History of the Sydney Welsh Choir
THE HISTORY OF THE SYDNEY WELSH CHOIR
The Early Days
The Welsh Rugby Union tour of Australia in 1978 inspired the formation of the Sydney Welsh Rugby Club, whose teams made an immediate impact with their singing at the post-match celebrations. A male voice choir was created at the club, broadening into a mixed choir in 1980. Margaret Hughes was Music Director from 1981 to 1999, building up the choir into a separate entity with an international reputation. The Sydney Welsh Choir now has over eighty members and has outlived its parent rugby club, which was wound up in 1997.
The Nature of the Choir
From the outset it has had a core of Welsh-born members but has increasingly attracted singers with no obvious Welsh link, though it is amazing how many Welsh ancestors can be discovered by a spot of genealogical research. The one attributes all the choristers share is a love of singing, a unifying force providing harmony that is social as well as vocal. The repertoire is extremely broad - “from Bach to Bacharach” - oratorio, hymns, opera, folksongs, stage musical numbers and quality popular songs. Over a quarter of the songs are in Welsh, a language that looks unpronounceable at first glance to the average Australian, but which soon becomes a manageable challenge.
Performances & recordings
The choir usually makes at least thirty public performances a year, most of them full concerts. The choir has sung in such famous venues in Sydney as the Opera House, Sydney Town Hall, Convention Centre, State Theatre, Queen Victoria Building, Stadium Australia and Conservatorium of Music, though most concerts are held in local churches, clubs, schools and retirement villages. Special occasions at which the choir has performed include the Royal Easter Show, Darling Harbour Christmas Pageant, the official Australia Day Luncheon, and the official NSW Government Anzac Memorial Service, in which we are the one choir chosen each year. Our audiences range in size from the overflowing but modest congregation of any small church to the packed house at Stadium Australia for the final Wallabies v Lions match of 2001. Apart from overseas tours the choir does a lot of travelling within Australia, with concert tours to South Australia in 1992, Queensland in 1996 and a very successful tour of Tasmania in 2010. We have made many visits to Canberra and three tours to the far South Coast focusing on Merimbula and Narooma. We frequently give concerts in other parts of rural NSW such as at Dubbo, Port Macquarie and Gunnedah.
We have have brought out one new CD in 2012: "A Time to Remember", recorded in late 2011, and hope to produce a second disc soon, covering much of our recent new work. The 2006 recording “As Long As We Have Music” was the choir’s fourth CD, following two earlier cassette tapes and other recordings featuring several choirs. Choir tours are also covered in DVD format. The choir has appeared on Australian radio and TV on several occasions and has made a few radio and TV broadcasts in Britain, including a memorable live performance of “Men of Harlech” from Harlech Castle itself. The choir has performed on stage with such well-known Welsh artists as Aled Jones and Max Boyce, and has sung for the First Minister of the Wales National Assembly on his three visits to Sydney.
The choir plays a central role in the Welsh community of Sydney, especially with its St David’s Day Celebrations at Carnarvon Golf Club and its annual reception at the British Consulate or Consul's house. The Choir’s quarterly newsletter, The Clarion, and this website (www.sydneywelshchoir.com) are important links with the general public. The choir is grateful for the help it has received from its patrons, especially from chief patrons Warwick and Jan Lane.
Our First Five Overseas Tours
The Choir’s first overseas tour, in June 1990, began with a concert in California before moving on to a second in Ontario (Canada), allowing side-trips to Niagara Falls and Toronto before flying to Britain. After a broadcast performance from atmospheric St Michael’s Mount and a full concert in Penzance, the Choir moved to Wales. Performances at Caerphilly Castle and the magical Castell Coch were followed by concerts at Margam Park’s historic Orangery and at Swansea’s Brangwyn Hall. In North Wales, the Choir travelled to Anglesey and to the summit of Snowdon, sang in ancient Bangor Cathedral, and visited the International Eisteddfod at Llangollen. The Choir staged its final concert at King’s School, Gloucester Cathedral, (home of the TV series “The Choir”), before a delightful social evening at the London Welsh centre.
The ’94 tour began with an epic flight to Minneapolis for a great reception and a fine concert. After a few days in New York City, the Choir flew to Scotland for concerts at Melrose Church and Edinburgh’s Ross Theatre, as well as a tourist jaunt to Fort William. The Choir moved via the Lake District and Chester on to Llangollen and Llandudno for a concert followed by performances at Caernarfon and Conwy castles. A few idyllic days at picturesque Tenby included a performance at St David’s Cathedral and a visit to Dylan Thomas’s boathouse. We then enjoyed the warm hospitality of our friends in Cor Meibion Llanelli, with a concert at Theatr Elli, before moving to Swansea for a TV broadcast and a reception by the Morriston Orpheus Choir. In the Caerphilly area we received two civic receptions, sang at castles, took part in a major combined concert and performed in Margaret Hughes’ home town of Aberdare. The final concert of the tour, sandwiched between sightseeing trips to the Cotswolds, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwick, Oxford and Windsor, was at Bedworth. The tour ended, like its predecessor, with an excellent night of music and conviviality hosted by the Gwalia Male Choir in London.
