NINNAU is the North American Welsh newspaper, published bi-monthly, with 28 comprehensive pages of news, articles, reviews and what's on calendars. Its contributors include many Welsh-heritage North Americans, Welsh ex-pats and some notable names still living in Wales.
Print and digital subscription rates are very reasonable, and this article gives you a small taste of the items published. It works in partnership with the Welsh North American Association and the annual North American Festival of Wales.
Ontario Welsh Festival, London, Ontario, April 26–28
by Hefina Phillips
Even non-Welsh people are totally familiar with the fact that we are famous for our male voice choirs. Everyone is aware of names such as Treorchy, Pontarddulais, Morriston and Godre’r Aran, but how many of you, prior to this weekend, had heard of Côr Meibion Machynlleth? Well, you are excused, as they are very new on the choral scene. When I first heard them at the National Eisteddfod in Abergavenny in August 2016 I discovered that they had only recently been formed in order to compete in the National Eisteddfod at Meifod, which is in the area where they all live.
You will need to check your map of Wales to confirm exactly where that is. First, find the town of Machynlleth, then search the surrounding rural area for villages with lovely sounding names such as Aberhosan, Glantwymyn, Commins Coch, Llanbrynmair or just simply Llan. You are now well and truly in rural Wales, therefore you will not be surprised to learn that the majority of these choristers are farmers.
Another extraordinary fact is that many of these choristers are in their 30s—so utterly refreshing when we think of members of male voice choirs in Wales as being quite elderly (or, at least, I confess that I do.)
Their conductor, Aled Myrddin, (a teacher of Physical Education) and who has a superb solo voice, was approached by a group of would-be choristers back in 2014 and asked if he would form a choir. And the rest is history! From the get-go they made a huge name for themselves, winning second prize in their very first competition. Check their website or their Face Book page for more details!
Were we pleased with them? I can honestly report that we were beyond DELIGHTED!
The weekend began, as usual, with the Noson Lawen on Friday evening, and, of course, “the boys” participated. As soon as we heard their opening number we knew we had made the best choice in inviting them to be this year’s guest choir. Such is the calibre of the choir that they have several soloists, the most famous being Aled Wyn Davies, one of the Three Welsh Tenors and whom you will hear in Milwaukee with Rhys Meirion and Aled Hall. Aled Wyn (yes, he is a farmer!) and his friend Aled Griffiths (notice how many Aleds there are??) sang a hysterically funny and clever duet “O Ble Cest ti'r Ddawn..?” What had us in stitches? The two of them managed to deliberately sing every note off key, without cracking a smile once—an extremely difficult achievement.
There were also several home grown items, such as a song of welcome to the choir by Mairwen Thornley, songs by Merched Dewi, Merched Ottawa, Meriel Simpson, and Sheryl Clay, to name but a few. Alan Thomas played a solo on the piano. It was a great start to the weekend.
As usual Saturday was busy, busy, busy, starting with the Annual General Meeting presided over by Meriel Simpson. We were delighted to welcome Christine McSorley to the board of directors. Vice President is Dr. Geraint Lewis of Ottawa. Meriel remains as president for another year.
After the AGM there was a Welsh workshop for beginners, immediately followed by Welsh movies, arranged by Alison Lawson and facilitated by David Jeans.
The winner of this year's Gold Award was Donna Morris. Her many achievements were lauded and after Alison Lawson presented Donna with the award, Donna was serenaded by Merched Dewi and greeted by her friend Sheryl Clay. Well done, Donna. The award was truly deserved.
Then on to St Andrew’s First United Church for a musical feast. What a beautiful church—and the acoustics are superb. As stated previously, but cannot be overemphasized, the choir was excellent and everyone commented on how much they enjoyed the concert. Diolch o galon, fechgyn.
On Sunday morning we shared the service with the congregation of St Andrew’s First United and were welcomed warmly by their minister, Rev. Michelle Down. Our president, Rev. Meriel Simpson, introduced the service and an inspirational sermon was delivered by our own Rev. Dr. Cerwyn Davies.
