Welsh Voices Songs of Praise


Welsh Voices

Aled Jones explores the popularity of male voice choirs in Wales, past and present, and introduces inspirational hymns and songs from Treorchy, Fron and Only Men Aloud.


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MALE VOICE CHOIR SINGS

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There's a part of the world

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where the hills and the valleys are alive with the sound of music.

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So, as we've just celebrated St David,

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the patron saint of Wales, what better time

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to explore the past, present and future

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of a sound that's synonymous with the land of song?

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In a Songs Of Praise dedicated to male voice choirs,

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we have the men from Treorchy,

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Classical Brit winners the Fron,

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plus the winners of BBC One's Last Choir Standing, Only Men Aloud,

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and their proteges, Only Boys Aloud.

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CHORAL SINGING

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For well over a century, male voice choirs have provided the soundtrack

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to much of Welsh life, particularly the lives of working men.

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What the Welsh call the Cor Meibion, or male choir tradition,

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emerged in the late 19th century,

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fuelled by the non-conformist Christianity

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that was dominating Welsh churches,

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and the Industrial Revolution that brought large groups of men together

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in a tough working environment.

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Above the noise, dirt and danger of the mines,

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quarries and heavy industry,

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men's voices were raised in harmony.

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SINGING CONTINUES

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Our first hymn comes from the Fron,

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short for Froncysyllte Male Voice Choir.

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They've enjoyed success in both the pop and classical charts

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and they're singing for us in the splendid setting

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of St Asaph Cathedral.

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HARMONISING

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SOFT SINGING IN WELSH

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Male voice choirs are to be found all over the country,

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but in the valleys of South Wales,

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almost every community has its own male choir.

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At one time, many men spent their lives down the pits and in the pubs,

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punctuated by attendance in chapel on Sundays.

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This is the Rhondda Heritage Centre, formerly the Lewis Merthyr pit,

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at the heart of a community which, for over a century,

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was dominated by the pursuit of coal, or black gold.

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SINGING CONTINUES

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The mine generated certainly a sense of danger.

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I mean, this idea of walking in the valley of the shadow of death,

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this had a great, I think, immediacy to the people of these valleys.

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There's a high casualty and fatality rate here,

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you know, colossal accidents.

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In Wattstown, 1905 - 119 people killed.

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Senghenydd - 439 killed.

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You know, villages decimated by these explosions.

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Men and boys. So they're living constantly on the edge of danger

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and chapels and singing are solace and especially when those words

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are both spiritually uplifting and they're about struggle

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and conflict and sacrifice

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and coping with almost overwhelming odds.

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The sacrifices men made are now a memory as the pits have closed.

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The decline of traditional industries has also affected

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the membership of male voice choirs.

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However, there are definite signs of a resurgence, like the youth choir,

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Only Boys Aloud, who sing our next hymn.

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It's sang at every match involving the Welsh national team.

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But the real meaning of Calon Lan is far from macho.

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It places a pure heart above all the fame and riches of the world.

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# Calon...lan. #

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MALE CHORAL SINGING

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The village of Froncysyllte in the Vale of Llangollen

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may seem like an unlikely home

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for an amateur choir that's broken records in the music charts.

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SINGING CONTINUES

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But in 2006, their debut album

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became the fastest-selling classical record of all time.

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# ..home again... #

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They've been called the oldest boy band in the charts,

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the Fron Male Voice Choir.

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-75 members. Do you know what the average age is?

-The average age...

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Well, the oldest in the choir I believe is 86,

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-but the combined age is about 3,995.

-LAUGHTER

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# ..to be free... #

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But at their heart, the Fron's members epitomise values

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and a commitment that's replicated

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in countless male voice choirs across Wales.

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# When I survey the wondrous... #

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'The male voice choir, when you're singing, when the music starts up,'

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my best description would be to have 70 arms around you.

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It's a lovely warm feeling.

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You feel safe.

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'My father was in the choir, in the bottom basses,

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'so, as a young lad, I grew up with my dad shaving

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'and singing these songs. So it's a great comfort to me.

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'Whenever we sing one, I can still hear my dad's voice.'

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That comes into play as well with my faith, you know.

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I believe that, one day, I'll see my dad again,

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so when I hear these songs again, I feel good.

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You've heard the Fron rehearsing it. Now hear them perform it,

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as they sing Issac Watts' heartfelt words of humble praise

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When I Survey The Wondrous Cross to a tune which has become

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a classic of the Welsh male voice choir repertoire - Morte Criste.

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# Down by the... #

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'How do you feel, then,

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'when you're singing as part of a male voice choir?

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'Excited. Often moved.'

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Emotionally engaged with the words and with the music

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and not least when singing

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some of these powerful hymn tunes,

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which have been arranged particularly for what we call TTBB,

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which is the two tenor parts and the two bass parts.

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SINGING CONTINUES

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And we find that our audiences, not only in Wales,

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but in England and on the Continent, wherever we go,

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they expect and will be disappointed if we did not include

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some Welsh hymns and traditional Welsh numbers in the Welsh language.

