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History of the Choir

Background


The Choir, whose Welsh name means ‘Choir of the Sons of Wales, South Africa’, was formed in January 1978 by a group of expatriates. Its mission is to promote singing in the manner of Welsh choirs. A non-profit-making organisation made up of amateur choristers, our reward is to give enjoyment to others – as well as ourselves – through the medium of song.


The seeds were sown in late 1976 in the Killarney Hotel, Florida, Roodepoort. On Friday nights, about half a dozen of the local Welshmen started the traditional Welsh custom of informal sing-songs. In mid 1977, it was decided that the formation of a proper Welsh Choir should be considered. The group started rehearsing in the Durban Deep Gold Mines welfare facility. By the end of the year, the talented Rosa Roos (sadly now deceased) had become involved. Sponsorship was obtained from the Light Horse Regiment and in January 1978, rehearsals moved to the German Hall in the then Rand Show Grounds (now part of Wits University Campus).


(Rosa subsequently moved to Cape Town where she was, for a long time, Musical Director of the Cape Welsh Choir).


After several changes in rehearsal venues over the years, the Choir now practices on Tuesday evenings at Marks Park Sport Club.


No form of remuneration is received by choristers. Performances are given mainly to raise money for service, charity or educational organisations. Current membership is in excess of 40, few of whom are of Welsh extraction, however, the Welsh Choral tradition is strictly upheld.


Range


After at least a thousand concerts, the Choir now has a repertoire encompassing a broad musical spectrum, from opera to spirituals, popular songs to classics, show hits to religious pieces (particularly Welsh hymns). Welsh, English, Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho, Afrikaans, German, Latin, Italian and French, are some of the languages sung. As well as various other concerts, performances have included numerous church services, television, & radio. The Choir also featured in the film ‘Heel Against the Head’.


During the days of the Roodepoort International Eisteddfod, in four entries the Choir gained second places in 1981 and 1985, then firsts in 1987 and 1993. The choir has the honour of being the first outside the United Kingdom to be awarded membership of the prestigious ‘Welsh Association of Male Choirs’, patron H.R.H. Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales.


Early days


From modest beginnings, in 1978, there were sixty-one members by 1979, when the more notable appearances were at the Germiston Eisteddfod plus festivals of song in the Johannesburg and Roodepoort City Halls. Since 1980 the Choir has made between twenty and sixty appearances each year. Its commitment to the community was established very early on when, in 1980, with the Soweto Teachers’ Choir, ‘Soweto Meets the Red Dragon’ performances were held in Soweto and at the Johannesburg City Hall. The proceeds went towards the cost of sending the Soweto Choir to the Llangollen International Eisteddfod.


In the following year appearances included three television programmes, the R.A.U. Hymn Festival, and leading the singing from the field at the British Lions – Northern Transvaal match. (The Choir has subsequently led the singing of the Welsh National Anthem, from the field, before several international games.


Tours & Other Highlights


Cor Meibion Cymru’s first tour was in 1982, to the Western Cape. Concerts were held at Hermanus, Stellenbosch and Cape Town. Swaziland was also visited that year and two concerts given. In all, this year saw fifty-one appearances honoured, plus four television bookings.



A second visit to the Western Cape was undertaken in 1983, followed by one to Piet Retief in 1984.


In 1986 the Choir accompanied the visiting ‘Jones Boys’ male voice choir, from Wales, on a country-wide tour.


The Choir took part in the Standard Bank Festival of the Arts at Grahamstown in 1987 and 1988.


April 1988 saw an appearance at the Huguenot Tercentenary Festival in Paarl. Later the Choir participated in the S.A. Police seventy-fifth anniversary celebration in Pretoria (which resulted in a further engagement in 1990). A further tour of Swaziland was undertaken, to be repeated in 1990, 1992 and 1994.


When the KwaZulu Heritage Foundation was raising funds to build a new school at Isandlwana (where the Welsh Regiment and Zulus fought, over a century before) the Choir travelled to give performances in 1989 and 1990. Singing with the local Zulu choirs, an additional honour was to appear before His Majesty King Goodwill Zwelithini Ka Bhakuzulu, King of the Zulus, and Dr Mangosuthu Buthelezi, Chief Minister of Kwazulu. In 1989 Major Robert Smith of the Royal Regiment of Wales and, in 1990, Councillor G. Harding, Mayor of Brecon, represented the Welsh connection.


Namibia was visited twice in 1990. (During the first tour Cor Meibion Cymru led the singing from the field at the Namibia -Wales rugby international.) The October visit involved concerts at the Windhoek International Show.


The inaugural ‘Red Dragon Review’ was held in this year, made up of cabaret acts from individual members. Its success allowed the establishment of the Choir’s own charitable trust.