Aled Myrddin introduced the hymns and led the singing with gusto. Along with our own Alan Thomas at the organ, the wonderful acoustics, Aled’s enthusiastic conducting, and the splendid backing of Côr Meibion Machynlleth, it was a gymanfa to remember.
A huge Thank You to everyone who worked so hard to make the Festival such a success. It certainly was a weekend to remember.
Blodwen: The first Welsh-language opera given US premiere
by Brooke Martin
Blodwen, composed by Joseph Parry in 1878, was given its US premiere in Billings, Montana on May 10th, 2019 by the Rimrock Opera Foundation and NOVA Center for the Arts. As Wales’s first opera in its native language, Blodwen holds special significance to the Welsh language. In writing the opera, Parry proved that Welsh was a flexible, modern language that could be used in one of the most popular and elite forms of entertainment at the time, opera. In its day, Blodwen was very popular in Wales. Parry took it on tour across Wales on several occasions, and by 1896, it is estimated to have been performed over 500 times. After Parry’s death, however, the number of performances declined sharply, and the opera fell into relative obscurity. The opera’s plot takes place in 14th century Wales during one of the many wars between Wales and England and is backdropped with the budding romance between Blodwen and Sir Hywel Ddu. The music is full of vigour and Welsh patriotism, with Welsh folk melodies woven in throughout the opera. However, it is musically inconsistent from one scene to the next, with the musical style ranging from Mozart to Verdi to Handel. The wedding waltz, for example, is obviously modeled after Johann Strauss II, yet the popular Welsh tune, ‘Men of Harlech’, makes an appearance in both the Verdi-like overture and the final choral fugue reminiscent of Handel. The plot is likewise historically inaccurate, but entertaining nonetheless.
Parry’s original orchestration is haphazard at best, since it was created to accommodate the odd assortment of instruments that Parry’s musicians had access to in the small villages of Wales of the 19th century. Dulais Rhys created both a full and chamber orchestra arrangement of the opera that better suits the expectations of modern audiences. This production, using the chamber orchestra edition, is quite possibly the first time Blodwen has received a full staging complete with sets and costumes. In Parry’s day it was performed in chapels and village halls with little to no adornments, and the last time the opera was performed (1978), it was just a concert version.
Most of the lead singers in this production were professionally trained American opera singers, but there were two Welsh singers in this production as well: Nerys Jones as Lady Maelor and Jeremy Huw Williams as Arthur. Jones nearly stole the show with her rich melodic voice. Being a native speaker of Welsh, she easily put meaning behind the lyrics which shone through even if one did not understand Welsh. Jeremy Huw Williams likewise gave a strong and emotional performance. Of the American lead singers, Scott Wichael, who performed in the role of Sir Hywel Ddu, was by far the best. His strong tenor voice captivated the audience and his Welsh diction was equally as strong as the native speakers. Douglas Nagel, the baritone who sang the role of Iolo the bard, was also very good, but perhaps a bit over emphatic of the hard Welsh consonants. Janie Sutton, in the lead role as Blodwen, had a graceful voice, but at times had difficulty cutting across the 13 piece orchestra and was sometimes overpowered by the other singers on stage. Meanwhile, Kate Meyer gave an excellent performance in the role of Elen, displaying both dramatic flair and clarity in the lyrics. The amature chorus, while small, was impressive, and their Welsh pronunciation was correct and understandable, no doubt to the hard work they put in prior to the performance.
Considering the small budget, this was an excellent production of a little known opera with special significance to Welsh language and culture. To see Americans enthusiastically taking up the challenge of performing Wales’ first opera in Welsh was truly inspiring. This performance surely would have make Joseph Parry proud!
Sir William Vaughan’s Cambriol- The First Welsh Colony In The New World
Captain John Mason’s map 1625 – First English map of Newfoundland
Cambriol at upper left
Pottery from Buckley, North Wales (1720 – 1775)
Sir William Vaughan of Golden Grove, Carmarthenshire was a pioneering but little appreciated Newfoundland colonist in the early 17th century. The Sir William Vaughan Trust based in St. John’s and Trepassey, Newfoundland is a Not for Profit corporation established in 2013 to shed light on Vaughan’s New World venture which he named “Cambriol”, Latin for Wales.