First stop was San Francisco, with a recital at Grace Cathedral and concerts at Palo Alto and at the romantic Spanish Mission Basilica at Carmel. In WashingtonDC the choir sang in two huge venues: the National Cathedral and Union Station, as well as at nearby Silver Spring. The first concerts in England were at the famous Great St Mary’s Church in Cambridge and the equally imposing wool church at Clare in Suffolk. Our next concerts were at Knutsford in Cheshire, Coedpoeth in North Wales and Church Stretton in Shropshire, before heading northwest. After a concert at Llandudno we sang at Conwy, Caernarfon and Beaumaris castles, visited Portmeirion and gave a concert at Porthmadog. We then travelled down to stay with Cor Meibion Llanelli and sing at the Theatr Elli. A trip to Tenby was followed by two recitals in CardiffBay before travelling through the Wye Valley and Cotswolds. We stayed in historic Chepstow for a concert and reception with the Chepstow Male Choir as well as a recital in the castle. Then we went down to Cornwall for concerts with the Polperro Fishermen’s Choir in Looe and Polperro. After further sightseeing we drove back to London for our traditional end-of-tour musical evening at the London Welsh Centre.
We began in Austria with a workshop and concert with the Vienna Male Chorus, followed by a concert in beautiful Hallstatt, where the Celts were first identified as a separate race. After performing in stunning Baroque churches in Salzburg and Innsbruck the Choir moved into Switzerland, exploring Lauterbrunnen and Grindelwald before singing at another large ornate church in Lucerne. Next stop was Paris, with concerts at the huge and famous Madeleine as well as at the American Cathedral, before crossing the Channel to sing at Canterbury Cathedral. Concerts at Clare in Suffolk and Knutsford in Cheshire were followed by a recital at the renowned chapel in Rugby School, a concert in Abergele and singing visits to Caernarfon, Conwy and Harlech castles. We stayed once more with the Llanelli Male Choir and followed our concert there with one at the Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea and a recital in Viv Llewellyn’s family church near Bridgend. We sang at Caerphilly Castle, Castell Coch and Llandaff Cathedral before our major three-choir concert in Caerphilly. After a guided tour of the Houses of Parliament (to follow our tour of the Welsh National Assembly) our final engagement was a social night with the London Welsh Choir.
Our performance venues on our fifth European tour included such famous Italian landmarks as Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome and the Basilica in Assisi, along with St Paul’s within the Walls (also in Rome), the Lutheran Church in Naples and St James’ Episcopal Church in Florence. We even sang in the amphitheatre in Pompeii! Other European concert venues included Bruder Klaus Church in Bern, Switzerland, and St Kastor’s Basilica in Koblenz, Germany. In one day starting in Bruges, Belgium, we sang in Burg square, in Tyne Cot war cemetery, in St George’s Chapel in Ypres and inside the Menin Gate Memorial before giving a short concert on our ship en route to Yorkshire.
In England we sang at York Minster and Winchester Cathedral, and to large audiences at Lancing College Chapel in two concerts which raised $22,500 for the local hospice. The hosting of many of our choir members by the Hartlepool and Haverfordwest Male Choirs was very successful, as were the joint concerts with those choirs. We also linked in with the Cardiff Arms Park Male Voice Choir and the Milton Glee Club in Portsmouth. We had a small mayoral reception at Haverfordwest and a larger one at Portsmouth Guildhall involving the whole tour party. In Cardiff we sang at the new Welsh National Assembly building and in the Wales Millennium Centre next door where we were given a reception by the Wales Tourist Board. We also sang at St David’s Cathedral and Brecon Cathedral in Wales.
Special sight-seeing visits included Monte Cassino, Amalfi, Siena, Montreux, Geneva, Heidelberg and the Rhine Gorge. We sang at Governor Phillip’s grave outside Bath and in Viv Llewellyn’s ancestral home of Court Colman near Bridgend. We followed the Captain Cook Trail from Marton to Whitby, Henry Tudor’s steps from Pembroke to Tenby, and soaked up some Shakespeare in the Stratford-upon-Avon rain before all 89 group members returned to Australia intact, having packed a huge wealth of experiences into four short weeks.