alongside her academic work, Nia has been abroad to perform musically as well.
She plays regularly with the band Brigyn, with whom she has starred at The Green Man Festival and the Faenol Festival, organised by Bryn Terfel, and they were invited to tour San Fransisco with their music too.
Nia said: “We were followed by a film crew during those gigs and they made a documentary about it that was shown on S4C.”
She has also composed entries for the annual Song for Wales competition, coming third in 2012, and arranged the first Welsh language version of Hallelujah for the band which is now a popular choir choice across the country.
“We had to contact Leonard Cohen and it is the first and only time he has allowed Hallelujah to be translated into any other language.
“Since we did that it was taken on by Cor Glanaethwy, the 165-piece choir who came third singing it for Britain’s Got Talent earlier this year,” Nia added.
As Welsh is her first language she is looking forward to using it in her new role and expects it to be an important part of the job that she will combine with working as the centre’s Enrichment Co-ordinator.
This is a position she shares with the Artist in Residence and between them the new recruits bring their expertise to help reach out to the patients.
Nia said: “I feel quite privileged to be able to work with the dementia sufferers in this way. When you get a carer telling you how someone hasn’t spoken a word for months and then they’re singing along with you it is very rewarding and satisfying.”
The mother of three lives with her partner, a professor of music at the University of Bangor, in Caernarfon having been brought up on the Llyn Peninsula.
Her appointment is the extension of a long-standing commitment from Pendine Park to collaborate with the arts in enriching the lives of those the group cares for – an approach that has seen the organisation pick up numerous awards over the years.
Pendine Park already has three artists in residence based in its care homes and is involved in long-standing collaborations with the world-renowned Hallé orchestra, the Welsh National Opera and the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod.
These partnerships have seen the care group named Business of the Year as well as collecting the Arts, Business and Health Award at the prestigious Arts and Business Cymru Awards this year.
The pioneering centre is the brainchild of Mario and Gill Kreft, the proprietors of Pendine Park who say it will be the perfect way to celebrate the organisation’s 30th anniversary.
They already employ more than 650 people in seven care homes in Wrexham, which cater for a variety of needs, a domiciliary care company and their own in-house training company.
Mr Kreft, who is also the Chair of Care Forum Wales, was awarded an MBE for his contribution to social care in Wales.
He said: “I am delighted to welcome Nia to the flagship centre that we are creating here in Gwynedd.
“Within our organisation we know from experience the positive influence that involving the arts can have on our patients in enriching and enhancing their quality of life.
“The centre for excellence in dementia care paves the way for best practice in the sector and music plays a fundamental part in that by supporting the mental and emotional wellbeing of our clients and staff.”