Tuesday 06 December 2016
History of Male Voice Choirs
The following was written by Ieuan Hodges, an 11 years old Newport schoolboy, as a school project. Ieuan originally hails from Bridgend & his Grand-dad, Joffre Hodges sings in the baritone section of the Choir:
'For my project I wanted to pick a topic that was different. My Grandfather is part of a Male Voice Choir in Bridgend so I wanted to find out what makes up a Male Voice Choir and the history of Bridgend Male Choir and find out more about the makeup of the choir. I am aware that the Choir have sung with famous singers and have won competitions and travel abroad for concerts as well as performing in local events and also across the UK.
What is a Male Voice Choir? A Male Voice Choir or men’s chorus is a choir that consists of a group of men that are typically split into four sections. The four sections are top tenors, second tenors, baritone and bass. A male voice choir differs from a mixed choir as there is no soprano or alto sections. These are typically sung by women or a mixed section of younger male and female choristers. A male voice choir sing a wide range of music that could include traditional Welsh hymns, song from Musicals. Operatic pieces and music from popular genres. Male Voice Choirs are typical found in the UK, more so in Wales and some parts of Cornwall.
As you may or may not know, Wales is known as “The Land of Song” Singing is a very large part of the Welsh national identity. Wales has a history of music that is used as a primary form of communication. There are many male voice choirs in Wales, for example, Treorchy Male Voice Choir and Fron Male Voice Choir. One particular choir that came to fame on Britain’s Got Talent was “Only Men Allowed”. One of the members of Only Men Allowed, Craig Yates, is a former member of Bridgend Male Choir.
I will now look at Bridgend Male Choir in more detail. The Bridgend Male Choir or Cor Meibion Pen-Y-Bont ar Ogwr, was established in August 1960 and was originally known as the Bridgend & District Police Choir. As you might guess from the name, the members of the choir were police officers. The name then changed in 1987 to the Bridgend and District Male Choir. Then in 2006, the name was simplified again to Bridgend Male Choir.
The choir has 90 members in total. The choir is led by their Musical Director, Ryan Wood, who is from Maesteg. Ryan is the conductor. The Deputy Musical Director is Stephanie Bailey who is also the Choir Accompanist on the piano. Depending on where the choir sings, they are occasionally accompanied by Scott Williams who plays the Church Organ. Ryan became the Musical Director on 9th June this year taking over from Rhiannon Williams-Hale, who was the previous Musical Director. Rhiannon, prior becoming the Musical Director, was the Choirs accompanist from 2003 until 2008. Stephanie joined the music team of the choir in 2011 becoming the accompanist and 12 months later became the Deputy Musical Director.
Scott Williams’s musical career started as a chorister at St Mary’s Noltan Church in Bridgend. My mum was a member of the same choir with Scott. During their time together in the Church Choir, both my Mum and Scott started learning the Church Organ. My Mum stopped learning the organ when she left the choir, but Scott continued his lessons. Scott’s father also sings in the choir.
Bridgend Male Choir give concerts throughout South Wales and the rest of the UK. The have also sang in Europe, the places include Italy, Spain, Germany and the Netherlands. The Choir’s first trip abroad was in 1979. The Choir travelled to Bridgend’s Twin Town in Langenau which is in West Germany. The Choir sang two concerts on this tour and also visited the Ulm Police Headquarters as part of their visit.
The Choir is a non-profit organisation, which means that most of the concerts that the choir sing in are in aid of different charities. Over the years, the choir has raised in excess of £1 million which is a fantastic achievement in itself, this is before you take into account the competition successes that the Choir has had in its history. I will look into this a little later into my essay.
In 2010, which was the choir’s 50th anniversary, the Mayor of Bridgend awarded the choir his “Citizenship Award”. This was also awarded to Mansel Abraham, who at that time had been in the choir since 1974, for his 36 years’ service as the chairman of the Choir. In 2011, Mansel decided that he wanted to step down from the role of the Chairman. He then became a Patron of the Choir. Mansel was a Police Inspector and was a traffic police officer who taught new police officers how to complete the training to become traffic police officers. Mansel sings in the Bass section of the Choir.
