y coflyfrau 4
the archives 4
In the context of my Welshness, allow me to reflect on who I am. Hopefully that will help you consider who you are as a Welsh person.
My father was a farmer. Not a big farmer. Not a rich farmer. But a farmer who was happy to be a farmer. He wasn't a farmer caught in the thrall of modern machinery. Even decades ago other farms were moving towards more and more mechanization. On Sunnyside Farm, we milked by hand. This doesn't mean he was a bad farmer, just a self-sufficient, independent, content farmer. On our farm the horsepower was from real horses, not machinery.
My father was Welsh...and proud of it even though he was the only one of his kind for miles around. And in his quiet way he helped me be proud of it, too. He was born in Wales, but he never preached to me about the importance of his heritage. I just couldn't miss it.
He had a map of Britain on the wall in our home. Every morning he'd come in from the barn and say, "Wonder what the weather's like in Dolgellau today? Wonder if it's raining in Llangollen!" Nothing more. But I learned the names of Welsh towns. I saw him point to them as real places. It was decades before I caught on that it's always raining in Llangollen.
Because we milked by hand, we never really went anywhere...at least nowhere more than a few miles away. My father didn't miss my school performances, but he didn't come until milking was done. But he found someone to do evening chores once a year...not for Christmas or the school band concert or even high school graduation. For the gymanfa ganu in a town about 40 miles away. The only time I ever ate supper with my parents at a location other than our kitchen was the 4th Sunday of September every year for the gymanfa. We went after dinner (what city folks call lunch) and stayed for both the afternoon and evening session. I sat with my grandmother and learned alto and Welsh pronunciation of the words by listening to her. My father sat happily with the tenors.
It wasn't dramatic. It involved no preaching. But I couldn't fail to learn by his example.
What did I learn?
* I learned that the gymanfa was important.
* I learned that anything important is worth planning for.
* I learned that Welsh hymns had a power all their own.
* I learned that good music is not confined to professionals.
* I learned that music could help me express my faith.
* I learned that the Welsh language had a power all its own.
* I learned that there's great camaraderie among musicians.
* I learned that group effort is only as successful as the
Make your own oral history tape now. Don't wait for a researcher to come seeking it. Don't wait to do it when your memory or voice are too weak. You don't necessarily have to give it to someone now...just see that it's with your important things in a safe place.
My father was not an important man (as the world counts it). But he apparently thought this through. About 10 years before he died he gave me a tape he'd made. Nothing fancy (if you'd seen his farm and house, you'd have known fancy was out of the question) but it included him playing the musical saw, singing a song and telling a bit about the chronology of his life. We're all richer for his thinking and doing. You, too, can make the world around you richer by sharing your Welsh heritage or experience. Doesn't matter if your effort isn't grand or if you choose to tell no one now-a little bit of richness goes a long way! I can hear him singing a few Welsh hymns and playing others on his musical saw. My grandson will be able to hear his great-grandfather someday, too.
* Consider ways to help your Welsh Society appreciate group singing. It's not a natural experience for many in our day and age. Part singing needs to be fostered and taught.
* When you do sing, invite neighborhood and church musicians.
Often I find they're the ones who call for more verses and more Welsh!
* Contact your local school district and find out how much vocal music is being taught, if any. Are children learning to read notes? It's one thing to bring someone to a gymanfa who has never seen Welsh or isn't used to hymn singing. It's quite another to bring someone who can't read musical notes. You're voters. Be sure cuts in educational budgets don't have detrimental impact on already suffering music departments.
* Ask local piano teachers if they are teaching students to accompany as well as to play grand masterpieces. Sight-reading is a skill future accompanists need, but it's yet another skill to accompany. I fear there will be a dearth of capable accompanists in 20 years, if not before.
Yr Hen Iaith-The Old Language
There is simply no way to talk about Wales without talking about its language-its beautiful, expressive, ancient tongue.
