GETTING TO KNOW MUSICAL DIRECTOR, RHIANNON WILLIAMS-HALE

Tuesday 26 August 2014

Musical Director, Rhiannon Williams-Hale has just led the choristers of Bridgend Male Choir to success at the 2014 Male Choir Competition in the Llangollen International Music Eisteddfod. The win is significant as only Wales' most successful competition choir, Cor Meibion Pontarddulais has previously won the World renowned competition from the south. But what do we know about Rhiannon, who is surely much better known as an accompanist. David Burt, Media Officer, set about finding out...
David - “Rhiannon, if I recall correctly, you first worked as accompanist to Bridgend MC in 2003, after a concert in the Rhondda. How did this come about?”   
Rhiannon – At a concert I heard BMC singing for the very first time under the direction of JJ. I must say how very impressed I was! John knew my (then fiancé) very well due to John's previous role as MD of the Treorchy Male Choir where Terry was a long standing member. We all reminisced at the local pub afterwards and within a few days, I received a phone call from the Choir Chairman asking if I would like to be the choirs accompanist due to the work commitments of incumbent Cheryl Jones (as a sound recordist with S4C). I remained until leaving after my 6th annual concert in October 2008. My time as accompanist at BMC was, without doubt, very exciting and full of wonderful opportunities & memories. Highlights for myself included our 'Wins' at the 2004 & 2006 National Eisteddfodau at Newport & Swansea, Cor Cymru Male Choir category winners as well as further success at the Cheltenham Festival. Magnificent concerts at Worcester Cathedral, St David's Hall Cardiff and the 'live' CD recordings at Llandaff Cathedral & at St Mary's Bridgend are well remembered, not forgetting our Llangollen International Eisteddfod participation and supporting Katherine Jenkins at the Wales Millennium Centre.   

David - “I remember it well, great times, hugely successful for BMC, but why did you leave?”   
Rhiannon – Leaving any choir is always a very difficult decision, especially after the great experiences and friendships formed at Bridgend. Following an E -mail from the conductor of Pontarddulais MVC (who at the time was looking for an associate accompanist for a Monday evening only) I decided I wanted to further my accompanying experiences. Rehearsal eve's did not clash but realistically I felt it wasn't fair to have an allegiance accompanying both choirs at that time. My time with Y Bont was another period of learning & enjoyment. Very soon, their principal accompanist began raising a family of her own and I then took over the full time position over a four year period. The rehearsals which centred on the learning of Tonic Sol Fa, also reminded me of earlier teaching aids accompanying my first male voice choir back in 1998 with 'Treorchy Male Choir'. Following a fractured wrist in February 2012, I made the decision to leave my full time position and the next chapter began........   

David –“ Other than working with Choirs, what other “musical” involvement do you have?”   
Rhiannon – I have been fortunate to build up a teaching practice spanning nearly 20 years in Voice and Piano with much success. As a result of the dreams and talents our up and coming young adults aspire to, I decided in 2012 to resurrect an Eisteddfod in Treorchy. Now in it's 3rd year, I remain humbled by the quality of entrants. They travel from far and wide to compete; Gloucester, Aberdare, Cardiff, Barry, Porthcawl, Bridgend, Neath and countless other cities and towns as well as all the local towns & villages surrounding Treorchy. An eventual 'final' is always held at the Park & Dare Theatre (of which BMC have made two appearances) where the Eisteddfod prize winners compete further. My other interests include the formation of a youth choir alongside good friend Zoe Hawkins - 'Voices of the Valley'; accompanying another choir - Llanelli MVC and I also enjoy competition adjudicating and playing percussion for the Parc and Dare brass band with husband Terry as well as regularly playing the Organ at funerals and weddings.   

