Bridgend Male Choir Choristers' Website
 

  Keeping up to date

Male Voice Choirs and in particular, Bridgend Male Choir

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.


            As part of my research, I interviewed the Choir’s Press Officer, Mr David Burt. The interview is detailed separately. 

Interview with Mr David Burt – Press Officer.


Ieuan:  When did you join the Choir?

David:  I joined the Choir 20 years ago next month (December) 

 

Ieuan:  What made you join?

David:  I have always enjoyed singing and used to sing in school and in Sunday School.  I have always enjoyed singing solos.  Another reason that I joined that I was due to retire from my job as a Branch Manager of Lloyds Bank, so I wanted something to help fill the time.  There is also a very good social side to the choir. We are like a large extended family.  

 

Ieuan:  What section do you sing in?

David: Top Tenors

 

Ieuan:  Can you read music?

David:  No I can’t.

 

Ieuan:  What and where has been your favourite concert that you have performed in?

David:  I would have to say my very first concert which will be 20 years ago on the 1st March 2017.  One of the Choristers was retiring from the Choir as he was moving to Spain to live as he also leaving for health reasons. We sang in a pub in Llandeilo and also had a Sunday Lunch afterwards.

 

Ieuan: What is your favourite piece of music that you sing in the Choir and why?

David:  Gwahoddiad is my favourite piece of music that we sing.  I love the lyrics and the tune.  A number of years ago there was a vote by the Choristers to find out what is the most favoured piece that we sing.  Gwahoddiad came third. 

 

Ieuan:  You have sung with many famous people such as Katherine Jenkins and Max Boyce.  Is there anyone past or present that you would like to sing with and why?

David:  This is an easy question, I would love to sing with Andrea Bocelli.  He is a famous Italian Tenor who was born with bad eyesight and became blind at the age of 12 after a footballing accident.  He is a fantastic singer who is very easy to listen too.

 

Ieuan: As well as being a chorister, I believe that you are the Press Officer.  What duties do you have to complete for that role?

David:  I write newspaper articles to promote up and coming events that we are due to sing in.  This is to make people aware of where we are singing and to hopefully sell extra tickets.  After the concerts, I then write reviews of the concerts to be published in local Bridgend newspapers and the reviews are also placed on the Choir’s website and also on social media.

 

Ieuan:  What upcoming trips or concerts that the choir has planned are you most looking forward too?

David:  On 27th December, the Choir are singing at Chepstow Race Course.  We are due to sing the Welsh National Anthem with the famous Welsh singer, Bryn Terfel.  In October next year the Choir are singing in Majorca.  We will be singing in Palma Cathedral which I am very much looking forward too.  I am also looking forward to the Eisteddfod in August 2018 to see if we can continue our previous successes at previous Eisteddfods.

50 years a Chorister

50+ Years in Male Choirs is my WOW factor


After a half-century of practising the skills of choral singing under many a good conductor, one would anticipate in this period of time, a change in musical content, conductors, musical styles: musical progress.


The present-day and younger generation of music makers, the music interpreters and audiences have changed. Not suddenly but evolution has quietly taken shape. Even being of the old school, I firmly believe that there is room for the contemporary and the traditional. There is still exciting music making out there and the style of male choruses still has a strong and important place maintaining the cultural heritage handed down by generations past. Reviewing my extensive sheet music library, I came across pieces long time unused but the musical memory not lost. It brought back good memories of cathedrals, concert halls and countries ordinarily I would not have visited nor sung to such appreciative audiences and people I have met. It reminds me of the small village churches that are so important in the fabric of the community. Yes, I have much to thank music for such memorable recollections.


But returning to my yesteryear list: it was amazing, after all these years, how the baritone part just unfolded in the tongue and ear. Good times, old and new. This is my WOW factor.



Geraint Hopkins: 1961 – to date 


Wells Cathedral - feedback from sponsor, Cap't (ret'd) Haydn Davies - February 2015

I feel a little ashamed that I did not thank the choir properly for their overall fine performance and professionalism when I had the opportunity at the afterglow. An opportunity sadly missed!.
 
The whole of the event preparations from its beginnings in September last year until the final singing notes died away at the afterglow was quite a magnificent experience,  and made me in particular feel quite  'Proper Welsh again'  I spent Saturday morning taking calls and texts from other ex-pat Welshmen that were present.  So I extend not only my thanks but the thanks of all present on the night for the very fine performance of all concerned, you all did so perfectly well.

 

During my time in the army and being Welsh, and at leisure time we often sang. We sang because we had done so since childhood and especially at school.  Group singing was in our blood. We mostly sang traditional stuff. We sang in groups of anything from ten men to several hundred men. We sang in camps, in tents, in woods, in moving trucks, in the field and on the march. We sang in the pubs and in the NAFFI,  and we sang on troopships.   Beer often helped the singing immensely and added to our vocal strength.