I quote from the Welsh patriot Gwynfor Evans (now 90 years old) speaking of the early days of Wales and Welsh: "One of the great wonders of Welsh history is that the Welsh language was the medium of such beauty and civility in such an uncivilized age; that a radiance streamed through it when the lights of Christian Europe had been extinguished. When Gaul and Spain and Italy were in the grip of the barbarians, and the western frontier of the Roman Empire was in the Balkans; when the darkness over England was so profound that only a few fragments are known about its condition and its history; nearly a millennium before Columbus sailed for the West, this is when a superb and shimmering stream of Welsh literature began upon its course down 1400 years."
Centuries later, there are four principal Celtic regions in modern Europe, all enjoying different degrees of sovereignty. Ireland is entirely independent. Scotland is almost independent. Wales is slightly independent at last. Brittany is not independent at all. All have as their oldest attribute of nationhood an ancient language. Among them all it is the language of Wales, Cymraeg, which is the liveliest and most successfully assertive-the legacy of all those generations of patriots who have cherished, defended and developed it down the ages.
It's a language that defines us, too, gives us cohesiveness and uplifts us. Welsh sets us apart from our English neighbors or our American neighbors. While we'll not likely ever be mono-lingual Welsh speakers in this country, knowing at least some Welsh or at least appreciating its sounds gives us a taste of our long cultural history. Using the Welsh language gives the hymns more power and properly reflects the strong harmonizations purposely composed for those hymntunes.
That was a lot of scattered musings about Welsh life and experience. It's obvious that to me music is a chief ingredient in Welsh expression, partly because I love to sing, partly because it's how I met the Welsh world, and partly because it's how so much of the world defines us (could be worse definitions, folks!). I don't mean to indicate that other literary and artistic forms, politics, and sport aren't definitive of Welsh life. So if Rugby, or Richard Burton or Rowan Williams (new Archbishop of Canterbury) are more important to you, chwarae teg (fair play) hopefully you will get to speak next year to balance the playing field!
© Mary Morris Mergental 2003
effort of each of its parts & that each singer must understand how important he or she is and, likewise, each, section must see the need for cooperative effort in order to have a positive effect on the whole.
What have I done with these lessons? What can I do?
* I've tried to attend cymanfaoedd as often as possible (In Minnesota we have a couple of opportunities each year and we're next to Wisconsin where there's one each month May-Nov.)
* I've tried to follow my father's example and set a good example. Rebekah, our daughter now 32, attended her first gymanfa at the age of 4 months and went every fall and spring from there on until she went to college (though I know she was often embarrassed by my call for more Welsh and/or more repeats). I started a Welsh children's choir when my girls were young so they and others learned the Welsh words to a few hymns, knowing that their presence would also assure the presence of their parents and grandparents.
* I must admit that 2 highpoints of my life were when Rebekah chose to arrange her return trip to NYC for her last year of college via Cincinnati in 1991 so she could sing alto with me at the National Gymanfa there. (When she called for more verses, I nearly mighty surprised and pleased.)
And then, when she was able to arrange her schedule & her small resources & come to Bellevue, Wash., with me when I directed that National in 1994...it was wonderful to look down from the stage, see her in my chair in the front row of the alto section.... knowing that I was using my father's gymanfa book and had my Grandma Morris' hankie tucked in my pocket. Dad would have been pleased, too, but I doubt he would have recognized that it all started with getting someone to do the chores on the 4th Sunday of September!
What can you do?
* Whether or not you have children and grandchildren, there are people who will benefit by hearing your stories. The stories don't have to be about difficult Atlantic crossings, but they might be. The stories don't have to have winners...just a connection with you. It might be the memory of a Welsh event from your childhood. It might be your feelings about St.David's Day or the country of Wales.
Continued in next column
St. David's Day - 2003 - Atlanta
The text of the talk given at the
Georgia Society's St. David's Day Luncheon
by Mary Morris Mergental,