David - “Sadly, the very popular John Jenkins passed away in early 2012, the Choir at the time being assisted by his deputy, David Hutchings. What attracted you to taking on the role of musically managing more than 80 men at rehearsal?”   
Rhiannon – Yes, the sudden passing of JJ was a huge shock to us all. His inspiration, enthusiasm & clear enjoyment of music and choirs created a huge impact (& void) on myself and anyone who knew him. I was fortunate to assist JJ as I undertook a number of engagements conducting BMC in his absence. Having spent ten years as musical director of the Ynysybwl Ladies Choir, during this time I was able to learn and experience a new role from the front (rather than the side!) of a choir. This proved an invaluable asset towards my future, as the ladies enjoyed competition success. I had also briefly become an Associate Conductor at Cwmbach Male Choir. I was very pleased to receive an interview and arrive at the 'short list' from ten candidates to audition for BMC (with a broken wrist!) and proud to accept the full time position of MD to Bridgend Male Choir & began my role with excitement (& trepidation) on Thursday 19th April 2012. With the link and opportunities presented to me on my return to Bridgend MC now secure, I was greatly looking forward to the aspirations and many music challenges I had for you all - to reach the maximum potential possible. You certainly did achieve this and much much more ...... !   

David - “ So in your first 2 ½ years what have been the highlights?”   
Rhiannon – The discipline & concert etiquette with which the gents and our fine accompanist & organist display, has to be seen to be believed. This is a tradition in which the chairman of the choir in particular, takes great pride and deservedly so. My memories are many. From my first conducting appearance at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama during the Russell Shepherd scholarship final to the re-enactment of BMC's first ever concert at Tabernacle, Pontycymer, compeered by the choirs very own patron Huw Edwards; our North Wales visit to St Asaph cathedral and two sold out concerts at Cowbridge Leisure Centre - the latter appearing alongside the great Mike Doyle. I am particularly proud of our recent competitive appearances; achieving the runner up positions and substantial prize money at the 'Majestic Male Voice Choir competition - Torquay' and at the 'Isle of Man International Choral Festival'., both within the same year. The gents took one step further when they were announced 'Winners of the Male Voice Category' at the Llangollen International Eisteddfod only 7 weeks ago. This achievement I remain incredibly proud of and the memory of that day alongside the evening privilege of appearing as a finalist in the 'Choir of the World' competition, is an experience which far surpasses any other I have witnessed in my entire musical career. Llongyfarchiadau i chi i gyd!   

David - “Wow! Can't believe these are just the highlights. Tell me about the choir accompaniment now?”   
Rhiannon – The accompanist role at BMC is now carried out full time by the wonderfully talented Stephanie Bailey. I first came into contact with Steph as she undertook rehearsals during the audition processes for MD in 2012 and I immediately warmed to her. Well mannered, professional and smart in her outlook, I was indeed very pleased to be working with a young lady of which we share not only a similar age (at times, the same!) to each other but also a mutual admiration and common purpose. Steph has also become my own deputy - therefore coming full circle to the role I undertook with JJ. We are also very fortunate to have the services of Scott Williams as our organist. His accompaniments, duos and solo work enhance our performances. We are so grateful to have both Scott and Stephanie playing such vital and prominent roles. I am proud of our team.   

David - “What's coming up for you & the Choir?”   

Rhiannon – To the future of this incredibly busy and friendly choir, this autumn we are to appear at the Porthcawl Pavilion in a concert for 'Disability Sport Wales athletes and guests' (tickets can be purchased at the Box Office) on Friday 12th September. Our Annual Concert will then be held on Friday, 10th October at St Mary's Catholic Church with guest soprano Jessica Robinson (tickets from Porters Estate Agents at £5) followed by a visit to Holland from 25th October to remember the 154 Welsh servicemen who gave their lives relieving the city of s'Hertogenbosch.   

David - “ When I joined Bridgend MC 17 years ago, I was a little apprehensive with the learning & not having sung since school-days. What advice would you give aspiring choristers?”   
Rhiannon – Joining an organisation can seem a daunting and frightening prospect David but the gentlemen of Bridgend already posses a fine quality as a result of their incredibly warm friendliness to all who join and to all whom they meet, whether at rehearsal, concerts at home or abroad. To join an already established choir like Bridgend, I am not looking for a soloist or any previous musical experience or even the ability to read music - it isn't necessary, as our learning aids cover this, but I simply ask for a willingness to attend and take part in weekly rehearsals through the enjoyment of singing with like minded gentlemen! There is always room in the Bridgend 'heart/calon' for more! I believe 'a choir with the correct mix of choristers blending as one and joining in a common purpose of making music is the correct way forward........."Friendship through Music"   

David – Thanks Rhiannon, look forward to seeing you on Thursday, 4th September after the summer break.