The Joys Of Spring - July 2015

As the short days faded into memory and the daffs came into bloom, Spring brought with it a series of happy events for the Gwalia. Given that so many of our choristers are settled comfortably into middle age (or more!), it was a rare pleasure to be asked to sing at the wedding of “one of our own” in late May, when Tom Morgan (Bass) married his beautiful bride Reena in the spectacular setting of The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. The choir sang at the ceremony in the Nash Conservatory, and then later at the reception in the Princess of Wales Conservatory. It was a great day, the sunshine added to the magic of a very special event, and after our performance the choir retired to a lovely pub overlooking Kew Green for a few drinks and - of course - a few more songs.

Still in May, the choir were delighted to be booked to perform a concert at the 95th birthday party of Welshman Vic Nolan. Vic lives in Barnes, and his family came from near and far to hear us sing in his local church. Vic's daughter had created a printed programme for the event, on which was listed a "solo" spot that had not been discussed with the choir. Few could have expected what was to happen next……as the moment arrived Vic's daughter explained that in his younger days he was a singer himself, and had even made a record (a 78rpm record, for those that can remember such things!). She then played Vic's rendition of Galway Bay…. at which point the birthday boy rose to his feet and joined himself in a duet. It was a magical moment that resulted in a few tearful eyes and a standing ovation from the Gwalia - well done Vic!!!

Speaking personally for a moment, I find that one of the great joys of being in the Gwalia is that all of our performances are “one-offs” – we sing in some wonderful places, at some unusual events, and before a very varied audience that in recent years has included International gatherings of students, families…and even Pathologists!. Our final performance covered by this report was not so much a one-off but more what I hope will be a “first of many”. We have just given our first joint concert at the Welsh Centre with Côr Llunsain, who I am sure are well known to many of you. For those who do not know, they are a recently formed ladies’ choir who made their first public appearance rather appropriately on St David’s Day 2012 when they sang in the Houses of Parliament. They have a wonderful balance of voices and sang beautifully. Both choirs performed individually and then joined together for a rousing finale where we sang Calon Lan and Cwm Rhondda. It was a great sound which was well received by a very appreciative audience, and a performance I hope very much that we will repeat in the not too distant future.

 

Gwalia at Kew Gardens (see report above) 

 

 

"Hwyl" to the Green Man ... and "Ffarwél" to dear friends - May 2015

Anybody not in their first flush of youth may be unfamiliar (as was I) with the Green Man Festival, a Welsh music and arts & crafts festival which takes place in August in the stunning surroundings of the Brecon Beacons. The Gwalia were delighted to be invited by the festival organisers to perform at their annual London showcase event 'Hwyl 2015' at the end of February in the famous Cecil Sharp House, Regents Park. It gave London exposure to young Welsh singers and bands, and also gave the choir a marvellous opportunity to connect with a young “London/Welsh” audience.  We sang firstly in the main entrance and then were part of the build-up to the live screening of the France v Wales 6 Nations match. It was very pleasing that so many of those present took the time to compliment us on our performances.

As you would expect, early March saw us involved in events themed around St David’s Day. On 2 March we sang at the National Liberal Club's annual dinner where the guest of honour was Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Wales, The Rt Hon Baroness Randerson. With strong Welsh ties dating back to the time of Lloyd-George, the building in Whitehall Place is a true architectural gem and singing there was a new experience for most in the choir - but not for all, as we held our 30th Anniversary celebration there in 1997. A few days later the choir gave a St David's Concert in St Andrew’s Church in West Kensington, which included an organ recital by our very own Musical Director, James Hearn, and an as ever faultless performance by soprano Glenys Roberts.

March drew to a close with a return performance at the Spring Singfest Choir Festival in Emmanuel Church, West Hampstead. The Gwalia very much enjoyed being able to listen to the other five choirs, including the ladies choir Côr Llunsain (with whom we are performing on 20 June in aid of the London Welsh Centre).  Our renditions of Rachie, Eli Jenkins’ Prayer and Comrades in Arms received a rousing ovation and then, after a brief Welsh lesson from James, the audience joined us for Cwm Rhondda. Recordings of our performance can be found on the Audio tab of the choir website. The event raised a very creditable £1574 for Marie Curie Cancer Care.

