Musicians will act in Harmony to keep taking concerts to old and sick

TWO musicians have this week launched an ambitious project to ensure the survival of one of the most successful charities in the Borders.

With lottery funding set to dry up at the end of this month, a shadow has been cast over the future of Harmony, which provides regular free concerts in care homes, hospital wards, day centres and sheltered housing across the region.

From small beginnings in 2002, Harmony has a small army of volunteer entertainers, staging up to 800 peformances a year.

But without new funding sources, the end is nigh for one of the Borders’ most effective and therapeutic organisations.

“It would be an utter tragedy if Harmony was wound up,” said John Irving, a singer/guitarist from Selkirk and a founder member of the charity.

Now John has joined forces with music shop owner Brian Martin to form Harmony Stage which aims to support, sustain and enhance the work of Harmony.

“The main idea is to raise funds by hosting musical events and festivals throughout the Borders, starting this summer when Harmony will really feel the pinch as what little money remains in the kitty ebbs away,” said John. “We want to make Harmony Stage a recognised and enduring brand so that everyone supporting these fundraisers, whether the public or musicians, knows they are helping a wonderful organisation.”

Brian, who also owns the Music Gallery in Berwick, also runs a PA hire business and has undertaken to support the fundraising events which, he hopes, will cover all musical genres from jazz to classical, rock to country, as well as drama performances.

“The idea behind Harmony Stage is for the creative community in the Borders to come together and stage events under our banner,” said Brian, who runs a recording studio and plays banjo with Peter Roughhead’s Tweed River Jazz Band.

“Getting the musicians will not, I’m sure, be a problem through the contacts John and I have established over the years, though more are always welcome. The real challenge is to find venues, outdoor and indoor, for our fundraising concerts.”

Welcoming the initiative, Violet Baillie, chairperson of Harmony, stressed the value of the charity to its elderly audiences.

“Our mission has always been to bring music to the oldest and frailest members of our community and, through this, reawaken their enthusiasm for life,” she told us.

“The effect of our performances on frail, elderly people is remarkable. A passive group sitting round a sterile room is transformed into lively participants sharing a common activity, sometimes dancing and clapping, at other times smiling as they wander down memory lane.”

John Irving is also a passionate believer in the cause. “Over many years before Harmony started, I provided interactive music in nursing homes and special needs units on a voluntary basis,” he said.

“One day, in 2001, I played at the care home where Violet was the activities officer. She told me how much residents had enjoyed and benefited from the music, but explained how difficult it was to find suitable musicians and organise performances.

“We decided to get together and come up with a plan, running a pilot project with other musicians. The rest, as they say, is history and we soon had a dedicated committee, with Lady Jane Haddington as our patron.

“I served as an advisor because I wanted to stay hands-on giving concerts, but was happy to liaise between venues, the musicians and the committee.

“I am hugely proud to be involved in such a worthwhile organisation. I am not alone in experiencing the amazing buzz of seeing vulnerable people come alive once a show gets under way. I know how much residents look forward to the next concert.

“Harmony Stage is totally dedicated to keeping this fantastic charity running and perhaps to expand the model developed in the Borders into new geographical areas.

“I think we have proved beyond doubt that music is, indeed, the best medicine for the frailest members of our society.”

Details of how to get involved in Harmony Stage can be found on the project’s new website