Case Study

A musician in the house

Residents of a Pendine Park care home in North Wales have been fortunate enough to experience live music throughout the last year, thanks to their Musician in Residence, Nia Davies Williams.

As a member of staff at Bryn Seiont Newydd Dementia Care Centre in Caernarfon, Nia has been able to continue her role despite the pandemic. “We are fortunate here that the joy of live music has not been taken away and it definitely has helped ease some of the feelings of isolation residents may have experienced,” she says.

Nia, whose main instruments are the harp and piano, is the first Musician in Residence at a care home in Wales and thoroughly believes that music should be a part of care. She landed the permanent role five years ago having completed a Masters focusing on music and dementia.

Music for everyone

Morning sessions with Nia include singalongs, Music and Movement and Musical Bingo, among others. In the afternoons, she might conduct an Art in Response to Music session, and spend time with residents on a 1-1 basis.

“You have to get to know the residents well and learn what they like,” she explains. “There’s a lot of snobbery about music – people saying ‘You can’t possibly do that’ about some songs, but I try to do something that appeals to everybody.

“People in their late sixties aren’t necessarily going to be so keen on Vera Lynn. We have a man who likes Tom Jones, and a 98-year-old lady who likes Welsh hymns. Frank Sinatra and The Beatles are popular and there are some old favourites like Molly Malone.”

Old and new

Nia is also alert to new things and the possibility of change. “Dementia can change people. Some people can start to like things they didn’t enjoy previously. You need to be open to this and always respectful of their wishes.”

Her impact on residents’ wellbeing was recognised nationally when, in 2018, she won the Sir Bryn Terfel Foundation Wales Care Award for Promoting the Arts in Social Care.

Nia found that people living with dementia can still learn new things. During the Music and Movement sessions, they would always play Perry Como’s ‘Catch a Falling Star’ and learn the movements to go with the song over a period of time, “The residents remembered the movements from week to week,” she smiles.

Welsh tradition

Many of the people living with dementia at Bryn Seiont Newydd speak Welsh as their first language, so Nia will often play traditional Welsh songs and hymns. She says: “We have quite a selection, such as Calon Lân, and some people can sing every single verse yet they can no longer speak a sentence.”

Prior to COVID, Bryn Seiont Newydd became known for hosting live music events with visiting musicians and connecting with local people, schools and choirs. “We are lucky that we have a big music room with a grand piano which is ideal for gatherings. Local theatres like to do outreach work and they would ask if they could come over and give us a performance.”

Catrin Finch, another Welsh harpist, has played at the home, thanks to Nia’s extensive musical connections. “When people are in town, we try to see if they will come to us. It’s important for musicians to be seen to being doing this kind of work, so they often agree. It is also important that people living with dementia continue to have the opportunity to enjoy the arts.”

As well as organising activities at the home, Nia also arranged trips out to the theatre to see the Welsh National Opera and other arts venues and is hoping to do so again, when allowed.

More Musicians in Residence

Of her unique role, Nia says: “Ultimately I would love to see musicians in residence employed as a matter of course at care homes all around the country. I was so lucky to be taken on here as the Pendine Park owners had such vision and were willing to invest in a project which they knew in their hearts had the potential to succeed.”

Nia has written about her experiences in The Journal of Dementia Care.