The 'father of the choir' Bryan Howells is returning to South Wales in May to live near his son in Usk. Bryan joined the choir in 1968 as a Second Tenor, and served as Librarian and Committee Member for many years. He and Iris have been unstinting in their support of not only the Gwalia but also of the Welsh Centre on Grays Inn Road. Bryan and Iris's loyalty to the Gwalia and their friendship is greatly valued and they will be sorely missed. We wish them both a very long and happy time in their new home. 

  

A Landmark concert, and a Cosmic event - January 2015

As yet another year of 'flying the flag' for Welsh choral singing drew to a close, the Gwalia were delighted, at the start of November, to perform at two important events within a week. The first was a joint concert with our friends from the London Welsh Rugby Club Choir as part of the Landmark Festival in Teddington. It's fair to say that both choirs really enjoyed the opportunity to sing in a larger ensemble, and under the energetic conducting of James Hearn, everyone seemed to perform at their best. This ensured that the audience left very happy that their investment in the ticket price was well rewarded, and the organisers have already been in contact to enquire about the availability of both choirs for a follow-up appearance. Just five days later, we were privileged to be asked to repeat our appearance twelve months earlier at the Jewin Chapel Remembrance Day Service. It was a very worthwhile and rewarding experience which gave us all a chance to pause for thought on the Centenary of the start of the Great War. Later in November, we put in an appearance on a bandstand at The Ideal Home Christmas Show at Earls Court, singing a mixture of Christmas Carols and Welsh songs on the very busy Saturday afternoon of the Show.

We ended the year in December singing Carols, with a few Welsh items, at Paddington Station, and then onwards to three very welcoming hostelries. We were collecting for COSMIC, the Children of St Mary's Intensive Care Unit.  Our connection with COSMIC is through Wyn, our accompanist. His daughter, Georgina, has been admitted on two occasions to St Mary's Hospital and the family have chosen COSMIC as their daughter's charity. We are grateful to those who gave so generously at all locations, enabling us to collect £528. This was followed a few days later by a performance at a wedding in an impressive Central London venue, Dartmouth House, in Mayfair. The bride was radiant, the assembled guests enthusiastic, and a good time was had by all. We appreciated the generous feedback from the happy couple, who broke off from their reception to thank us all before we left the venue.  This event was just a short walk from the Ritz Hotel, where we appeared earlier in the year, following a wedding in Piccadilly.

The New Year saw the Choir back in 'wedding mode' and striking out for the rather wonderful Grade 1 listed church of St Mary the Virgin in the beautiful Essex village of Stebbing. Built in 1326, the church has a stone rood screen (one of only three in the World). The many smiling faces of the guests, who we met in the church grounds afterwards, left us with a feeling of a 'job well done'.

As we approach our 50th anniversary in 2017, we shall be working hard to add new items to our repertoire, and to hopefully swell our numbers; so, if you, or anyone you know, would like to join a male choir, then please come along to one of our rehearsals. We meet in the Main Hall at the London Welsh Centre every Wednesday evening at 7.30pm. All are welcome and 'every voice counts'.

 

NATO calls...and the Gwalia sing in Italy - October 2014

In August the Gwalia were delighted to sing at a wedding in the beautiful Wren church, St James's Piccadilly, and then make the short walk to that famous celebrity haunt The London Ritz to join the happy couple's reception. Later that month, we were pleased to join Haydn James and members of the London Welsh Rugby Club Choir to answer a short-notice call to sing at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office in Whitehall. The event, complete with Dr Who's Tardis, a dalek and Welsh wine, was promoting Welsh business, and many of the guests were on their way to the NATO summit taking place in south Wales. At the end of the month, we performed at Excel in London Docklands, in the Opening Ceremony of the International Pathology Congress. It wasn't as dead(!) as we feared and their past President joined us for some informal singing at the lavish reception that followed. At the beginning of October the Gwalia took part in the London Welsh Literature Festival Gala Concert at City Temple with the Sydney Welsh Choir and the other choirs based at Grays Inn Road. We enjoyed it enormously, and it was good to share a stage with so many great singers. 

