The Rise and Fall of Welsh Choirs in the Nineteenth Century

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Dunvant Male Choir was formed in in the town's Ebenezer Congregational Chapel , by a group of miners, steelworkers and quarrymen.

Land of song

Many of the current members were taken along by their male relatives, including Dewi Morgan, 64, a former tinplate works engineer, who has been in the choir for 35 years. Times have changed hugely, however. Morgan's own sons aren't interested in joining him in the choir, in part because it requires a significant time commitment: The rising age of the singers remains a concern, too.

In Dunvant's annual magazine, recently deceased singers are noted under the membership lists, and given lavish tributes.

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The choir have, nevertheless, maintained their core membership of 80, and their choristers are determined to move with the times. At 82, he's one of the choir's oldest members — but he's still spry as a whippet, and known playfully by his choirmates as the Gower's most eligible bachelor on his last birthday, Davies stood on a chair in the rugby club and gave an impromptu solo rendition of Elvis's Can't Help Falling in Love With You.

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  6. The change of repertoire, he says, made the choristers realise that the singing should not be all about nostalgia. That's something that younger lads need as much as us older ones. Singing makes you happy, after all.

    The evident joy that male-voice choir members take in their singing has always moved me. It also moved Robert Plant in , who happened to sit in on a Dunvant recording session, as his friend was the sound engineer. Many of the older members didn't know who Plant was, but he was so entranced by Dunvant's version of Welsh hymn Myfanwy , that he played it as the crowd left the Led Zeppelin reunion gig that December.

    Llanfair Morriston Orpheus Choir

    Another 19th-century invention, rugby union, also boosted the connection between singing and national identity — and while religion may have declined in the country, sport has not. And what a past it is. Tim has written the foreword to a new book on the story of the male voice choirs of Wales called Do You Hear the People Sing, authored by cultural historian Gareth Williams. This biography of the Welsh male voice choir world traces its origins and growth from the 19th century to the present day, describing how their reputation for excellence was forged by their fierce rivalries on the stage of the National Eisteddfod where they would compete in front of crowds of up to 20, Professor Williams outlines how communities dominated by industry and given a spiritual, musical and recreational lifeline by the chapel provided the perfect springboard for a choral revolution in the 19th century.

    As well as a means of expressing tribal pride in their local communities, choirs gave working-class men the chance to broaden their geographical and cultural horizons.

    I was also intrigued to hear how Treorchy, one of the most iconic male voice choirs of all, hang on to their heritage with a stamina-building rehearsal routine. What I also love about the male voice choir tradition is how it gave men hewn from the machismo of the coalface a chance to explore their sensitive side.

    The traditional Welsh male voice choir is alive and well – and impervious to cliché

    Tim Rhys-Evans touches on this in his foreword: I have first-hand experience of this wonderful emotional dimension because I was once part of a male voice choir too and could be reduced to a quivering wreck within a single verse of Comrades In Arms. Before there are any queries on gender transitioning procedures, I should point out I played an instrument with a male voice choir rather than joined the second tenors.

    Playing in concerts across Britain, we got the gigs through our music teachers who were respectively the conductor and accompanist for the choir. At a time when our contemporaries were grooving to Wham! Most Pontypridd youths spent their 18th birthdays in Gingers Nightclub.

    Land of song |

    My milestone coincided with the highlight of the male voice choir world — the 1, Voices concert in the Albert Hall. Producing bottles of bubbly, the Llantrisant singers turned the bus taking us home into a party venue better than any Valleys nightspot. Welsh male voice choirs have always striven for musical excellence, but they have also recognised that harmony is needed beyond the concert stage. A community in microcosm, the social side is integral.

    Popular Culture and Public Space, Merthyr c. Mangan eds Disreputable Pleasures: Thus far, my main interests have been focussed around the problems — and possibilities — generated by the growth of towns and cities in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. What was it like living in the slums of the Victorian industrial city?

    Can we, as historians, ever know?