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SINGING IN WELSH

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I believe, I think many people do as well,

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that the male voice sound is distinctive,

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but the Welsh male voice sound

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is even more distinctive within that tradition.

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Religion hit the Rhondda Valley like a Mills bomb 150 years ago

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and we're still carrying pieces of spiritual shrapnel around within us.

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We might not all be as chapel going as we were.

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There were 150 chapels in the Rhon, many now in a state of dilapidation,

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but the continuation of that spiritual element, and in the fervour

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with which we sing particularly hymns

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and other religious items is crucial to the repertoire.

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However, for decades, this fervent singing has been

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just as much at home in the pub and rugby field as in the chapel.

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And the male voice choir repertoire has expanded to include

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contemporary songs, like our next number.

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OTHERS HARMONISE: # Sit with me

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# Sit with me... #

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# Luck be a lady tonight! #

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In 2008, Only Men Aloud were the high-profile winners

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of BBC One's competition for choirs, Last Choir Standing.

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They walk and often dance the line

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between a traditional male voice choir and a more showbiz approach.

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# ..offers me protection... #

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'I wanted to form a young small male choir

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'with a big accent on performance, so that when people saw a concert,'

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it was more of a show. When I look back at those early performances now,

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they were very, very basic indeed,

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certainly not the big choreographed shows we do nowadays.

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But with all of that showbiz element to it,

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it's still got at the very heart of it the Welsh male choir tradition

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and we wouldn't be doing what we do if it wasn't for that tradition.

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# Pleidiol wyf i'm gwlad, gwlad Pleidiol wyf i'm gwlad, gwlad... #

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# Guide me, O thou great Jehovah

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-HARMONY REPEATS:

-Pleidiol wyf i'm gwlad, gwlad

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-# Pilgrim through this barren land

-Pleidiol wyf i'm gwlad, gwlad

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-# I am weak, but thou art mighty

-Pleidiol wyf i'm gwlad, gwlad

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-# Hold me with thy powerful hand

-Pleidiol wyf i'm gwlad, gwlad

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# Bread of heaven, bread of heaven

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# Feed me till I want no more

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# Feed me till I want no more

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# Gwlad, gwlad Pleidiol wyf i'm gwlad, gwlad

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# Pleidiol wyf i'm gwlad, gwlad Pleidiol wyf i'm gwlad, gwlad

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# Pleidiol wyf i'm gwlad, gwlad Pleidiol wyf i'm gwlad, gwlad

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# Pleidiol wyf i'm gwlad, gwlad Pleidiol wyf i'm gwlad, gwlad

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# Pleidiol wyf i'm gwlad!

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# When I tread the verge of Jordan

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# Bid my anxious fears subside

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# Death of death and Hell's destruction

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# Land me safe on Canaan's side

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# O, am aros! O, am aros!

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# Yn Ei gariad ddyddiau f'oes

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# Yn Ei gariad ddyddiau f'oes

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# Bread of heaven, bread of heaven

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# Feed me till I want no more

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# Feed me till I want no more

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# Amen! Amen, amen! Amen! Amen, amen!

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# Amen! Amen, amen!

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# Amen! #

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If singing in a male voice choir is a powerful experience,

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what's it like to conduct one?

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SINGING IN WELSH

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'It's great, a real sense of power, although I don't say that to them.'

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But yes, it's really enjoyable, um,

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and when they're singing well, I feel like I can

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sort of play the choir in the same way that I'd play the cello or piano

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when they're on form and that's a really great feeling.

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I know that dynamics, they'll come with me.

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Phrasing, breathing, everything is there, you know.

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It's a great feeling, yeah.

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One of the legendary conductors of male voice choirs

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made his name in the 1870s.

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He was a valleys man, born in Aberdare, and his name was

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Griffith Rhys Jones, or Caradog, as he was commonly known.

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And it says something about the esteem in which

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he was held that a statue was erected in his honour.

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Caradog was a publican in Treorchy

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and the town's male voice choir has a long and proud history.

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They've gone on to make many TV appearances...

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Ladies and gentlemen, the Treorchy Male Voice Choir.

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..even singing on primetime television with stars such as

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Ella Fitzgerald, Julie Andrews, Burt Bacharach and Tom Jones.

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# ..but now I see. #

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STUDIO AUDIENCE APPLAUDS

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The legendary conductor of Treorchy would be proud to know

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that his choir is still in fine voice today.

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They'll perform Bryn Myrddin, which was written in 1945

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for a hymn-singing festival, or Cymanfa Ganu,

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which took place near Caradog's home town of Aberdare.

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THEY REPEAT:

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# Amen, amen. #

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Securing the future of male voice choirs in the modern world,

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with all its attractions and distractions, is no easy task.

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It's an issue that Only Men Aloud's founder,

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Tim Rhys Evans, is addressing.

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Back in 2010, he set up ten youth choirs

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in the valleys of South Wales,

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encouraging boys to follow in the footsteps

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of their fathers and grandfathers.

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Collectively, they're known as Only Boys Aloud.

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MUSIC: "Don't Stop Believing" SUNG IN WELSH

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The boys have come together to perform at major events

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in front of huge audiences,

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such as the National Eisteddfod and the Ryder Cup.

