Daughter masters the harp so she can play happy 100th birthday to her father

Charles Jones who recently turned 100 and his daughter, Marianne, has been taught to play Happy Birthday for him on the harp by the resident musician, Nia Davies Williams.

A loving daughter plucked at the heart strings by learning the harp just so she could play Happy Birthday to her father as he celebrated his 100th birthday.

Retired education lecturer Marianne Jones, 72, from Menai Bridge, on Anglesey, spent months picking up the basics of the traditional Welsh instrument in time for the big day.

She was taught by Nia Davies Williams, the musician in residence at the Bryn Seiont Newydd dementia centre in Caernarfon where her father, Charles Jones, is a resident.

Marianne took on the challenge after hearing Nia play soothing harp music for her father and fellow residents.

And after five months of regular and diligent practice with Nia, she was able to produce a note-perfect rendition Happy Birthday during a family gathering at the home which is part of the Pendine Park Care Organisation.

She started her a career as a teacher and eventually became a lecturer in English, teaching it as a second language in Japan and the French-speaking city of Montreal in Canada.

Marianne, who also has two books of poetry plus a novella set in the Hebrides to her credit with a coming-of-age novel in the pipeline, explained: “I’d come along to Bryn Seiont to see my father after he became only the fourth resident to move in and really enjoyed watching Nia playing beautiful music on the harp for everyone.

“I was so moved by it that I wanted to learn the instrument too and my goal was to be good enough to play Happy Birthday for my father when he turned 100.

“I arranged to take a lesson each time I came to see him on a Wednesday and week by week I grew in confidence until I was up to performing the tune at his birthday party, which was attended by about 30 of his family and friends at Bryn Seiont.

“I think people appreciated it and I got a round of applause at the end.”

Marianne added: “All my life I’ve loved learning and I spent my entire career in education, so learning the harp was quite a pleasure although at times it was a little difficult.

“I enjoy playing so much I intend to go on learning and eventually take a grade one music examination.

“I’d like to thank Nia for all the help, advice and encouragement she gave me.”

Nia, herself an accomplished harpist who also teaches the piano, said Marianne had proved to be a very good pupil and had shown plenty of application during what had been a pretty steep learning curve.

“Like most learners she started out on the smaller Celtic harp and when she came into the home each Wednesday we had a short teaching session,” she said.

“She started by learning the technique and notation but we skipped a couple of lessons so we could get straight to her playing Happy Birthday for her father.

“Actually, the harp isn’t all that easy to learn. It’s a bit like a piano but more complex.

“It takes a lot of perseverance but Marianne definitely persevered for five months until she was able to play Happy Birthday, which was her main aim.

“She now says she wants to continue learning the harp and will therefore graduate from the smaller Celtic harp to a larger concert instrument. She says she’d also like to do her music exams and I’m sure she’ll achieve this if she says she will.

“It was lovely to see her playing at the birthday party and how well she was received by everyone there.

“We know music works very well for people with dementia and other mental health issues and I regularly play the harp for our residents and also encourage them to touch the instrument and perhaps play some notes themselves.

“This always gets a positive response from them and they enjoy the stimulation of the music.”

Marianne’s father Charles was born and raised in Llangefni on Anglesey and started work in local government before the Second World War.

During the war he served as a field medic with the Royal Army Medical Corps and was in action from just after the invasion of Europe by the Allies on D-Day, through the battles for France and the Netherlands and into Germany for the Nazi surrender.

Back home in Llangefni Charles worked for the former Manweb electricity company, being gradually promoted from clerk to senior manager. A serious heart problem, which resulted in him undergoing quadruple bypass surgery, led him to retire at the age of 63.

He and his wife Patricia, who were married for 69 years until her death in 2012, had three daughters, with Marianne the eldest.

There are also five grandsons and a granddaughter plus three great-grandsons and three great-granddaughters.

Despite having their homes right across the UK, many of them were at Bryn Seiont Newydd to help Charles celebrate his century.

They cheered as he opened his celebratory telegrams from the Queen and Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones and applauded as Marianne played her special birthday tribute to him on the harp.  

Bryn Seiont Newydd manager Sandra Evans said: “It was a delightful occasion and I am extremely impressed that Marianne mastered the harp in such a short space of time.

“Music and the arts generally are at the heart of everything we do at Bryn Seiont Newydd and the focus of our enrichment programme is to improve the quality of life of our residents and staff alike- and in this case, a member of the family too.”


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