Last evening I went with my English friend, Fran, to our local Stadium, to hear the Pontnewydd Male Voice Choir, with guest singer Wynne Evans (Go Compare!) and Cwmbran harpist and soprano singer, Caitlin Prowle. It was the choir’s 110th concert, and they were magnificent. Welsh male choir singing bypasses the head and goes straight to the heart, said Fran. Wynne Evans’ voice is rich and full, and when he sang in Welsh he sounded like an angel from heaven. In fact, when the choir, with Wynne Evans singing solo and Caitlin playing the harp sang ‘Mine eyes have seen the coming of the glory of the Lord!’ (the Battle Hymn of the Republic), you could believe you’d died and gone to heaven.
The Stadium hall was full of friends and family; a community coming together to celebrate the joy of singing. And there were plenty of older folk. Caitlin is a local girl, and she mentioned her sister and her parents. Wynne comes from Camarthan, West Wales, and of course, Pontnewydd is just down the road from Cwmbran. The songs, the compere and his jokes, the ‘chain gang’ on the front row (the mayors and MP and other VIPs) all reflected community.
Times were when every Welsh valley had a chapel in the centre. They used to have singing competitions. Our senior pastor grew up in the fading days of a community like that. ‘Everyone was aunt and uncle to us kids,’ he said, ‘and the older people were looked after.’ Sadly, as faith died away, the chapels were discarded; people moved away and those close communities have largely disappeared.
But as Hilaire Belloc observed, ‘There is a complex knot of forces underlying any nation once Christian; a smouldering of the old fires …’ (The Servile State, 1912).
Last evening our hearts were warmed in the ‘smouldering’ and I believe that as God once set this nation on fire in the 1904 outpouring, He will do it again. Dduw bendithia Cymru…