It has been some time since the Gwalia were to be found overseas, so we were all looking forward to our trip to Northern Italy in mid-October. The tour was arranged after one of our members, Anthony Weaver, last year met a choir in the pretty town of Breno in Valle Camonica, a spectacular Alpine valley near Lake Iseo, one of the four great lakes of Lombardy. Our generous hosts were Coro Voci dalla Rocca (Voices of the Mountains), a 26-strong men's a capella choir. The area is famous for its iron-making and, amid brilliant sunshine, we were treated to a demonstration of the blacksmiths' art that appeared little changed from medieval days. Words alone cannot do justice to the wonderful time we spent with our new friends, and most of all to their marvellous singing, which at times moved some of our party to tears. The Gwalia were in top form for the concert with our host choir. We were joined by soprano Glenys Roberts, who gave a stunning rendition of Handel's aria 'Lascia ch'io Pianga' and, later in the programme, sang Verdi's 'La Vergine' with the Choir. We were also treated to a recital by our own Musical Director, James Hearn, who took to the organ to play Widor's 'Toccata' from memory, and Anthony was in brilliant form translating Mark Bevan's introductions. BRAVO to you all! Both choirs came together at the end of the concert for a rousing performance of Verdi's 'Va Pensiero'. The following morning, we sang in the Mass in the parish church of the lovely spa town of Boario to celebrate, on the actual day, the Beatification of Pope Paul VI who was from the region and was Pope from 1963-78. It was an extremely memorable weekend and plans are already in hand for Coro Voci dalla Rocca's visit to London next year.

To watch a video of the local Italian TV News coverage of our concert just click on the link in our Audio/Video section at the top of your screen. 

 

The Joy Is In The Giving - July 2014

Well, what a varied and interesting few months we have had. It is always fun to be part of a surprise performance, and in the last few months we have had the pleasure of surprising two separate audiences. The first, at the end of April, was in the rather salubrious surroundings of West End celebrity haunt “The Ivy”, where a friend of the choir was celebrating his 80th birthday. His wife arranged for the choir to sneak in through a secret entrance and we gave the birthday boy the shock of his life. Judging by his reaction and that of his guests, the shock was not unpleasant. A month later we were  again invited to take part in “covert operations” when we appeared at a wedding reception at the London Golf Club in Kent  – much to the surprise of all but a few people who were in on the secret. The bride was English and the groom Welsh, but all sides seemed to enjoy the performance.

In the same way that it is fun to be involved in surprise performances, it is also fulfilling and very gratifying to be able to “give back” something from time to time. The Gwalia was therefore delighted to be able to perform  a fund-raising concert at the London Welsh Centre at the end of June. Thanks to excellent promotion by Rhian and her team,  the performance took place to a packed Main Hall. The choir responded to James Hearn's superb musical direction and some of the newer pieces we have been working on, like Mansel Thomas's 'Rhyd y Groes', were very well received. Stars of the evening were our guest soloists, Huw Rhys Evans, performing 'Yr Hen Gerddor' and Handel's 'Where'er You Walk', and Glenys Roberts who enthralled us all with Musetta's 'Waltz Song' from Puccini's La Boheme, and 'Ynys y Plant'. But for many, the best parts of the evening were Glenys and Huw's duets, 'Fold Your Wings' by Ivor Novello, Seymour Smith's 'Spider and the Fly', and 'Hywel a Blodwen' from Joseph Parry's Blodwen – which is notable for being the first opera ever written in the Welsh language. The choir joined the soloists for Verdi's 'Va Pensiero', a useful rehearsal for our forthcoming trip to Italy in October! Special mention must be made of our accompanist,  Wyn Hyland, who played superbly throughout the evening. Mark Bevan was on his usual good form as compere. Chairman of the Centre's Trust and former Gwalia bass, Alex Meredith, thanked all the participants for giving their services and talents free of charge. The evening raised an impressive £1,953 to go towards the Centre's Redevelopment Fund.