A highlight of 1991 was an invitation to join ‘The Sowetan Nation-Building Concert’ in the Standard Bank Arena. A Welsh offering was rendered, before joining the massed performance by some one thousand voices, made up from over twenty other South African choirs, including the SABC choir.


In 1992 the Choir received an invitation to tour Wales from none other than the late Sir Harry Secombe, on behalf of the Lords Taverners. Not only did the Choir perform six concerts in seven days, but we were part of the ‘Choir of the World’ at Cardiff Arms Park. Some 8000 choristers, with soloist Tom Jones, entertained an audience of around 30,000. (Untold millions saw the concert on television & many more continue to enjoy the event to this day, by cd & video.) There was also a special appearance at Craig-y-Nos castle, home of internationally- renowned opera singer, the late Adeline Patti.


1993 saw over thirty concerts, including the State Theatre, a fund- raiser at The Johannesburg Country Club &, as already mentioned, the fourth entry for the Roodepoort International Eistedfodd – where a record score of 98% ensured the Choir took first place, ahead of the visiting British champions.


In June 1995 the Choir accompanied Max Boyce, the Welsh comedian/folk singer, during his first visit to South Africa.


On 2nd September 1995 the Choir again had the honour of singing the Welsh National Anthem with the touring Welsh rugby team, at Ellis Park, Johannesburg, when they played the Springboks.


An invitation to attend the town of Hattingen’s 600th Anniversary celebrations triggered off the June 1996 visit to Germany, to give joint concerts with the Hattingen Youth Choir (who were hosted by Cor Meibion Cymru in 1992). The Choir then went on to sing with the Bolsterstone Male Choir in Yorkshire and the Trelawnyd Male Choir in North Wales.


In June 1997 the Choir again accompanied Max Boyce, at the Linder Auditorium, on three successive evenings. Also that year the Choir were invited, for the second time, to join the Johannesburg Jewish Male Voice Choir and the Imilonji Cantu Choral Society, to give a joint concert at the Linder Auditorium, to raise funds for the Macabi Games.


1998 was a very busy year for the Choir, with concerts at the South Coast, Hilton College, Nico Malan Theatre and Boschendal, Cape Town, and Stellenbosch, to list only a few.


In October 2000 the Choir took part in the memorable ‘Choir of 1000 Voices’ Millennium Concert, in The Royal Albert Hall, hosted by the London Welsh. This was followed by a most successful tour of Wales.


In 2001 we had only one short, week-end tour, to Howick in KwaZulu-Natal, where we sang at a home for the aged &, the next day, at a home for the mentally retarded (this being our second visit) where the appreciation of the audience proves most moving.


In 2003, to celebrate the Choir’s Jubilee year, we undertook what was a very pleasant and successful tour of the Eastern and Western Cape, with concerts in East London, Port Elizabeth, Mossel Bay, Hermanus and, to end it off, a joint concert with the Cape Welsh, in the Cape Town City Hall.


In 2004 two short but enjoyable tours were taken, one to sing at a home for the aged, in Nelspruit, & another to perform at Drakensberg School.


In 2006 the Choir went on tour in KwaZulu-Natal, holding concerts at Treverton, Pietermaritzburg, Durban & two in Margate.


In 2007 we were invited to Ficksburg to help mark the centenary of a local church. We also visited the Drakensberg Boys School again, to perform at the Music Festival.


Also, that year, a small contingent of choristers attended another concert at The Royal Albert Hall, in London.


Every year a highlight for the Choir members is the St. David’s Day concert at the Linder Auditorium, where we perform with various guest artists, ranging from soloists to orchestras. The 2008 concert ranks among the main highlights in the whole of the choir’s existence, largely due to our having had the good fortune to acquire the services of Dr. Alwyn Humphreys, M.B.E. (for 25 years conductor of the renowned Morriston Orpheus Choir, which conferred on him, in 2005, the title of Conductor Emeritus).


Dr. Humphreys gave us the benefit of his experience & expertise at two rehearsals & a Training Weekend, enabling us, in the opinion of many, to give the choir’s best performance ever – a fitting occasion to do so, it being the choir’s 30th anniversary. At the concert three choristers were awarded badges marking 30 years membership – a remarkable achievement, which brought with it the well-deserved additional award of honorary life membership for each of them. The concert was further enlivened by solos from world-renowned Welsh tenor, Aled Wyn Davies.


Links


In addition to our strong connection with the South African Cambrian Society, enduring links have been forged with a number of organisations, resulting in regular bookings for many events, such as the Royal Air Force Association Battle of Britain Commemoration Service, the Rand Light Infantry Commemoration Service, & the Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens Carols by Candlelight charity concerts, as well as fund-raisers for hospices, Rotary, & numerous churches.

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