First Fellow honoured

New Fellow Catrin Finch (centre) with Professor Noel Lloyd and Dr Catrin Hughes

New Fellow Catrin Finch (centre) with Professor Noel Lloyd and Dr Catrin Hughes

11 July 2006

The internationally renowned harpist Catrin Finch was the first Fellows to be presented at this year's graduation ceremonies. Catrin was presented during the second ceremony on Tuesday afternoon by Dr Catrin Hughes, Registrar and Secretary at UWA.

Ms Catrin Finch ARAM
1985 was a significant year for many of us. For the majority of you who are graduating it was the year in which you were born. In 1985 I embarked on my administrative career at the University of Wales, Lampeter, and it was also the year I got married, bought a house and settled down in the small village of Aberarth on the Ceredigion coast. In the same year, in the nearby village of Llanon, another Catrin – a five-year-old girl – was preparing for a journey which would be a turning point in her life too. This was Catrin's journey, from Llanon, the birthplace of  Non, the mother of our patron saint Dewi, to the Music Club at the University of Wales, Lampeter, to see a performance by the harpist Marisa Robles. After the concert Catrin declared that she, too, was going to be a harpist – and she didn’t have too long to wait. She was given a Celtic harp as a present on her sixth birthday and she began having lessons with Delyth Evans here in Aberystwyth. Her teacher soon realized that she had remarkable talent, and within two years Catrin was being taught by one of Wales’s foremost harpists, Elinor Bennett.  This was quite a commitment for Catrin and her family as Elinor Bennett lives in Gwynedd, nearly 100 miles from Llanon. Every fortnight for eight years she made the four-hour journey there and back for her lessons.

When she was 10 years old, Catrin joined the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, and at the age of 11 she became the youngest member of that orchestra to play the harp at a BBC Proms Concert at the Albert Hall in London. During this period Catrin left Llanon primary school to start secondary school in Aberaeron, and every morning she would practise the harp for two hours before catching the school bus. At weekends, she would practise up to seven hours a day. And her perseverance was paying dividends – she won first prize in the youth section of the World Harp Festival in 1991 and came second in the adult competition when she was only 14.  

She left Ceredigion when she was 16 and went to study at the Purcell School in London, with Skaila Janga as her tutor. Two years later she moved on to the Royal Academy in London. In the year 2000, during her third year at the Academy, she was awoken by a friend one morning to be told that there was a telephone call for her. It was an invitation to be Royal Harpist for the Prince of Wales. No one had held that post since the time of Queen Victoria in 1871; Catrin held the appointment for four years.

Catrin’s list of achievements is a lengthy one, of course, and she performs on stages all over the world. She has also won first prize at one of the world’s most prestigious harp competitions, the Lily Laskine International Harp Competition.  I am sure that you will agree with me too that she has already achieved her aim in life, which is to popularize the harp as an instrument – I know this from personal experience, as one of my children plays the harp. Catrin is certainly an inspiration to children and young people, and she has launched the Classic Kids campaign, with the support of Salvi Harps, to help children and young people appreciate and enjoy classical music. This has meant touring schools across Wales, England and the United States.  She wants all children to be given an equal opportunity to hear live music, just as she experienced when she was mesmerised by Marisa Robles’ performance on the harp. 

She has a great deal of street cred, and seeing her perform with her pink electric harp is an amazing experience. That harp was designed specifically so that Catrin could carry it around while playing, and it made its first appearance in a concert to celebrate a significant birthday for the famous Welsh musician Karl Jenkins.

Her latest initiative has been to form the CF47 Big Band, and the band’s first CD contains two pieces of music composed by Catrin. This was her first attempt at composing music. The Big Band was launched in this Hall in April of this year. Unfortunately we will not have an opportunity to hear Catrin perform today, but why not come back later this month to see her perform in a concert arranged by Music Fest?

In addition to her contribution to the world of music, Catrin makes an important contribution to charities. She is patron of the Beacon of Hope charity, which has been working here in Aberystwyth for four years giving help and support to the families and carers of those who suffer from terminal or life-limiting diseases.  The charity hopes to raise enough money to fund a permanent hospice here in mid Wales. Since 2005 Catrin is also an Ambassador for the Institute of Cancer Research – an interest that grew as a result of her work with Beacon of Hope. In March this year she travelled to Kenya with the relief and development agency World Vision to meet a child whom she sponsors in order to give her and her community hope for a better future.

Catrin cannot escape the musical world in her personal life either. She was brought up by parents who appreciated music and which helped to shape her musical career.   We are also pleased that Catrin’s mother, Marianne Finch-Pateman is able to be with us today. Catrin is now married to Hywel Wigley, the son of her former harp teacher, Elinor Bennett, and politician Dafydd Wigley. We can now be proud of the fact that the world’s most exciting family harp duet are both Fellows of the University, as Elinor Bennett was honoured as a Fellow here ten years ago. A special concerto for two harps by Karl Jenkins was commissioned for the two women and was performed for the first time on St David’s Day 2002.  It is therefore very appropriate that it is Llanon’s Catrin, with her confidence and personal style, who has transformed the image of our national instrument. In the words of the world-famous singer Bryn Terfel, Catrin Finch’s name is now synonymous with that of the harp.

Mr President, I present Catrin Finch to be ordained as an Honorary Fellow of the University of Wales, Aberystwyth.