4. The Present Situation in Welsh Music

4.1 Festivals, Contests and Other Musical Gatherings

The Royal National Eisteddfod of Wales (festival of music and poetry) is held every year during the first week of August, alter­nating annually between North Wales and South Wales. The ceremony which lasts a week, with up to 6,000 competitors and 170,000 visitors including exile Welshmen from all over the world, is a resumption of the old Welsh cus­tom: Bards [1] or lyric poets assemble together to take part in song competitions and to set down rules for poetry and music.

The titles of Ofydd (Ovate), Bardd (Bard), and Pencerdd (Chief Musician) are con­ferred on candidates who pass various tests and there is also a strong choral and competi­tive side to the gathering.[2]

In 1999 there were over 200 competitions ranging from the popular performances of ri­val choirs to those of traditional dance and instrumental groups and outstanding concerts with Bryn Terfel, Gwyn Hughes Jones (tenor), the National Youth Orchestra of Wales Sinfonia, the National Youth Choir of Wales, the Eisteddfod Choir, and others.

The Eisteddfod is an event which does not only interest a small part of the population but the majority. This is a big difference to the attitude of the German people towards the "Sängertreffen" in Germany.

In addition there are Regional Eisteddfods – smaller festivals that take place in August in many Welsh villages. They last for one weekend and are usually held in the pubs.
Local Eisteddfods are held in towns and villages throughout the year. The Welsh universities occasionally hold their own Student Eisteddfods.

The Welsh Youth Movement (Urdd Gobaith Cymru) holds an annual Urdd Eistedd­fod. Children as young as four years of age and up to 24 years of age compete against each other in musical events – singing, playing the harp, piano, violin, wind instruments, in classical, folk and Pop groups. It is a full week of cultural events and attracts some 14,000 competitors and over 100,000 visitors. It is Europe's largest youth arts festival..

The Eisteddfod plays a big part in the development of young musical talent. To be a “National“ winner at the Royal National Eisteddfod is the dream of many youngsters. Many of Wales’s famous singers made their early debut at the Urdd Eisteddfod and later at the Royal National Eisteddfod. Amongst these are Bryn Terfel, Dennis 0‘Neill, Gwyn Hughes-Jones, Gwyneth Jones etc., all of whom acknowledge their debt to their early op­portunities on the eisteddfod stage.

The international Eisteddfod of the folk dancers and singers

Perhaps more internationally known is the Llangollen International Eisteddfod, at which musicians and dancers from all over the world compete. It is held in Llangollen during the first week in July. Singers and folk dancers from about 30 countries perform in their respective national costumes.


It was founded in 1946 to promote international peace and friendship through music and cultural events. Its motto is “Byd gwyn fydd byd a gano, gwaraidd fydd ei gerddi fo“. Roughly translated this means “Blessed is a world that sings, gentle are its songs“.

In the meantime it has become famous among European summer festivals. Luciano Pavarotti was a chorister there with an Italian choir in 1947 and has since returned as a soloist at an evening concert.

The most fitting description is probably to be found among the writings of Dylan Thomas:
"(…) Here, over the bridge, come three Javanese, winged, breastplated, helmeted, car­rying gongs and steel bubbles. Kilted, sporraned, tartan'd, daggered Scotsmen, reel and strathspey up a side street, piping hot. Burgundian girls, wearing, on their heads, bird‑cages made of velvet, suddenly whisk on the pavement into a coloured  dance. A Vi­king goes into a pub. In black felt feathered hats and short leather trousers, enormous Austrians, with thighs big as Welshmen's bodies, but much browner, yodel to fiddles and split the rain with their smiles. Frilled, ribboned, sashed, fezzed, and white‑turbaned, in baggy‑blue sharavari and squashed red boots. Ukrainians with Manchester accents gopack up the hill. Everything is strange in Llangollen. You wish you had a scarlet hat, and bangles, and a little bagpipe to call your own (…)

All day the song and dancing in this transformed valley, this green cup of countries in the country of Wales, goes on until the sun goes in. (...) And then you climb down hill again, in a tired tide, and over the floodlit Dee to the town that won't sleep for a whole melodious week or, if it does at all, will hear all night in its sleep the hills fiddle and strum and the streets painted with tunes (...)

Are you surprised that people still can dance and sing in a world on its head?The only surpris­ing thing about miracles, however small, is that they sometimes happen."[3]

There are two interesting new competitions: "Choir of the World at Llangollen" (since 1987 and – completely new - "Llangollen International Singer". Among the guests there in 1999, were Kiri te Kanawa and Bryn Terfel.

The "Harlech Festival"  has been held annually in the Harlech castle since 1867.
The "Swansea Music Festival" takes place annually at the beautiful Brangwyn Hall, Swansea. T
he annual "Fishguard Music Festival" (July/August) attracts music enthusi­asts from far and wide. Some of the concerts are held in the Cathedral of St David‘s.

The "Cnapan Festival" is held at Newport, and attracts folk groups from other Celtic coun­tries, i.e. Brittany, Cornwall, Ireland and Scotland.

Jazz festivals abound, the best known being the Brecon Jazz Festival. This also draws artists from far and wide, and is an extremely well attended event.

All these festivals are the platform for national and international artists and attain a very high standard.

Another prestigious musical Event is "The Cardiff Singer of the World Compet­i­tion" which is held every two years at the St David‘s Hall, Cardiff. This is an opportunity for young, highly talented international singers, most of whom have as a result started on outstanding careers. Winners of this competition include Bryn Terfel and Dmitri Horotskovsky, both of whom are now world-renowned.

The "Welsh Proms" (in Cardiff) under the direction of Owain Arwel Hughes have be­come one of the major highlights of the music calendar in Wales..

     Cymanfa Ganu 
To hear a Welsh choir giving all they have got  in full-throated “hwyl“ is best experi­enced at a Gymanfa Ganu [4] or singing festival that is held in Welsh chapels, traditionally often at Easter time.

During the week of the Royal National Eisteddfod in August each year, a Gymanfa Ganu is held on the last Sunday of the week with thousands of enthusiastic singers of all ages in powerful harmony. Each Sunday the Welsh TV channels S4C or Sianel Pedwar Cymru bring a half-hour programme of Welsh hymn-singing which is recorded at various chapels and churches throughout Wales. A bit similar is the English TV programme “Songs of Praise”, but Welsh hymns have more “hwyl” and depth of fervour.

Another typically Welsh event is the “Noson Lawen“, literally translated “Happy Eve­ning“, at which local people gather together in farm barns, sitting on bales of hay, to enjoy an evening‘s entertainment of musical and other items. Usually there are well-known guest performers - musicians, comedians and dancers.

At international rugby matches it is not long before the singing starts and it is said that this is worth six points against the opposing team (particularly against England!). The Welsh national anthem “Hen Wlad fy Nhadau“ (Land of my Fathers) has been said to strike terror into the hearts of opposing teams, also the popular war march "Men of Har­lech" and the religious element is present  when the help of the Almighty is asked for in the well-loved church hymn "Guide me oh Thy great Jehovah".

[1] cf. the Crown Poem of the Bard Dyfydd Rowlands (Eisteddfod 1972) on the enclosed CD
cf. The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music, London, Oxford University Press, 1964 2, p. 177
Dylan Thomas, Quite Early One Morning, as cited in: Attenburrow, R. B. (ed.), Fifty glorious weeks,1947-1996, Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod, 1996, p. 10-13 (cf. full text in file of documents)
cf. file of documents and enclosed CD

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