 

Spring has sprung - April 2014

At the beginning of another busy period the Gwalia was pleased to participate in the London Welsh Centre's St David's Day Festival programme by inviting the public to attend an Open Rehearsal. We held a similar event last October as part of the Bloomsbury Festival, and once again our guests enjoyed the occasion.

It will not surprise you that rugby matches often trigger the Choir bursting into song, and the imminent 6 Nations international in early March saw the Choir singing at an 'England & Wales' evening at Rosslyn Park RFC in South West London. A well-attended performance concluded with the Welsh National Anthem, in which the Choir was joined by one very patriotic lady in full evening gown - "Well done madam...whoever you are!"

Since our foundation in 1967, we have striven to contribute significantly towards the Welsh choral tradition in London and the surrounding areas, and wherever we are invited to perform in the UK and overseas. It was very much with this feeling in our hearts that, at the end of March, we returned to the Kent village of Horton Kirby where the local community has been welcoming the Gwalia to their church for over thirty years. Our visit was tinged with sadness as it was the first anniversary of the passing of our dear friend, and former Chairman, Ted Sellick, whose solo performances and personal warmth at Horton Kirby down the years had won him many admirers.

The Choir put on a great performance, which included solos by David Sweet and Richard Killoughery. The undoubted 'star of the show' was Victoria Stanyon, a wonderful soprano who had the audience spellbound. Victoria has strong links with the village having been christened in the church. Regular attendees commented that it was one of our best concerts, and a truly fitting tribute to Ted for whom we, joined by the audience, sang one of his performance pieces 'How Great Thou Art'.

April saw us helping a couple celebrate their wedding day in the beautiful St Mary's Church in Hitchin, Hertfordshire. Three days later, we took part in 'Singfest' at Emmanuel Church, West Hampstead, where six choirs from Islington and Camden, varying in size and style, sang three or four songs each. The Gwalia's set attracted sustained applause and cheers, and the organisers said we were the 'hit of the evening'. At the end all the choirs joined together for Lloyd-Webber and Gary Barlow's "Sing". It was a fun evening at which more than £1,500 was raised for the Marie Curie Hospice.

Two days later, in what was a hectic week for the choir, we were privileged to take part in the memorial service for Dr Glyn Evans. A member of Castle Street Welsh chapel and a leading surgeon at Barts Hospital, Glyn received the MBE for treating casualties on site in the aftermath of the Moorgate Tube Disaster. Singing in the OBE chapel of St Paul's Cathedral was an experience we will never forget. 

 

Hot times in the Gwalia - January 2014

Variety, we are told, is the spice of life. If that is so then the last few weeks have been "hot" ones for the Gwalia - we have performed a series of concerts in very different places and to very different audiences. They began back in October with an "Open to the Public" rehearsal as part of the Bloomsbury Festival. In truth, of course, we always welcome anyone who wants to sit in on one of our rehearsals at any time, but inclusion in the Festival Programme meant that a good crowd arrived and, judging by the feedback we received after the event, enjoyed not just listening, but also singing along too.

November provided two significant highlights in the choir's year. Firstly, on Remembrance Sunday, we were honoured to be invited to perform at the Gymanfa Ganu at Jewin Welsh Chapel in the Barbican. It was a solemn yet joyous event and we hope to repeat it again in the future.

Later in the month, and after an absence of two years, the Gwalia was delighted to return to the intimate and welcoming environment of the Welsh Chapel in Clapham. A review of this concert is reproduced separately.