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When I registered the name of Only Men Aloud back in 2000,

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I also registered the name of Only Boys Aloud,

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cos I'd always had this dream that we would start a choir

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'and, in this part of the world,

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'there's often a lot of blame laid at the feet of teenage lads,

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-'they're the ones causing all the trouble.'

-Backwards footballs!

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'I'm very proud to be a valleys boy,

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-'but there are lots of problems in this part of the world.'

-And release!

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Unemployment, social and economic deprivation in some cases.

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And actually, people, when they're only seeing that,

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they're not seeing the true essence of the valleys, which is

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a deeply proud people with a wonderful spirit,

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with a wonderful sense of humour.

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Well, in rehearsals, we do warm ups first, which are quite silly,

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we make a fool of ourselves and some boys are so funny when they do it,

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but none of us get embarrassed, even though we look really silly.

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-LAUGHTER

-Good start!

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And shake it out. Shake them out.

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Good!

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'Working with 14 to 19-year-old boys,'

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I just wanted to encourage them to aspire, whatever the circumstances.

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So that none of the boys have to travel more than 15 miles,

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the rehearsals, led by members of Only Men Aloud,

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are held at venues across South Wales.

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'I think I get an amazing sense of pride

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'from being a team captain for Only Boys Aloud.'

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Giving young boys an opportunity to sing is really important.

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That's what's going to keep the choral tradition going.

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One! One!

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I get a really nice feeling when I go home and I get really high,

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go home with a smile on my face.

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It's better than being on the streets, if you ask me.

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It's full of mates, really,

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and gives you confidence and it's taken...taken us to big gigs.

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SINGING IN WELSH

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Being in a choir is cool and I'm thrilled that we attract

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every kind of lad, so you do get people like men and you,

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you know, keen musicians who love singing,

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but you also get boys who've never sung before

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that are just coming along, because they know we don't audition.

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It's open to anyone that can get to one of our ten rehearsal centres,

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um, that rehearse every week.

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I think, if you listen to the hymns and things

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and you understand the words,

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you can understand the whole song as a whole, really,

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and most singers make sure they know what the song means

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before they sing it.

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-What else must we need think about musically?

-Listening to other parts?

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The other parts and to the piano. A few of the notes were a bit under.

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'I've seen a massive growth in the confidence of the boys.'

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-LAUGHTER

-I thought it was only them.

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'Certainly, when they're singing, just the way they walk on stage now

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'is very different from the terrified crew that did the first concert.'

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They are proud of the music they make and so they should be,

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cos they work very hard and they do a damn fine job.

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# Prepare ye the way of the Lord

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OTHERS HARMONISE # Prepare ye the way of the Lord

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ALL: # Prepare ye the way of the Lord

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# Prepare ye the way of the Lord

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PACE OF SONG QUICKENS

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# Prepare ye the way of the Lord

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# Prepare ye the way of the Lord

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# Prepare ye the way of the Lord

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# Prepare ye the way of the Lord

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# Oh, bless the Lord my soul His praise to thee proclaim

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# And all that is within me Join to bless his holy name!

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-# Oh, bless the Lord!

-Oh, bless the Lord!

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-# Oh, bless the Lord!

-Oh, bless the Lord!

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# Oh, bless the Lord my soul

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-# His mercies bear in mind

-Oh, bless the Lord!

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# Forget not all his benefits

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# The Lord to thee is kind

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# He will not always chide

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# He will with patience wait

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# His wrath is ever slow to rise!

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-# Oh, bless the Lord!

-And ready to abate

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-# Oh, bless the Lord!

-And ready to abate

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# And ready to... And ready to...

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# And ready to... And ready to abate!

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# Oh, bless the Lord my soul Oh, bless the Lord my soul

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# Oh, bless the Lord

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# My soul!

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# Oh, bless my soul

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# Oh, bless my soul! #

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MALE CHORAL SINGING

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It is to the famous conductor Caradog that the phrase,

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"Wales, the land of song," is often attributed.

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And Psalm 96 entreats us to praise God

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and make every nation a land of song.

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We'll sing to the Lord a new song

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Sing to the Lord all the Earth

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Sing to the Lord, bless His name

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Tell of his salvation from day to day

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Declare His glory among the nations

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His marvellous works among all the peoples

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For great is the Lord

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And greatly to be praised.

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CHORAL SINGING CONTINUES

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SONG ENDS

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The words for our final hymn

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were originally written in English by an American.

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But with its Welsh translation, tune and passion, it sums up

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the gifts the Welsh male choirs have shared with the whole world.

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So we leave the men of Treorchy with Only Boys Aloud

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spanning the generations with Gwahoddiad.

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Next week, Eamonn is in his hometown of Belfast in advance

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of the centenary celebrations for the Titanic's doomed maiden voyage.

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He introduces hymns from St Thomas' Church

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and takes a look at the world's largest Titanic visitor centre.

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Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:34:000:34:04

Aled Jones explores the popularity of male voice choirs in Wales, past and present, and introduces inspirational hymns and songs from Treorchy, Fron and Only Men Aloud, as well as newcomers Only Boys Aloud.


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