Wales has produced some of the finest musicians and singers in the world, including those who make magic on their national instrument – the harp.
One of Wales' most successful harpists is 28 year old Hannah Stone from Swansea, who was appointed as the Official Harpist to HRH The Prince of Wales in 2011 and is regarded as one of the foremost harpists of her generation. Just prior to being appointed, she had successfully auditioned for Live Music Now. Both positions ran for a four year term, and as Hannah has just recently passed her title onto the newly appointed Royal Harpist, Anne Denholm, so her time with Live Music Now in Wales has also come to its natural conclusion, and has been celebrated with a final week long community tour of South Wales hospitals.
As a musician, Hannah believes her time on the scheme has been ‘invaluable’ to her development as a performer. “Some of my performances with LMN have certainly been challenging” she commented, “as I’ve had to perform in a range of environments where some of the ‘audience’ may be unable to fully engage with the music because of physical or mental health challenges, whilst perhaps others may even decide they don’t like it! These sort of environments can often be noisy, which is another challenge, but at the same time it has been really rewarding bringing music to many who have never seen a harp live before, and most are incredibly appreciative for you being there. LMN have definitely helped me learn how to engage with all types of audience, especially the challenging ones!’ she says.
Live Music Now offers early career professional musicians in all genres the opportunity to develop their skills through mentoring and training, taking their exceptional talents to those most disadvantaged in society, such as isolated elderly, those living with dementia, and children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities. Since 2011 Hannah has enjoyed over one hundred performances as a soloist on the scheme, and also as part of the La Mer Trio, with flautist Renate Sokolovska and viola player, Maja Wegrzynowska.
‘One of my favourite concerts was at the Pilgrims Centre for Vulnerable Adults in St David’s where my training really kicked in! The skills that LMN have encouraged in how to engage the audience really allowed them to enjoy themselves and it was such a delight to see them so actively involved. There was one person who hadn’t spoken in months, but by the end of the concert they were singing along with me. It’s moments like that that often have you fighting back the tears as well’.
After starting to learn the harp aged 8 whilst at school, Hannah went on to study with Imogen Barford at Guildhall School of Music and Drama, gaining B.Mus and M.Mus degrees. As part of her Masters degree, she accepted an Erasmus Exchange place at the Universitat Mozarteum, Salzburg, to study with Professor Helga Storck, then in September 2010 she returned to Wales to further her studies with Caryl Thomas at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Cardiff, thanks to the generous support of the Victor Salvi Scholarship. She completed her Post Graduate course at the RWCMD in 2012 and has worked as a freelance harpist ever since, growing in increasing international recognition and celebration of her talents.
During the first week of December 2015, funding from Hospital Innovations and Arts & Business CultureStep allowed Hannah to bring the beauty of the concert hall to the small stages of hospital wards and waiting rooms across South Wales, performing her last tour for Live Music Now at Princess of Wales Hospital, Bridgend, Llandough Hospital, Penarth, Heath Hospital, Cardiff, Aneurin Bevan Hospital, Ebbw Vale and finally Morriston Hospital, Swansea where her mother still works as a nurse. Despite the challenges of wheeling a large instrument through various wards and halls, the impact of Hannah’s visit to those dealing with sickness and ill health was obvious.
“To have a musician of such a high calibre and level of success perform in the intimate and challenging environments of hospital wards, such as dementia and mental health was just incredible” said one hospital staff member.
“Hannah’s performances were obviously impacting patients on all the wards” ABMU Arts In Health Coordinator Prue Thimbley commented. “The music is so very beautiful it just cuts through the busy and often difficult hospital environment, making people stop and feel connected to something bigger than themselves for a moment. It was a tonic not just to the patients but to many of the Staff as well, and we were delighted to have Hannah visit us both in Princess of Wales and Morriston Hospitals and hope to continue our relationship with LMN in Wales to allow for more of these opportunities to happen on a regular basis.”
Life for Hannah remains busy beyond her time on the LMN scheme, with international performances booked for audiences world wide. She now passes the Royal Harpist title on to Carmarthenshire born Anne Denholm, who as the fifth official harpist to HRH Prince of Wales, joined LMN at the end of 2015 and commences her first tour for LMN Wales in February 2016. As an alumna of Live Music Now, Hannah will be called on to sit on audition panels and mentor new musicians joining the scheme.
Claire Cressey, Director for LMN Wales commented, “To be able to bring the Royal Harpist to some of the most isolated and vulnerable communities in Wales has been a real gift, inspiring creativity and confidence in those they have performed to. Whilst we are sad to see Hannah’s time on the scheme come to an end, we look forward to working further with Anne on future tours, and wish them both continued success in their prestigious careers.”