The Arabs and the Chinese ignored our singing. The Germans and the Irish stopped to listen. While holding battalion church parades on the barrack square in Germany, and during the hymns, the fence in front of the barracks would be crowded with Germans, young and old, they watched and listened until we finally marched off parade. 


 A singing session that I will always remember was in Belfast. It was a Saint David's Day 1972 or 1973, at the height of the violence. The Company commander came on the Tannoy from the operations room and wished us all   'A happy and safe Saint David's Day'. The Top Sanger sentry using his intercom replied with the first few lines of the well known hymn  'Cwm Rhondda'. The whole company of about one hundred and fifty men quickly took it up, and our  'Tin Fort' company base rattled with some great singing of that fine hymn, until the Sergeant Major said at the end of it  "All quiet now lads, get back to work"  . That singing had some effect on the locals and for a day or so afterward even the 'hostile ones' bid us 'good day'  and several asked us:  "What was the Lovely tune you''se fellas was all a-singing " 


My own father who spent five years in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers during WW1, said to me during the 1960s,  " Son, I could still hear the shellfire right up until 1932 or 1933, but Ah! if I close my eyes at night and even now,  I can still hear the boys singing" 


Well for my part, I had no shellfire except friendly overhead shellfire in Malaya, I have had the odd bullet whistle overhead, bucket loads of rocks, missiles and loads of abuse and a lot of screaming, also volleys of petrol bombs. All that very quickly went away. But for my own part, if I now lay at night in bed and I close my eyes, then I can also hear the boys singing, just as clear and just as loudly, and just as if they were still all around me. Great men, and great days!


Singing and music, just like laughter, it knows no international boundaries; it crosses them to build friendship, comradeship and morale.


Well Done the Bridgend male Choir. Two years from now, we must do it again!


With kind regards and best wishes to all,

Haydn Davies 

 (Welsh to the backbone! but more so now after the subjection of good singing last Friday evening)

Hymns, anthems and amens (more from the busy hand of Geraint H)

Singing is one of the most singular human pleasures bringing together people in friendship, mutual trust and enjoyment. This experience can happen in many ways. There is no better feeling musically than performance which is the raison d'etre of all that hard work in rehearsals.

Choir and rehearsal is steadfast, a regular commitment. Chapel on a Sunday is a commitment but for many reasons is not that regular. I try to give 100% - when I am in the country!

It has become a habit of mine on Sunday mornings in chapel with the list of chosen hymns displayed on the hymn board, to check them before the service. Do I know them? if not, can I sight read the bass line in my head? That is the task. Before each service, out of interest, I check the composer's age and compare the life span with my own; am I younger? Am I of the same age? Am I older? But with very few exceptions, they are all dead and I am not. However, popping clogs time it's getting close and even closer.

This age search of hymn writers and composers is just an avoidance technique of mine from listening to the reading of the first verse (hopefully) and sometimes all verses usually by a visiting Minister(it's going to be a long service) or as a variation, the first and last verse. Fortunately, my current Minister has a Congregational awareness and can abbreviate the one verse into a four line stanza but still manages with the occasional glances at the clock to run the full hour and a little extra. With any unfamiliar tune I try and sight read. For me it's good practice and I assume that all conductors would approve of this.

Composers and poets of long ago are there for posterity, enshrined in music and words of yesteryear. But meeting live arrangers, word smiths and composers is something I will long remember and cherish. It was at the 1983 Anglesey National Eisteddfod held in Llangefni that I first heard Bro Aber, the winning hymn sung by the Eisteddfod choir. The tune was composed by J Haydn Phillips of Aberfan and the words by Parch. John Roberts from Llanfwrog in Anglesey. This new hymn made an immediate impact; the hairs on the back of my neck just stood up. I was at the right place at the right time

Not long afterwards, I recall walking along the Anglesey beach of Llanfwrog with my late wife Carys (Hughes) and meeting John Roberts. The composer J Haydn Phillips of Aberfan always said that he could a write a good simple tune and what a tune and what a legacy he has left with Bro Aber. As Chairman of London Welsh Male Voice Choir, I commissioned J Haydn Phillips to arrange the hymn tune for the 1000 Voices Festival (its original title). However, it was an arrangement too far for Haydn Phillips when it involved the The Royal Albert Hall Organ. Carys who had played the Willis organ on countless occasions was left to make the final adjustments that made Bro Aber the huge success on the night. This wonderful hymn has graced many a Cymanfa Ganu since 1983 and joyously sung in many chapels in Wales.

Hymn singing is generally an enjoyable experience. But there are times on a Sunday when the chosen hymn tune is less than desired and joining in with the congregation can be excruciating. Who is it that chooses the Sunday six is something I have yet to discover. The modern tunes are lively and full of musical bonhomie and can be “clappy-happy” but some are more expressive in the extreme. Now this is where tempus fugit reaches out its hand; I much prefer the composers of old, Protheroe, J Ambrose Lloyd, Joseph Parry (some say the jingle writer of his day) et al and hymns tunes such as Sirioldeb, Buddugoliaeth, Rhys, Coedmor (composed by a Skewen man R L Jones) et al. This comfortable feeling takes me back to my valley roots just outside Neath.