The Trust has conducted documentary research on both sides of the Atlantic and professional archaeological digs in the Trepassey area searching for evidence of Vaughan’s Cambriol.
Our digs have already produced pottery evidencing a 17th and 18th century trade linking Trepassey to Italy, Spain, Germany, North Devon, the English Midlands and to Wales.
The Trust’s 2017 dig on Trepassey’s Lower Coast produced the distinctive black glaze on red paste pottery from Buckley, North Wales dating from 1720 to 1775 which importantly demonstrates a continuing Welsh – Newfoundland connection some 100 years after Vaughan.
Indeed, the pioneering Welsh role seems still reflected in the large number of Welsh family names in Newfoundland today. But here’s the rub - we have reached a point in our research when funds considerably in excess of our resources will be needed to finance the task at hand.
The ad below is our call for support from the wider New World Welsh diaspora. Here is our case.
By the close of the 16th century, Welsh merchants and seafarers, directly and through Bristol, were trading into Newfoundland, bringing back salt cod and forest products (from logs to fir seedlings). During the early 17th century, Welsh Captains Thomas Button and Thomas James were exploring the eastern Arctic north of Newfoundland searching for a way to China.
And in 1616, in the most impressive early Welsh New World venture, Sir William Vaughan acquired a block nearly quarter the size of Wales on Newfoundland’s Avalon Peninsula for his Cambriol Colony - sending over an unknown number of Welsh families until he was dispossessed by Charles I in 1637.
Long dismissed as a “failure”, Sir William’s Cambriol can now be seen as part of the continuous and prominent role that the Welsh played in 17th Century Newfoundland at a time when that “fishing station” was central to the creation of the British Empire.
A graduate of Jesus College Oxford (and of Vienna Law Faculty), Vaughan published profusely on religion, philosophy, law, agricultural innovation, medicine (including a medical guide for Cambriol settlers) and Welsh rural social conditions. He had many contacts amongst westward looking explorers and investors. Yet literally none of his personal papers are “known to exist”.
Recently, respected English historian Lizzie Cunningham tracked the evolution of the British Empire through the lens of food production in her captivating “The Taste of Empire” (Basic Books). In it, she exposed the fishy roots of English wealth by detailing Newfoundland’s role noting “The importance of the Newfoundland fish trade in laying the foundations of the British Empire is frequently overlooked.” Most history, as written, reflects that forgetfulness.
So keen scholarship will be required to track Sir William - a forgotten man from a forgotten era. But surely this is a fascinating subject and of interest to “New World” specialists in history, archaeology and geography.
A Trust project initiated in the fall of 2018 shows the potential for uncovering “new” Vaughan material. Of all of Vaughan’s works, the most intriguing may be his Cambrensium Caroleia published in 1625 in honour of the marriage of Charles I to Henrietta Maria of France. It also contains the first known copy of Captain John Mason’s pioneering map of Newfoundland on which the Cambriol portion is endowed with South Wales place names.
On Mason’s map, Trepassey is marked as “Colchos” - the home of a “Golden Fleece” in vast schools of cod – or as Vaughan called them – “Neptune’s sheep”. Framed as a 70 page poem, alternately lavishing praise on the King and Queen and then on the virtues of Cambriol, it is slick propaganda. It is a work often listed - but likely very seldom read – as it was published in Latin and an English translation is apparently unavailable.
But not for long, as the Classics Department at Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland, aided by a small grant from the Sir William Vaughan Trust, has a team at work translating this Early Modern gem.
Further projects will focus on identified highly prospective archives in Wales and England and the many archaeological sites on the Lower Coast and other areas of Trepassey Harbour that deserve digs.
We need your support to continue this work. Please read our ad and visit our GoFundMe site: GoFundMe.com/WelshNewfoundland
Diolch yn fawr iawn.