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Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Welsh Musical Tradition - Past & Present

 This blog post was written by Irene Rawlings of KBCO FM.

On a recent trip to Wales, I visited the poet Dylan Thomas' hometown of Swansea and stayed in his childhood home at 5 Cwmdonkin Drive (now an authentically restored B&B that also serves great dinners). I expressed an interest in the Welsh choral tradition and was invited to a rehearsal of the Swansea Male Choir, founded in 1946 to “further the art of music and support local charities.”
A member of the Swansea Male Choir
I was moved by the joy that the Swansea male-voice choir members took in their singing but I was not surprised. There is a rich musical tradition in Wales—especially the male-voice choirs—whose songs provide the vibrant soundtrack to everything from chapel to the rugby field to the boisterous late-night sing-alongs in the local pubs. 

Who are these men? They are miners, steelworkers, quarrymen, farmers and shopkeepers. Many of the current members were brought to the choir by their male relatives back in a simpler time when choirs were a big part of village life. Yes, there were a lot of gray heads and even a wheelchair or two, but there were also plenty of young men in leather jackets and slicked back undercuts (think Boardwalk Empire) which makes me think that the Welsh male-voice tradition has a strong future.

As I sat at the Swansea rehearsal and heard everything from hymns to show tunes, I thought of the Central City Opera House back home in Colorado, built by Welsh and Cornish miners in 1878. How they must have missed the camaraderie of the choral tradition in their home country. And what a lovely opera house they built for us to enjoy still today.
Central City Hard-Rock Miners in 1889
I took out my cell phone and recorded one of the songs to share with you. It is not the quality that I would have liked but I'm thinking it will give you a good idea. And they were sitting down. Think of the power they unleash when they stand up and raise their voices in a concert hall. 

[Editor's Note: You may want to jump ahead to 30 seconds in or so.]

--Irene Rawlings from Swansea, Wales

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