Harpist Llywelyn Ifan Jones joined Live Music Now in 2014. In the following report of his recent tour of venues in Vale of Glamorgan we get a glimpse of the challenges and the rewards of performing as a musician with Live Music Now.
My first performance on the tour was in a residential home. On arrival it became clear there were some in the audience that were keen to sing some Welsh songs. They started belting out familiar tunes even before the recital started so I prepared myself for a quick change to programme. There was one individual during this performance with a very strong personality. We reached common ground when we realised that we had grown up in the same place. During the concert she would ask me questions as I was introducing the pieces. This proved challenging as there was a point that I needed to continue with the programme. I tried to reach a balance as I wanted to humour her by answering the questions but I did not want to alienate the rest of the audience. I reflected her questions to the other residents in order not to alienate them which worked well and helped me to continue with my performance.
I arrived early to my next care home performance so took the time to converse with sitting residents. I met one lady who did not warm to our verbal interaction. It was difficult to communicate with her and she gave me sharp responses to any questions I asked. However, by the end of the performance her exterior had softened and she seemed to have relaxed throughout the hour. She gave me a wonderful smile at the end of the concert.
At the third care home that I visited there was a lady who was very ill and her family were visiting her. I was told that the lady had studied the piano at Guildhall and sometimes reacted to music. She had positive reactions to so many of the works but even more-so to ‘Premier Arabesque’ as she had performed this piece so many times in the past. Her daughter was very emotional throughout the whole performance. She mentioned to me after the performance that she was concerned that she shouldn’t have been at the performance as it was for the residents of the home. I assured her that the recital was just as much as for them to have quality time with their mother as it was for any of the residents.
On a lighter note, a strong ritual that I take very seriously before I perform anywhere is to eat a banana. I was setting up for the performance and had left my banana ready to eat before I started. I had spent quite a while picking the right banana in the shop that morning and it was perfect. By the time I had returned from moving the harp, a lady had taken a fancy to my banana and was already half way through eating it!
The fourth performance of my tour was at a children’s hospice. This was by far the most challenging performance of the tour as the approach was completely different. The kids that were able to move around sat on the floor and really wanted to feel the vibrations of the harp. A girl who was not able to hear really loved the feeling of the sounds I was making.
When I arrived I noticed that the hospice had some African drums. I decided to involve the children in an improvisation, mimicking the rain outside. This was achieved by beginning quiet tapping one raindrop at a time and then my audience copying me. I got louder and quicker and encouraged them to follow the changes I was making. This only lasted for a couple of minutes but they appeared to really enjoy being involved in the performance.
There was one girl who was more fascinated by numbers rather than the descriptions of my pieces. I kept including questions about the harp in order to involve her e.g how many pedals do I have and how many red strings do I have?
At the end of the performance the organiser caught me as I was leaving. She explained that there had been an emergency in the night and that the music had really helped all the families and staff to relax and recover. As I drove off, an ambulance entered the premises, a very significant and moving moment for me…
Llywelyn is dividing his time this year between Wales and Salzburg, where he is studying at Universität Mozarteum with Stephen Fitzpatrick (Principal Harpist of the Staatskapelle Orchestra, Berlin). When in Salzburg, he also works with Live Music Now Austria.