Of people places and things - Geraint Hopkins 9.7.2011

There are pieces that I rehearse and help to perform that give me a warm feeling to know that the music was composed or arranged by people personally known to me; three I knew through my London Welsh connection and the fourth, when I went to Tylorstown and Pendyrus Male Choir. Real live people, living history.

Singing En Route and The Rose gives me more musical pleasure than most pieces and all because I met Lyn Harry after he brought Hamilton Male Choir over to London for the Festival in the Royal Albert Hall and their short tour of the UK. Born in Llanelli, South Wales, Lyn Harry has been involved in music from childhood, becoming organist and choirmaster of his first choir at age 13. Lyn in 1961 reformed and conducted the London Welsh Male Choir. After London and for 11 years, Lyn was Music Director of the Morriston Orpheus Male Choir. Moving to Canada, Lyn taught at the Royal Hamilton College of Music. He also founded the Canadian Orpheus Male Choir and the Hamilton Academy of Music. On August 10th, 2001 at the Welsh National Eisteddfod, held in Denbigh, North Wales, Lyn was honoured by being invested as an Honorary Welsh Bard for his lifetime services to music.

It was at his retirement home near Abergavenny where I first met the music man from Tylorstown,Mansel Thomas. Being in the same room as this musical giant with Mansel at the piano, was a thrill for me. I had commission a new piece for the Royal Albert Hall. He composed Gloria in the twilight of his life for the Festival in RAH. Mansel was a most gracious man, very gentle in his nature with a supportive wife in Megan. The Gloria is now part of the collection of Mansel Thomas music held in The Mansel Thomas Trust. Mansel Thomas was organist in Shirland Road Welsh Chapel in Maida Vale when he was a music student in London. I lived for seven years in Chapel House attached to Shirland Road Chapel in Maida Vale.

Gowerton, man and boy, Noel Davies forged his youth club choir into Pontarddulais Male Choir that we know today. It was he that coined the immortal phrase in a massed rehearsal, “Front row especially, don't stand like a Chelsea defensive wall. Hands always to the side”. Another was a parody on Shakespeare. Let me explain; on his way to a massed rehearsal, he happened across a group of choristers having a pint or three and responded without comment to their embarrassed greeting. In the rehearsal, without mentioning the incident, he said “Gentlemen, may I remind you, alcohol increases the desire but ruins the performance!” Simple message but direct! My memory of Noel was his constant demand for long phrases and long vowels and always said with an infectious smile. Noel graced the podium in the Royal Albert Hall on three consecutive occasions, 1980,1982 and 1984.

With a sense of humour and given to sharp repartee John Samuel, former conductor of Pendyrus, was able to show it in his fun way of engaging and teaching the choir. He is the most able music and voice teacher I have known and whose classic techniques and teaching skills are outstanding; his know-how compiled over the years is at the core of his experience some of which will not to be found in choral teaching manuals. Affectionately known as JonSam, one of his many arrangements, Bring Him Home from Les Miserables, is now a standard with male choirs. The background on how this came about was that he was conducting the touring Dowlais Male Choir in Vancouver, when a local choir, Vancouver Welsh MC, after hearing the song asked for a copy of his arrangement. Since then his arrangement has spread as if published on Facebook or Twitter. The arrangement for male choir of Do You Hear The People Sing is equally as good. Still blessed with keen hearing and near perfect pitch, JonSam is equally at home working with tonic-solfa and old notation. His customary concert contribution is conducting a whole concert without music and is able to bring in parts and sections with ease that gives confidence to all choristers. He spent almost thirty years working with and playing for the distinguished Welsh tenor Stuart Burrows and apart from other prominent positions, John retired as Senior Lecturer and Chief Vocal Coach at the now Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. He also devoted himself to teaching choral singing to choirs. I found his style to be firm and never missed a trick. He never looked you in the eye but had the uncanny knack even when I was singing the right notes to make me feel guilty when suggesting that some of the baritones were singing wrong notes. His inbuilt radar knew where the problem lay and soon had it sorted without embarrassment. Shouting was not tolerated. One of his fond sayings was “If you abuse music it will get back at you”. He had many on-liners; it was at a rehearsal,John, with a smile on his face, said to the bass section ”That was perfect. I cannot fault the sound, note perfect. Now do you think you can sing the notes that are written on the page”. He certainly lifted Pendyus who received the accolade from Kenneth Bowen, Emeritus Professor of Voice at the Royal Academy, “The finest choir ever to perform in this hall, singing but with one voice” after its performance in London. No finer tribute for any choir.