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.

  

Wedding in Wimbledon - 16h May 2013

The Gwalia were privileged to sing at a wedding in the beautiful Catholic Church of the Sacred Heart in Edge Hill, Wimbledon. This is truly an enormous church – as our guest conductor Haydn James observed, it was more like a mini-Cathedral. The choir sang a number of traditional Welsh favourites including Myfanwy and Gwahoddiad and also for the time ever at the request of the bride, we sang the Celtic Alleluia. The acoustics in the church were superb and the choir received many compliments for its singing. 

Here is a link to a page telling more of the history of the church:

 http://www.sacredheartwimbledon.org.uk/history_of_the_church

 

St David's Day Concert at The Welsh Centre - 2nd March 2013

The St David’s Concert at The Welsh Centre on Gray’s Inn Road was "Sold Out" as usual, for a concert introduced by Huw Edwards, President of both the Gwalia and indeed of the Centre itself. But the Gwalia were delighted to share the stage of the Main Hall with the true stars of the night, the marvelous youngsters of the Hywel Girls’ Choir and Hywel Boy Singers.

What a performance!! - Once again an audience was held spellbound by the musicality of a choir led by John Hywel Williams, who over many years has taken his singers all over the world.

If you ever have the opportunity to experience these inspiring choirs, make sure you take it! - Here is a link to their website

http://hywelchoir.com/

The choirs were also joined on the night by the wonderful soloist Eirlys Myfanwy Davies. Eirlys. who gives regular oratorio, recital and gala performances all over Wales and the UK and as a guest artist with many of Wales' most renowned Male Voice Choirs, began her career with the Hywel Choir, and has a delightful mezzo voice. Her marvelous range and control had us all enthralled from start to finish - another artist you really must see! 

 

International Students House, London - 6th February 2013

We were pleased to be invited to a new venue for the Gealia. The International Students House in Great Portland Street is a Hall of Residence for students from all over the world who are studying at London colleges. The students were having a Welsh-themed dinner which was one of a series to showcase different areas of the U.K. Not only were they served Welsh food, but they had some real live sheep in a pen at the back of the dining hall!

The choir sang a number of traditional Welsh favourites as well as an arrangement of Tom Jones’s Delilah which we first sang at the Millennium Stadium when Wales won the Grand Slam last year.

All the students had previously been given phonetic versions of the words to Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau, so they all joined in at the end in singing the Welsh National Anthem.

The students seemed to enjoy it - the sheep, perhaps, a little less so.

 

David Lloyd George 150th Anniversary - 17th January 2013

 As part of the celebrations to mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of Liberal Prime Minister David Lloyd George, the Gwalia were invited by the Welsh Liberal Democrat Lord Roberts of Llandudno to lead the singing of Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau in front of the statue of David Lloyd George in Parliament Square.

The media were on hand to record the event. You can see the full ceremony at the following link:-

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-politics-21059177

Afterwards, the Gwalia were invited to sing at a service to commemorate the life of Lloyd George in the Chapel of St. Mary Undercroft inside the Houses of Parliament . This was followed by a reception in the Jubilee Room where tributes to Lloyd George were paid from politicians across the political divide and from Lloyd George's grandson Viscount Tenby.

For a detailed account please see the following link:-

http://blogs.walesonline.co.uk/devolution/2013/01/david-lloyd-george-anniversary.html

It was a very special day and yet another unforgettable experience for all the members of the Gwalia.

 

Wembley Hilton Opening Ceremony - 11th October 2012

On 11th October, the choir took part in a celebration of the Opening of the new Hilton hotel in Lakeside Way, Wembley. The evening was showcasing each part of the U.K., so apart from the Gwalia of course representing Wales, there were a group of English Morris dancers, Scottish pipers and dancers and an Irish Ceilidh band. In addition to this, there was also a magnificent buffet featuring food from all four parts of the U.K. – Welsh lamb and leek soup, Irish stew, Beef Wellington and haggis. There was also a lot of other very tasty food besides, which all the performers were allowed to sample. I don’t think the Gwalia has ever had such an engagement where we were so well fed! From a musical point of view, we sang a number of rousing Welsh numbers including “Delilah” for which we got a lot of applause. Many thanks to our guest conductor James Hearn and accompanist Wyn Hyland. At the end of the evening, we discovered the previously hidden talents of one of our choristers – Richard Killoughery – who went on stage to join the Irish Ceilidh band and proceeded to play with them on the tin whistle and Bodhran(Irish frame drum). An altogether thoroughly enjoyable evening.

Commonwealth Carnival of Music - 2nd July 2012

On Monday, 2nd July, the Gwalia joined the LWMVC to sing at the Commonwealth Carnival of Music in Westminster Hall inside the Houses of Parliament. Before our dress rehearsal, the Gwalia took the opportunity of having a few group photos taken of themselves in front of Big Ben and the London Eye, attracting attention and comment in the process. This concert has of course also been written about elsewhere, but suffice to say there were choirs and dance groups from all over the Commonwealth who were on their way to compete at this year’s International Eisteddfod at Llangollen. The Gwalia thoroughly enjoyed joining with the LWMVC in singing the beautiful “Y Darlun” arranged by Jeffrey Howard and the stirring Welsh hymn “Gwahoddiad” and then in leading the audience in singing “Cwm Rhondda”. We would like to thank Dr. Haydn James for inviting the Gwalia choir to take part and for his help in organising it and of course for his superb conducting of both choirs. Many thanks also to the LWMVC’s accompanist Anita D’Attelis. We were able to watch the great majority of the concert before we went on at the end. It was very enjoyable and of course a magnificent setting with great acoustics. It was another unforgettable experience for the Gwalia and a great day to treasure.

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