Since the 19th century this epithet has characterised Wales. The "Tonic sol-fa" movement meant that thousands of singers were able to read musical notes and participate in part-singing, and choirs sprang up all over Wales. The ancient tradition of the eisteddfod, an arena in which poets would compete in poetic disputes with their peers, was reinvented during the 19th century. In this cultural renaissance music became a prominent force, and today instrumentalists, singers and choirs still take part in competitions in the medium of Welsh to test their skills before their peers and audiences.
An important part of eisteddfodau is penillion singing. This is unique to Wales, and consists of singing poetry to a harp accompaniment: while the singer uses one melody, the harp follows another with the stressed syllables of the poem matching the accented beats of the harp melody. Traditionally, this form of singing was improvised by the singer, although much of this extemporaneous element has been lost in modern times.
Wales is a small country, with a population of just over 3 million and a total area of 20,779 square kilometres. It is part of the United Kingdom, bordered by England to the east, with its coastline buffeted by the Irish Sea to the north and west, the Celtic Sea to the south west and the Bristol Channel to the south. Despite being small, Wales has a great variety of landscapes. The Encyclopaedia of Wales gives an enticing introduction to its beauties, which stretch from "the stately profile of Snowdon to the delectable valleys of the Tywi, the Usk, the Clwyd and the Dee, from the exhilarating solitudes of the Elenydd Mountains to the intimate scenes of the Vale of Glamorgan, from the superb coastlines of Pembrokeshire, Gower, Llyn and Anglesey to the unique landscape of the southern coalfield" (Baines et al, 2008, p. 448).
The place names in this quotation begin to reveal some of the distinct cultural identity of Wales, part of which is due to its retention and development of the Welsh language. Officially a bilingual nation, approximately 21% of the population speaks Welsh as a first language, with many schools offering education in the medium of Welsh. Wales' national identity has been evolving rapidly, particularly since the opening in 1999 of the National Assembly for Wales, now called the Welsh Government, signalling the transfer of more power from the UK government. Owing to various factors, Wales continues to lag behind the rest of the UK economically, with higher unemployment rates and a lower GDP than the rest of the region.
As little as ten years ago, there were only a handful of music therapists in the whole of Wales, and Diane Wilkinson, one of the longest serving music therapists in Wales, practicing since 1996, recalls setting up music therapy work, her highlight being the creation of her post at the children's hospice Tŷ Hafan. Sixteen years later, she is still working there providing music therapy for inpatients and at patients' homes. As of July 2012, there are 26 music therapists either living and/or working in Wales, 21 of whom are currently practicing in Wales.
Music therapy posts in the National Health Service in Wales are rare, currently standing at four part-time roles in the areas of child and adolescent mental health services, adults with learning disabilities, and a medium secure forensic unit. Remaining posts are in private sector companies, charities and educational establishments. Music therapists in Wales work in a wide variety of institutions including hospitals, residential based care and education facilities, day centres, a private care home specialising in neuro-rehabilitation, special schools, children's centres, and a youth club, as well as clients' own homes. Many music therapists in Wales have a private practice alongside posts in institutions.
The client groups currently served in Wales are diverse, from babies and toddlers up to the elderly. Music therapists in Wales are currently working with people with dementia, autism, brain injury, learning difficulties, profound and multiple learning difficulties, emotional and behavioural difficulties, contributing to areas such as forensics, mental health and parenting. Christine Eastwood is passionate about introducing "singing on prescription." In conjunction with the Alzheimer’s Society Maxine Bennett has started using music in a highly successful intervention called Singing for the Brain® helping people with dementia and their carers. Melissa Elliott has helped bring the Australian music therapy programme Sing and Grow to Wales with funding from the National Lottery given to Sing and Grow UK. Their new UK headquarters has been established in Usk, South East Wales.
There is much to be excited and positive about, though as shown in the map above, music therapy provision in Wales is still limited and patchy.
