Cowbridge U3A members, who gathered at the Town Hall for the September meeting to hear the story of how local girl, Mary Elliott, became a highly talented cellist, were in for a musical bonus.
Accompanying Mary was Cowbridge resident Eluned Pierce, principal harpist with the Bournemouth Symphony Orch-estra. The duo began proceedings with a rendition of The Swan by Saint-Saens.
Other musical inter-ludes were The Blackbird and Song in the Night, both played as harp solos.
At the age of three, Mary Elliott began learning the cello (actually a viola fitted with a spike, because of her small stature). It was the decision of her parents – both musicians; she had no say in the matter!
After three years at Howells School in Cardiff, Mary, now 14, auditioned for the Yehudi Menuhin School in Surrey and was offered a place. Here, with 60 other talented young musicians, she had academic lessons, interspersed with four hours of practice per day.
Five tough years later, Mary moved on to the Royal Northern College of Music. After comp-leting her degree with first class honours in 2008, she went on to study with Patrick Demenga at the Conservatoire de Lausanne in Switzerland, gaining one of the two places available to the 100 auditioners.
It was there that she met her future husband, and Switzerland has become her home. Now a freelance musician, a profession that has a variable income, Mary also teaches the cello. She is passionate about community outreach programmes and frequently organises concerts and workshops in schools, care homes, hospices and even prisons.
Cowbridge, however, has not been forgotten. Together with Sam Edwards, a music consultant, Mary was a founder of the Cowbridge Music Festival in 2010.
This event, currently in its seventh year, has gone from strength to strength.
The festival aims to make great classical musical completely accessible, enjoyable and entertaining, never ‘high-brow’ or elitist. The informal atmosphere of the main venue, Holy Cross Church, makes it easy to remove the barrier between the audience and performers.
There are now six festival trustees, who include harpist Eluned Pierce, as well at the two founders.
The 2016 programme started on September 17 and finishes on October 1. The fortnight of bril-liant and inspirational music-making will include two exciting new initiatives: young musicians of south Wales showcase concerts and a new series of performances on the High Street. Tickets are available from a number of sources.
Mary and Eluned concluded the entertaining session with Song of the Birds, a traditional Catalan song arranged for cello by Pablo Casals.
The worst part of the afternoon was the problem of getting the harp up and down the stairs of Cowbridge Town Hall; fortunately, two strong men were available, but it still wasn’t easy! How the disabled and those of limited mobility need a lift to access the main hall!
The next meeting will be a talk by Desmond Hawkins, entitled: “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend”, at 2pm on Wednesday, October 12 in Cowbridge Town Hall.
Visitors welcome (there is a small fee, which includes refreshments). See www.u3asites. org.uk/cowbridge
Postscript: It was announced in a Cowbridge U3A article last month that Mr Ken Walls had received the Légion D’Honneur from the French Government. Ken would like it to be clarified that, although entitled to the award as a veteran of D-Day, he has yet to receive it. SPM