By December we should, perhaps, have been expecting things to slow down, but at the start of the month the choir appeared at a wedding in the beautiful parish church of Tenterden in Kent and then entertained the guests with some less formal singing in the marquee reception where Barry, one of our second tenors, demonstrated his skill at serving draft Rhymney bitter from the handpump the groom had so thoughtfully provided.

A few days later we had what in the Gwalia's terms can only be described as a marathon series of performances. Throughout the afternoon of 11 December the choir sang Christmas carols (and the odd Welsh song) at various locations within the complex of buildings that make up St Thomas' Hospital to raise much needed funds for the Evelina Children's Hospital. One of our baritones, Laurence, works at the hospital and he was pleased our efforts raised over £400. Having heard that we were in the area on that day, the organisers of the Voicelab Winter Choirs Festival invited us to sing at the entrance to the Southbank Centre later that evening alongside the floral tributes around the statue of Nelson Mandela, and we managed to spread a little Christmas cheer to the crowds of passers-by on a cold and crisp winter's evening on the banks of the Thames.


Moving into the New Year, the choir turned out in force to entertain the staff of a large corporation at a cabaret including Irish dancers in the ballroom of the Hilton Hotel next to Wembley Stadium - a venue which regular readers will recall we had already graced on it's Opening Night event in 2012 - clearly we must have made a good impression!

We were delighted to be invited by Pam Griffiths, the wife of longstanding choir member Lionel, to sing for her (and the newly appointed Men's Captain - himself a native of Cardiff) at the first tee to mark her inauguration as Lady Captain of Kingswood Golf Club in Surrey. We wish her a very happy and low scoring year! Finally, to round off a busy few weeks, a small group from the Gwalia, with a few friends from the Rugby Club choir, sang for Ruth Jones and the cast of 'Stella' on their visit to BSkyB's headquarters in Isleworth.

 

Welsh Chapel, Clapham - 30th November 2013

 After a two year absence the Gwalia was delighted to return to the intimate and welcoming environment of the Welsh Chapel in Clapham. Following the Choir's opening number, a spirited rendition of "Soldiers' Chorus" from Faust, Choir President Huw Edwards - who had kindly accepted the choir's invitation to be Master of Ceremonies for the evening - greeted the choir, soloists and the audience, and set the tone for what would prove to be a thoroughly entertaining night. High points of the choir's chosen repertoire for the evening included the surging passion of "Stout-Hearted Men", the strength and power of "Deus Salutis" and "O Gymru", and the deft change of pace and serenity of a very gentle arrangement of "Lisa Lan". The Choir's own top tenor David Sweet delighted all with his rendition of the Welsh classic “Unwaith Eto'n Nghymru Annwyl” - complete with audience participation in the choruses.

Huw's warm and friendly turn of phrase, both in Welsh and English, made for a very entertaining evening, with occasional funny asides along the way. The biggest laugh of the night came from Huw's tongue-in-cheek teasing of Musical Director James Hearn who had incongruously coupled  “La Vergine Degli Angeli” from Verdi's opera Force of Destiny with the somewhat less high-brow Barry Mason classic “Delilah” in the same segment of the concert. Huw wondered if this was the "Morriston spirit" of  the Gwalia's MD showing through, but James chose to let his musical virtuosity answer for him with a dramatic organ recital of Mendelssohn's “War March of the Priests”.

No review of this concert would possibly be complete without mentioning the wonderful performances by soprano Glenys Roberts, who yet again gave flawless renditions of Handel's “Art Thou Troubled”, “Rusalka's Song to the Moon” (Dvorak), and “Seren Nadolig” by Mansel Thomas. She also sang “Be my Love” (Brodszky) first pointing out that whilst it was made famous by Mario Lanza he originally sang it as a duet with Kathryn Grayson. Glenys also joined the Gwalia in the Lord's Prayer and La Vergine.

Huw praised the unstinting efforts of the Gwalia's regular pianist Wyn Hyland who accompanied all the songs in the concert, and never failed to provide faultless timing and pace throughout.