The Choir’s highlight’s, that are not competition based, in recent years include a performance in Worcester Cathedral for an audience of 700 people which was in aid of Macmillan Cancer Relief. In March in 2006, the choir supported Katherine Jenkins in a concert in the Cardiff International Arena (CIA). The attendance at this event was 4,500 people and was a sell-out event. In November 2007, the Choir was asked to sing the Welsh National Anthem prior to Joe Calzaghe World Title fight against Mikkel Kessler. The invitation came from Frank Warren’s Sports Network Organisation. This event was screened live to a World Wide audience of millions of people on Sky Sports. The choir also sang the Welsh National Anthem prior to the Wales V’s France match in last year’s Six Nations rugby competition. In November2008, the choir was invited to be part of Max Boyce’s concerts in the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff Bay. These shows were for the Thursday and Friday night prior to the Wales V’s New Zealand rugby Autumn International game that took place in the Millennium Stadium on the Saturday. The Choir was invited to attend as the original choir that was due to perform was not able to attend. Bridgend Male Choir stepped in and this started the wonderful relationship that the Choir has with Max Boyce, MBE. You may not know who Max Boyce is, but if you have watched a Welsh rugby match or even the recent success of the Welsh football team, you will hear the crown sing “Hymns and Arias”. This is one of Max Boyce’s famous songs which is a song written about Wales beating England in a rugby match. The choir also performed in a concert with Max Boyce in 2010 in the Choirs 50th Anniversary year.
Bridgend Male Choir has a long history of winning many competitions over the years. This includes a double victory at the Incontro Internazionale Di Canto Carole in Verona. In 1991 the Choir sang against 20 other top choirs from 6 countries which then resulted in an invitation to compete again in 2003 when, against 34 choirs from all over the world, the choir were awarded the accolade of Best Male Choir in the whole completion.
The Choir has won first prize and were presented with the Welsh Fusilier’s Cup at the National Eisteddfod here in Newport in 2004. After this victory they Choir achieved success as “Best Male Choir” in S4C’s Cor Cymru (Choir of Wales) competition which took place in Aberystwyth in 2005.
In July 2005, the Choir achieved 4th place at the Llangollen International Eisteddfod. There were a total of 24 male choirs.
In 2006, the Choir completed in the Cheltenham Music Festival and won both the Folk Song and Male Voice sections. In the same year, the Choir competed in the National Eisteddfod in Swansea where they won their section again and retained the Welsh Fusiliers’ Cup.
More recently in 2014, the Choir won the Male Choir competition in Llangollen’s International Music Eisteddfod once again.
The Choir has recently performed in a concert with Mike Doyle, who is a Welsh Comedian. You may not know Mike by name, but he is the voice of the “Trade Centre Wales” adverts and in particular the voice of “Tell them Trevor sent you”. The Choir has been asked to attend and sing at Chepstow Race Course on 27th December, where they will sing the Welsh National Anthem with the famous Welsh Bass singer, Bryn Terfel.
Depending on the type of event that the Choir sing in, they have two different type of uniforms. If the Choir are singing in important concerts, they wear what the Choir call their “Number ones. “ This is the dinner suit that you see in the pictures where they also wear a bow tie. If the event is not as formal, then the Choir wear “Number Twos” This is a shirt and tie with grey trousers.
I asked my Grandfather when he joined the Choir. He confirmed that he joined the Choir in January 2000. My Grandfather had a lot of friends that had joined the Choir in previous years so took the decision to join in January. My Grandfather is in the Baritone section of the Choir. My Grandfather cannot read music or speak Welsh, but has help from other choristers and the MD’s to help him. The music that my Grandfather is given is on the Do-Re-Mi scale (which you will know from the well-known song in Mary Poppins.) Historically, the Choir had a cricket team that used to play 20 over games each Tuesday during the cricket season. My Grandfather used to play for the team, prior to joining the Choir. My Mum also played for the team if they couldn’t get enough players to play in the matches.
As well as singing with famous people or prior to sporting events, the Choir has a number of Patrons who are famous. A patron is a person who gives support to a person, and organisation or a cause. Some of the Choir Patrons are Max Boyce MBE, Shan Cothi, Huw Edwards (the BBC Newsreader) Carwyn Jones, Wales’s First Minister.
The Choir also has a committee which are a group of individuals that are choristers in the Choir that run the Choir as an organisation and arranges the concerts and trips abroad. A selection of the committee members are detailed on page number 6 of your handout. The three men within the picture are, Gareth Reese, who is the secretary, David Burt, the Press Officer and Gareth Davies who is now the Chairman of the Choir. Gareth Davies is also the compere at the Choirs concerts. A compere is someone who introduces the Choir in the concerts and talks about pieces that will be sung and also introduces any guest soloists that will sing during the events. Huw Edwards the BBC newsreader, who I have confirmed earlier is a choir patron, has also been the compere in events that the Choir have sung in. An interesting fact about the three committee members, is that they were all brought up on the same street.
I have attended a few concerts that the Choir has sung at St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in Bridgend. At these concerts the Choir sang with a school choir, which my cousin India was taking part also. The Choir sounds impressive live and my favourite piece of music that they sing is the Welsh National Anthem. The sound that the Choir generates while singing our National Anthem, gives me goose bumps. I also love “This Little Light of Mine” that the Choir perform. You can hear each of the sections singing so clearly on the 50th Anniversary CD. The song is very upbeat and you can’t help moving to the music when you hear this song being performed. '