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Welsh Men’s Choirs

Rough Guide to Wales, 9th edition

IN THE 19TH and early 20th centuries the hills of the south Wales valleys were alive with the sound of mining. Some of the world’s most abundant and accessible coal seams were here and industrial demand meant that by 1920 there were 256,000 men working in 620 mines, producing a third of the world’s coal.

Only a few working coal pits survive, and most of the by-products of that era—air and buildings blackened with soot, slag heaps deforming the landscape—have been grassed over or erased. But one glorious relic of the age lives on, says 9th edition of the Rough Guide to Wales: the male voice choir.

“The roots of the choirs lie in the nonconformist religious traditions of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries,” says the guidebook. “Throughout the breakneck nineteenth century industrialization of the Valleys, choirs of coal miners came together to praise God in the fervent way that was typical of the packed, poor communities.” Their “full-blooded interpretations render all other efforts insipid.”

Many Valley towns still have male choirs, and “most will happily allow visitors to sit in on rehearsals—a wonderful chance to hear one of the world’s most distinctive choral traditions in full, roof-raising splendour.”

The guidebook notes those of two towns particularly: Treorchy (“Wales’ oldest [1883]…and perhaps the best known”), with rehearsals Monday and Wednesday at 7 p.m. (phone ahead: 07849 466080 or go to www.treorchymalechoir.com); and Pontypridd, whose “superb” male choir rehearses Sunday evenings at 6. Go to www.malechoir.com to arrange a visit.

 

www.roughguides.com

 

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