Wednesday, March 5, 2008

St David's Day Concert

This past Saturday it was my great pleasure to attend a St David's Day concert by the Vancouver Welsh Men's Choir.

This concert was arranged as a scholarship fundraiser sponsored by the UBC Faculty Women's Club of which I am a long-time member. One of the main mandates of the club is raising money for scholarships and over the 90 years the club has been in existence we have raised over $300,000 and have fully funded ten scholarships and bursaries.

So on March 1st, St David's Day, the Vancouver Welsh Men's Choir presented this benefit concert to an enthusiastic audience, in a very large Catholic church, which ironically is dedicated to the patron saint of Ireland, St Patrick, who of course was also born in Wales.

Founded in 1980 by an initial group 18 expatriate Welshman this choir has grown into a more than 100 voice ensemble representing the cultural diversity of the Vancouver area. For now it has members whose national and ethnic backgrounds are Welsh, English, Scottish, Irish, French, German, Japanese, Dutch, Chinese, Japanese, Polish with even First nations representation. Their repertoire however is similar to any Welsh Men's choir with traditional Welsh hymns and songs, spirituals, opera choruses, show tunes and that's what they performed on Saturday.

The members of the choir, each dressed in a black dinner jacket with a dark maroon bow tie and cummerbund, entered the church from the rear, down both aisles and formed a single line down the aisles and across the front of the church and stood there waiting. The MC announced the Welsh National Anthem and we all stood to hear Mae Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau sung with great feeling. Then the choir moved to the front of the church, into their usual formation and the MC welcomed us in Welsh and English and explained some of the traditions of the celebration of St David's Day including the custom wearing of either the daffodil (usually females) or the leek (usually males) and the all important half day off from school which was the usual custom.

Then the concert began with a set of Welsh traditonal songs, including Men of Harlech of course. The choir is currently under the leadership of the very dynamic Jonathan Quick who is the son of a member of the FWC. A graduate in voice, composition and conducting from UBC, Jonathan has brought new life and enthusiasm to the choir, according to friends I know in the choir. The program consisted of a great variety of music, from Schubert's Sanctus, Gounod's Soldier's Chorus, several Gilbert and Sullivan choruses, through to the delightful traditional Russian song, Kalinka, with Jonathan as soloist. At the end the choir received a standing ovation from the very appreciative audience of over 500.

Many of the members are retired and they tour regularly overseas and around the Province of British Columbia where they are enthusiastically received. Along with their regular performances, they also make it a policy to give several concerts each year as charitable benefits on behalf of various organizations. We were lucky enough to enlist their help this year since some of the members of the choir have wives in the FWC. At the end of the evening it was announced that $8000 had been raised towards our scholarship fund from this event.

After the concert I talked with a member of the choir and said how much we had enjoyed the concert. He said that we were a very enthusiastic audience and he felt that really lifted the level of their performance. He also told us about a very interesting innovation of which the choir takes full advantage. All the songs they sing can be found on a computer program which they can use to practise at home. They enter the song, the voice part they wish to sing and the words of the song come up with the words of that part highlighted and the other three parts are sung in the background. Isn't that a neat idea? When they wish to practise Welsh pronunciation, their Welsh dialogue coach, John Cann, their MC, can be found in the program too. I thought this was an amazingly useful tool and of course this means they can get much more practice than just their regular practice meetings and they can do it at their leisure. He said that he as far as he knew they were the only choir using this tool, however it sounds so useful I'm sure there must be others somewhere, unless someone wrote it specifically for them.

I can't believe that I have never been to one of their concerts before and I would quite willingly go again. I'm half Scottish, however I was very happy to celebrate St David's Day with the Vancouver Welsh Men's Choir.


Bretwalda Edwin-Higham said...

Do they have an Eisteddford there?

Carver said...

I'm glad you enjoyed the concert. Sounds like fun. I love the idea of the computer tool they use to practice at home. Makes so much sense.

Tai said...

What a great use of the encourage and aid singing!
Sounds lovely!

the teach said...

jmb, I am sure I would have loved the concert my self... Glad you are pleased with the "You Light Up My Life" award. You deserve it! :D

Ellee Seymour said...

It's a special day for me too as my first born son and elder brother are both called David. You can't beat a Welsh choir either, they have produced some stunning singers.

Ellee Seymour said...

It's a special day for me too as my first born son and elder brother are both called David. You can't beat a Welsh choir either, they have produced some stunning singers.

Ian Lidster said...

Lucky you. I love Welsh choirs. My grandfather used to wander about the house quietly singling Men of Harlech because he went to school in Monmouth. He would never come clean as to whether he was English or Welsh since he grew up right on the border.

Liz said...

I've come to appreciate the glory of good male voice choir singing later in life. The VWMC sound wonderful and I'm glad you enjoyed what must have been a marvellous night.

My great-uncle used to be in Dunvant Male Voice Choir and I know they've toured Canada. In fact most of my family had wonderful voices. Don't know what happened to me!

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

I'm so pleased to read that you enjoyed hearing a Welsh choir on St David's Day and I think it's fantastic that the members are from so many different ethnic backgrounds. What a great computer programme, too.