It is mandatory for all music therapists in Wales to be registered with the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC), a UK wide regulatory body. The British Association for Music Therapy (BAMT) is a charity that acts as a voice for the profession and a central information point: most music therapists in Wales are members. The Wales area group of the BAMT has recently reformed and is becoming a local forum for ideas, peer support and development, also offering regular opportunities for continuing professional development. All registered music therapists in Wales are automatically members of the All Wales Network Committee for Arts Therapies Professions (AWNCATP), which hosts a quarterly meeting of art, music, dance and drama therapists to discuss strategic developments of their professions and current professional issues.
The Welsh Assembly offers therapists an opportunity to input into national policies via its Welsh Therapies Advisory Committee (WTAC). Recently music therapists have been invited to contribute to advisory groups to improve arts therapies student placements and neo-natal services. Art, music and drama therapy have this year been included in workforce planning discussions of the Welsh Government and may result in training course funding for the first time thanks to the efforts of dedicated practitioners.
The first music therapy training in Wales was established in 1997 at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama (RWCMD) Cardiff, although the training was withdrawn following a revision of RWCMD’s course portfolio in 2009. The banner has now passed to the University of Newport, South Wales, and the first intake of students will start training in September 2012 for a Master’s degree in Music Therapy. It is hoped that the course will become a focus for the further development of music therapy in Wales.
There are multiple challenges currently faced by Welsh music therapists. Paul Young (practicing in Wales since 2006) says "there is no awareness of music therapy in the three counties nearest to me: Wrexham, Flintshire and Denbighshire, and it is hard to start from zero! I travel to [England] for my main work." Christine Eastwood (practicing in Wales since 2003) observes that "music therapy is not much known in (North) Wales. A lot of education and training should be done, but the finances and people are not available for it." Liz Coombes (practicing in Wales since 2000) points out that until recently, there has been a "lack of a cohesive group of therapists to meet and share experiences due to geography and a dearth of posts." She also notes that "because there are a lot of music therapists in private practice, it can be very lonely."
With the new training at Newport University commencing this year, it is an ideal time to make links, push for more recognition of our profession and think creatively about how to widen access. Laura Smith (practicing in Wales since 2010) hopes that "music therapy in Wales can increase its profile so more people can be made aware of its potential and more people can have access."
What is evident is the commitment of music therapists to their clients: "our work can be very challenging; however, witnessing client growth – especially from those that are hard to reach – qualifies as a privilege" Maxine Bennett (practicing in Wales since 2009). "My ongoing highlight is when patients discover the power of music as an expressive medium for themselves" Christine Eastwood (practicing in Wales since 2003).
In many quarters there is a spirit of working together. Indeed, Sally Greenwell (practicing in Wales since 2010) says "the overall highlight of my music therapy practice in Wales has to be that I have actually been able to find private work and that people (other therapists and also clients) have been kind enough to recommend me. This, to me, shows a great sense of everyone wanting music therapy to progress over all, rather than everyone working individually."
We face challenges to expand the practice of music therapy in Wales and increase understanding of our profession. Hopefully new training opportunities and the reinvigorated BAMT Wales area group will be able to foster more connections and spread awareness. As students go out on clinical placements and develop research topics for their final year, they will contribute to a more localised evidence base for music therapy. There is certainly no doubt about the commitment, enthusiasm and belief in music therapy displayed by its practitioners.
Baines, M., Davies, J., Jenkins, N., Lynch, P.I. (Eds.) (2008). The Welsh Academy Encyclopaedia of Wales. University of Wales Press: Cardiff.
All practitioner quotations are taken from a questionnaire collected from music therapists in Wales in July 2012.
Coombes, Liz & Elliott, Melissa (2012). Cymru (Wales): Land of Song. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy. Retrieved May 15, 2013, from http://testvoices.uib.no/?q=country-of-the-month/2012-cymru-wales-land-song