Music-loving care home residents were captivated when a prize winning harpist called in and gave a stirring performance of Irish folk tunes.
Gráinne Meyer, who had previously performed for King Charles, accepted an invitation to entertain residents at Pendine Park’s Bryn Seiont Newydd, the dementia centre of excellence on the outskirts of Caernarfon.
The visit came after she scooped the £2,000 first prize in the World Music competition at the Wales International Harp Festival at Galeri Caernarfon.
Organised by Canolfan Gerdd William Mathias (William Mathias Music Centre) the festival was staged for the fifth time and featured concerts, masterclasses, workshops and lecture recitals as well as a range of competitions.
Pendine Park, through the Pendine Arts and Community Trust (PACT) which supports cultural and community initiatives across Wales, funded prizes in the competition won by Gráinne.
Gráinne, who hails from Moneyglass, a small village near Randalstown in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, said: “I went into the World Music Competition to represent the music of Ireland and how it contributes to our community and culture.
“It’s a shared tradition that everybody takes part in. It’s hard to represent as one person but I tried my best to play the music I’ve learnt by being part of the community.
“Winning the competition was wonderful really. I intended to enter when the festival was last held five years ago but I ended up quite unwell at the time and I couldn’t do it. So this time I told myself to go for it and give it a try. I didn’t expect to win it, I entered the competition to motivate myself to practice a bit more and it’s an amazing feeling to have put in the work and been on the stage.”
Prof Pwyll ap Sion, one of the adjudicators, said six competitors took part in the World Music competition.
“The standard generally was high but there was something special about Gráinne and she is a deserving winner,” he said.
She has been playing the harp for 15 years and began learning concert harp whilst at university. Within five years of learning she was playing professionally as principal harp with the Ulster Orchestra.
Gráinne had a busy and varied performance schedule across Ireland recording for the BBC on both harp and piano. She has performed for the “Live Music Now” scheme which facilitates performances in the community for older people and children with special educational needs. She has also performed for King Charles on two of his recent visits to Northern Ireland when he was still the Prince of Wales.
“I started learning when I was 15. I’d been playing the piano in a lot of Irish traditional groups as a child and I saw a girl there playing the harp and begged my parents to let me learn to play the harp.
“I play now in a few groups and as a soloist, it’s a bit of a mix really. I do equal amount of solo as well as some shows and some orchestral work. But I’m not full-time anymore because Covid happened and I re-trained and now do software engineering as well,” she added.
Gráinne was delighted to accept the invitation to play at Bryn Seiont Newydd and started off by playing the pieces with which she had won the competition.
Each jig and reel was met with enthusiastic applause and before long the residents started asking Gráinne to play their favourite Irish tunes and songs. The room resounded to the singing of Danny Boy, and In Dublin’s Fair City.
“This is what the music is all about. For me it’s all about community and sharing music with people. It’s not just for the concert hall but about bringing it to people and this brings it all together,” said Gráinne.
Bryn Seiont Newydd resident Ethna Williams, who hails from County Dublin, was delighted by Gráinne’s performance.
The 89-year-old said: “I’ve enjoyed it so much. It’s been a long time since I heard Irish tunes and here it was being played right in front of me. It was marvellous.”
Another resident, David Edwards, originally from Dolwyddelan near Blaenau Ffestiniog, went up to Gráinne after the concert to thank her personally.
“I’d like to thank you very much, that was brilliant and I was privileged to hear it. Diolch yn fawr iawn,” he said.
Nia Davies Williams, Bryn Seiont’s musician in residence, said Pendine were pleased to support the Wales International Harp Festival this year and was delighted Gráinne had visited the care home.
“We take every opportunity to bring world-class musicians to Bryn Seiont Newydd and it was wonderful to welcome Gráinne.
“The harp is one of the instruments I use at Bryn Seiont Newydd to enrich the lives of the residents. As well as a pedal harp I have a smaller Celtic harp which I can take around Bryn Seiont Newydd but it was great for them to see someone else play a different style of harp playing,” she said.