A renowned pianist was special guest of honour when the teacher who helped provide the prelude to her glittering professional career celebrated her 105th birthday.
Annette Bryn Parri, who has accompanied opera stars such as Sir Bryn Terfel, Rebecca Evans and Jason Howard, was just 11 years old when she turned up at the home of Rhianon Gabrielson in Dwygyfylchi near Penmaenmawr in the early 1970s looking for the very best piano tuition possible.
Rhianon, who herself studied at one of the country’s leading music colleges, was at first unsure about taking on a new pupil as her husband was unwell but relented when she heard the quality of the little girl’s playing.
They were pupil and teacher for the next seven years, have kept closely in touch ever since and Annette became Rhianon’s official advocate when she moved into full-time care 11 years ago.
The former star pupil makes frequent visits to The Gables specialist dementia care home in Penmaenmawr where she plays the piano for her beloved musical mentor. She was also chief guest when staff there threw a party to celebrate Rhianon’s recent 105th birthday.
Annette is delighted with the level of care the grand old lady is receiving from the home, which is a member of Care Forum Wales the not-for-profit organisation which gives a collective voice to more than 450 social care providers across Wales.
And forum chairman Mario Kreft MBE has spoken of the “marvellous bond” between them which has endured over the decades.
He said: “It’s heart-warming to hear about the bond that has developed between them since Rhianon first started to give those vital piano lessons to Annette over 40 years ago.
“It’s also marvellous to hear the high level of care being provided by staff at The Gables to Rhianon and the other residents.
“Looking after people with dementia is not just about making them feel loved and comfortable but also about providing those extra little touches that help to enrich their lives.”
Rhianon was born in the village of Trefriw near Llanrwst in the Conwy Valley in 1912 – the same years that saw the sinking of the Titanic, Scott reaching the South Pole and the birth of National Insurance.
After attending local schools her talent at the piano saw her going on to study at the Royal Academy of Music in London where she obtained her professional qualifications.
She later taught music at a private school in Hastings on England’s south coast for a number of years before returning home to North Wales to take up another teaching post at a private school near Abergele.
Rhianon was married twice but had no children and her second husband died in the late 1970s. At various times she lived in Llanrwst and Colwyn Bay before returning to Penmaenmawr where she stayed until moving into care. For the last 11 years she has been a resident at The Gables.
Annette, who still lives in Deiniolen near Llanberis where she grew up, will never forget the first time she met Rhianon.
She said: “I knew from a very early age that I wanted to make the piano my life. At first I had lessons with a teacher near my home but after a few years my parents and I realised I needed to be taught to a higher level to enable me to pass exams.
“Rhianon was recommended to us by another teacher, the late R Davy Jones, so at the age of 11 in 1973 I went to her home near Penmaenmawr.
With the firm musical foundations laid down with the help of Rhianon, Annette went on to study at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester with Marjorie Clementi.
She became an official accompanist at the age of 15 and in 1982 won the Grace Williams Medal for composition at the Urdd National Eisteddfod at Pwllheli.
In 1983 she made her first appearance at the National Eisteddfod, at Llangefni, and at Rhyl National Eisteddfod in 1985 she won the Blue Riband for instrumentalists.
Today, she is one of Wales’ premier accompanists, as well as being an accomplished solo performer in her own right.
In 1984, Annette became a piano tutor for students following BA and B Mus degree courses, and despite her rigorous concert and recording schedule, she maintains her work as piano tutor and Masterclass teacher.
She has accompanied most of Wales’ premier artists, including Sir Bryn Terfel, Aled Jones and Rebecca Evans, and is now one of the most recorded of all piano accompanists in Wales as well as being an acclaimed arranger and solo performer.
Her work as pianist has taken her all over the globe, and she has accompanied at London’s Albert Hall on several occasions. Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, Sir George Solti, Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana have been among her private audiences.
Annette said: “I owe Rhianon so much. Throughout my career I have kept in touch with her and she often accompanied me to my concerts. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease when she was 94 but was still playing the piano until then.
“She was there for me when I needed her most, so of course I am there for her now. I visit her often at The Gables where I am her official advocate as she has no close family
“She still says my name when I visit her and I hope she knows I’ll always be there for her. I can never thank her enough.”
Sara Taylor, who has been manager of The Gables for the past nine years, said: “It’s fantastic to see the love between the two of them, which was obvious when Annette was guest of honour at Rhianon’s 105th birthday party and everyone has a great time with cards and presents.
“Rhianon is currently the oldest resident we have but in the past we’ve had two people who made it to be 106 years old.
“We provide a very high level of care for 22 residents with dementia aged from 61 to 105 and have 18 care staff plus myself and a deputy manager.
“We try to make the lives of our residents as interesting and fulfilling as possible and aim to be there for them when they need us. Personally, I try to treat everyone as if they were my own parents.”
“We invite people in to give the talks on gardening or play music for them and we take groups of them out on trips to the local beach or nearby towns like Llandudno.”
She added: “Rhianon has always been a lovely lady, very religious but also capable of speaking her mind.
“She’s a pleasure to look after and it’s wonderful to see the way Annette has become almost a daughter to her.”