CÔR MEIBION CALDICOT – A CORNERSTONE OF WELSH CULTURE
One of my great-Uncles died in 1977. He had played rugby for Newport in the 1920s, and at his funeral the congregation were standing several rows deep at the back. When the hymns were sung, the roof was lifted off the old chapel. Everybody sang. Whether in tune or not, everybody sang. As the mourners filed out into the bright sunshine that day, I recall my father saying to me, “Now you know why Wales has produced so many great choirs”.
Male voice choral singing emerged in Wales in the late 19th Century, fuelled by the Industrial Revolution that was bringing working class men together in the ironworks and coalmines of the southern valleys. The harmony of non-conformist Christianity, so influential in Welsh society, with the spiritual joy of singing brought comfort from the austerity of daily life. The subsequent link between choral singing and heavy industry provided an uplifting release, from the spectre of morbidity that accompanied every miner into the bowels of the earth and every ironworker into the cauldron of the furnace. Almost every pit village and steel town had a male voice choir and as the workforce adapted to new industries in the 1960s, many of the men who sang in those choirs, relocated for employment. Thus it was that the commissioning of a giant steelworks on the lowland moors to the east of Newport spawned the genesis of Caldicot Male Voice Choir.
The Choir was founded in 1963. The origins can be traced to the searing heat at the base of a blast furnace, at the new RTB works (BSC Llanwern) that was completed in 1962. Several of the workers, who would regularly harmonise in song, were to become the new residents of the rapidly developing communities of Caldicot and Underwood. Many of them had experience of singing in long established valley choirs. It was decided to try and organise a male voice choir in Caldicot and after an informal meeting in the Cross pub, Ray Hogan, Len Waters and John Grindle walked around Caldicot, knocking on the doors of fellow steelworkers to see if there was any interest. Amongst those who were recruited that night was the fledgling Choir’s first Musical Director, Ralph Hodges and subsequently an inaugural meeting was arranged and then held in Caldicot Methodist Church.
It was decided at that meeting that Len Waters would be The Caldicot and District Male Voice Choir’s first Chairman. John Grindle was to become Secretary and the first rehearsal night was held at the Community College, within earshot of a rousing Amen, from the present day Choir Hall. After a few weeks, the committee of the new Choir were informed that all the choristers would have to enrol as members of the college in order to use the facilities and the weekly hall hire was to be increased. In response to this setback the Choir entered into negotiation with the County Council and were eventually given permission to rehearse at Green Lane School.
The history of Caldicot Male Voice Choir, in its’ unique entity, is a chronicle of fascinating narrative. It is a story that showcases a determination to overcome initial adversity, in harmony with a collective resolve to promote a very Welsh musical tradition. After the setbacks endured in its’ formative years, the Choir now rehearse in a state-of-the-art, purpose built Hall, which was opened in 1996. It is, quite possibly, the only privately owned, modern and bespoke choir hall in the UK. It is a majestic edifice that serves as an inalienable testimony to the men of this Choir, both past and present, who worked so tirelessly to realise its’ completion. The Hall is also a corporeal reflection of the ongoing status of Caldicot Male Voice Choir. A status that has been realised and maintained by the resolute endeavour of three, dedicated and talented individuals, who have shaped the Choir’s musical direction.
Richard Morgans picked up the Musical Director’s baton from Ralph Hodges in 1974 and after the pioneering work of his predecessor, “Dic the Stick” as he was affectionately known, guided the Choir to consistent success on the Competition platform. The Choir’s profile was raised as it achieved enviable success at renowned Eisteddfodau and Musical Festivals. The latter half of the 1980s, however, was an uncertain time for Caldicot Male Voice Choir as internal discord and friction sheared an irreparable schism through the harmony of the group. It is said that the darkest hour is just before the dawn, and as the Choir approached its’ Silver Anniversary, the light of a new beginning was realised with the appointment of the present Musical Director, Siân Hatton in 1988.
Siân Hatton is now the Choir’s longest serving Musical Director. She has shaped and tuned the sound of the Choir meticulously, for over half of its’ history. Under Siân’s musical guidance the Choir have assumed a prominent standing in the pantheon of Welsh choral music. She has stood before the Choir on many, if not most, of its’ finest hours.
Since 1988, the Choir has performed throughout Europe and extensively in the USA and Canada and has supported many singing celebrities, including “The Three Tenors” at Wembley Stadium. The Choir has also performed by Royal Command. In 1994, HRH The Duchess of York arrived at The Stackpole Centre, Pembroke, by helicopter, to attend a Caldicot Male Voice Choir concert, given in aid of Children in Crisis and in 2003 the Choir were afforded the ineffable honour of singing for Her Majesty the Queen, outside Buckingham Palace. As ambassadors for Wales, the Choir has been requested on many occasions to represent such institutions as the Welsh Tourist Board and was honoured when chosen to open the new Welsh Tourist office in Piccadilly, London. Most recently, on 1st March, 2012, the Choir were delighted to accept an invitation from Mr. John Griffiths AM. to attend the Presiding Officer’s St. David’s Day address, at the Senedd in Cardiff Bay.
The successes of any organisation are easy to chronicle and are conspicuous to the casual observer. The true ethos and spirit that underpins and defines an organisation is generally less obvious. The achievements of Caldicot Male Voice Choir are simple to document but the Choir takes greater pride in the many thousands of pounds that it has raised for charity throughout its’ history. It is a duty that it undertakes with committed professionalism and delivers with a song and a smile. It is a passion that Caldicot Male Voice Choir shares with all the choirs of this passionately musical country. It is why, way back in 1977, my father said to me, “Now you know why Wales has produced so many great choirs.”
Public Relations Officer, 2011 – 2012.
Côr Meibion Caldicot was formed in 1963 by men who moved to the Monmouthshire area from all over Wales to man the furnaces and mills of the new steelworks at Llanwern. The Choir quickly established itself and today can look back with pride on its achievements and successes in the competition arena, which include first prize at the National Eisteddfod of Wales and five places at Miners’ Eisteddfod. The Choir is also justly proud of the prominence that it has attained on the concert stage.
The Choir has toured abroad many times, including visits to the United States of America, Canada, Holland, Austria and Germany. It has also travelled extensively throughout Great Britain giving concerts, mostly for charitable causes, and it is pleased and proud of the many thousands of pounds it has helped to raise.
Having performed in many notable venues world-wide, none gave Côr Meibion Caldicot more pride than to be invited to sing at the “THREE TENORS” concert at Wembley Stadium in July 1996. To be applauded by the Prime Minister, John Major, and complimented by Messrs Pavarotti, Domingo and Carreras has to be the ultimate accolade.
Jointly funded by The National Lottery, The Arts Council of Wales, Local Councils, Business and its own Membership, the Choir was delighted to open its own purpose built Practice Hall and Function Suite in 1996. This has quickly gained a deserved and enviable reputation as a centre of excellence for Music and Entertainment.