After the concert the Chapel generously provided drinks which allowed the audience and choir to mingle. Many of the choir's regular supporters commented that the concert was one of our best. The Gwalia left Clapham Chapel with happy hearts and a feeling of a job well done and hope to return there again soon.
 

 

Painted Hall, Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich - 25th September 2013

The Gwalia were delighted to have the opportunity to perform in the famous "Painted Hall", a Christopher Wren designed room which has hosted many historic events - most famously the laying in state of Admiral Nelson after his death at the battle of Trafalgar.

We performed as the sole act of an evening's corporate entertainment, and received generous applause for a varied programme designed to reflect the very international nature of our audience. Anyone expecting Welsh standards would no doubt have been pleased to hear "Rachie". Lovers of show-tunes could have tapped their feet to "Stout Hearted Men" and "Rhythm of Life". Others would, perhaps, have been a little more surprised to hear the choir turn their hands - quite literally - to a very spirited rendition of "Hava Nagila" - complete with synchronised hand-clapping. All in all it was a very enjoyable performance that we hope to be able to repeat in years to come.

 

Joint Concert, St Mary's Priory Church, Monmouth - 6th July 2013

On the day the Lions beat the Aussies so handsomely 41-16 we were delighted to perform a joint concert with the Monmouth MVC in the beautiful St. Mary’s Priory Church which dominates the historic and very picturesque town of Monmouth.

The Monmouth MVC was only recently formed and this was their first major concert. Their Chairman is another Huw Edwards, this time the former Labour MP for Monmouth and an erstwhile member of our own choir.

The church was packed to capacity for the concert. Each choir took turns to sing on its own and then joining together to sing at the end of each half. The Gwalia gave a varied programme which included the very patriotic “O Gymru” arranged by Aled Davies along with the Israeli folk song “Hava Nagila” and Tom Jones’s “Delilah”.

The Monmouth MVC’s programme included a number of traditional Welsh numbers such as “Eli Jenkins’ Prayer”, “Gwahoddiad” and “Tydi a Roddaist”.

Each choir also provided soloists. The Gwalia’s own George Formby - 2nd tenor Geoff Rogers - gave us a wonderful rendition on his ukulele of “I’m Leaning on a Lampost” and then also, as a tribute to our former Chairman Ted Sellick, went on to sing “As Time Goes By” from Casablanca. Our conductor James Hearn gave us a terrific organ solo -  “War March of the Priests” by Mendelssohn.

The Monmouth MVC’s bass soloist – William Mackie – a former member of the WNO - sang a selection of songs including “If I were a Rich Man” from “Fiddler on the Roof” and “The Road to Mandalay”. He also sang “The Sergeant’s Song” from “The Pirates of Penzance” with the Monmouth MVC who all donned policemen’s helmets for the performance. This was very amusingly done and quite evidently delighted the audience.

Both choirs joined forces to sing several songs including “Cwm Rhondda” and “Rachie”. At the end, our compère Huw Edwards called upon all those people in the audience who were former members of the Gwalia (there were about half-a-dozen) to come up on stage and join both choirs in singing “Gwahoddiad” as an encore. This was a wonderful moment for all concerned, and a fitting end to a hugely enjoyable concert. We hope this will be the first of many such joint concerts with the Monmouth MVC.         

 

British Medical Association, London - 1st June 2013

The Gwalia sang at a civil ceremony at the British Medical Association Building in Tavistock Square near Euston. This is a beautiful Georgian building and the wedding was held in the Paget Room. We sang a number of stirring Welsh numbers such as O Gymru, Men of Harlech and Cwm Rhondda. After the wedding couple had departed, we also sang Tom Jones’s Delilah which went down very well. Just after we’d finished singing this, one small boy in the audience was heard to say “That was so loud!”  At which our Choir Marshal retorted “It’s meant to be!”, which provoked much laughter from the audience.

Later we went on to join the wedding party for their reception at a famous old pub called “The Albion” in Islington, where we proceeded to sing a few more songs. All in all a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon.

  

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Our new CD "O Gymru" is now available

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The Nant Tarw Saga

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