Photo by Andy Friedman
Chorister 2nd Tenor Andy Friedman was so moved by the experience of singing at the Royal Albert Hall he has written a piece to relay his feelings of the occasion. I’ve reproduced it below. Well done Andy, you’ve expressed all our feelings in this. We’re probably the Christians, Andy and the audience are the Lions!
The Royal Albert Hall! Feels like the Roman Coliseum. Are we the gladiators or the lions? Before the concert begins we are bathed in the rippling clamour of a full house, a colossal full house. Those sitting up in the gods seem miles away. And yet soon after the concert begins I feel like I’ve gate crashed a family party in a village community hall in Wales. In spite of the vast space there is a cosy feel to the proceedings.
The compere’s gentle jokes – like he doesn’t know who is playing tonight in the FA cup – is it Swansea? He asks the audience, some laugh, some cheer and some grimace ruefully. His references to arrangers of some of the pieces we are to sing, who are in the audience and stand to applause. His celebration of the oldest and youngest and most experienced of the choristers who each stand to applause, one introduced as 17 years old tomorrow, causing several in the audience to break into Happy Birthday to which we all join. The compere bringing on the cavalcade of musical directors and assistants of the 20 odd choirs who are performing. The award given to the compere for 30 odd years of being a stage manager first and then compere for 16 years on this his retirement event. The way the soloists are announced, all local Welsh young singers who had won competitions in the past few years and are introduced with the pride of an aged uncle introducing a youngster who had done the family proud. We are all celebrating this very Welsh culture, 800 Welsh singers and at least one Canadian.
It is a charity event for Prostate Cymru but it was really a celebration of Welsh singing. Twenty eight male voice choirs and 800 massed choristers were belting out half the songs in English and half in Welsh. We sing 20 songs and interspersed are soloists including Magor’s Ffion Edwards and a small female Choir.
Alwyn Humphreys, the conductor is terrific, but challenging. He keeps altering tempo and volume like a kid fooling around with the knobs of an old style radio. I have to watch his hands every second as well as trying not to stumble on the words, especially the Welsh ones.
We are all volunteers who do it for the love of singing and for some following family tradition. Many sing with brothers and fathers and remember their grandfathers who sang in the choir. Our choir, the Caldicot Male Voice Choir, was founded in 1963 by steel workers from the local plants. Most of the others were founded by mineworkers and some were much older.
It is also like going back in time. We are mostly singing traditional hymns and Welsh airs and even the newer pieces are variations on the old, such as singing the very common Calon Lan in the style of a Maori New Zealand melody, or the South African national anthem half in Afrikaans and half in Welsh. Most are songs that could have been sung in chapel or community halls in the 1950s or even the 1930s or earlier.
We start with God Save the Queen. After the half time break there is a Welsh hymn for the audience to join in with and then of course at the end is the Welsh national anthem: thousands all singing full and proud. It raises the hairs on the back of my neck and fills me with awe at the passion by which all sing. It is a fitting close to the community festivity.
In the end, 3½ hours; a lot of singing! Wonderful! Exhausting! Thrilling! There are not enough superlatives to describe it.