2003 North American Festival of Wales
28 - 31 August, Richmond, BC
What a splendid North American Festival of Wales we enjoyed in Richmond! 2003 is the first year that this event was promoted and arranged by WNGGA (the Welsh National Gymanfa Ganu Association) under its new name. Known previously as the Welsh National Gymanfa Ganu, the name change is to make the event more immediately recognisable to the public at large. But rest assured, it still incorporates Sunday's traditional and well loved Gymanfa Ganu and, indeed the festival came to a resounding climax that day, with singing to raise the roof. As the programme describes, NAFoW is North America's largest gathering of the Welsh and friends, and this one celebrated the heritage, culture and traditions of Wales, with verve and hwyl!
The weather was perfect for Thursday's public opening ceremony, held outdoors in glorious sunshine at Richmond City Hall and those attending had a foretaste of things in store for the weekend. There were the speeches, of course. The audience also enjoyed music from Mabon, an exciting group from Wales, folk dancing by ladies from the Vancouver Welsh Folk Dancers and songs from the Vancouver Male Voice Choir.
As in previous years, there's never a shortage of things to do. The problem is making the selection! Hear competitive singing or story telling? Then the Eisteddfod is the place to go. Be educated? One is spoiled for choice. Some of the topics offered in this year's seminars covered corgis, the Welsh economy, tourism, Welsh language, famous Welsh pirates, Dylan Thomas, wrth gwrs, David Lloyd George, mining for Canadian diamonds. Play the tourist? There are tours aplenty. Time to catch your breath and a gossip with friends old or new? The Tea Room is open all day and evidently the Baking Brigade had not stinted in their sessions making picau ar y maen and bara brith.
Each day in the Welsh Market Place, festival participants could browse a variety of wares: these included books, jewellery, exquisite greeting cards, paintings and knot work, artists' CDs, T-shirts and caps with the Festival logo and a cookery book. Subscribe to a newspaper? Ninnau was there. Other entities, like Vancouver's Dylan Thomas Circle, Wales International and Cymdeithas Madog were promoting interest in their activities and product. At the nearby Wales Resource Centre, information and pamphlets were available for the asking, from representatives of the Welsh Assembly, Wales Tourist Board and Welsh Development Agency.
The Festival's striking new logo was projected "live" at the official opening ceremony on Thursday evening, followed by the Gala Opening Concert with Mabon. They don't sing but saying they just play instrumental music, whether traditional or recently composed, does not do justice to their performance! Challenging expectations and stretching the comfort level of some in the audience was part of the package. They are electrifying, vital and very talented!
A Grand Banquet was Friday evening's event, with tasty food and sparkling entertainment from Seattle harpist Bronn Journey and his wife, Katherine, a talented soprano. Ever seen an electric blue concert harp? He has one and plays it consummately and his wife's splendid singing (and cobalt gown) provided a wonderful match. We also heard a fine young tenor, Paul Kawabori, who is keeping his options open, pursuing careers in singing and photography.
Downtown Vancouver's magnificent Orpheum Theatre was the venue for Saturday evening's Grand Concert. It showcased Dunvant Male Choir and baritone Jason Howard and Grand it was, most definitely. Founded in 1895, the choir has unbroken musical traditions and is the longest continuously performing one from Wales. Under their newish conductor, Timothy Rhys-Evans, they won first prize at the 2002 National Eisteddfod. They sound better now than they did when I heard them at The Fox in Atlanta some years ago. With Mr. Howard and their accompanist Jeff Howard, we joined them on a magical journey through the many facets of musical Wales.
And each evening, after the official events, if one still had stamina, there was more -- a choice between Poems and Pints, a noson lawen under a different name or informal singing, to stretch the vocal chords and prepare the hymns, in readiness for Sunday.
At first sight, Richmond's Winter Club, a gym/sporting venue, seemed appropriate only because of its size and proximity to the hotels for Sunday's two sessions of the Gymanfa. Banners of various Welsh Societies hanging from the rafters helped with atmosphere. But the singing, oh the singing was everything one could hope for, under the urging of our enthusiastic and energetic conductor, Haydn James, Musical Director of the London Welsh Male Voice Choir! We were also treated to solos from Jeff Howard on the organ and performances from both the winner and runner up of the Semi-Professional competition and by the winner in the amateurs' competition in the Eisteddfod.
The Local Planning Committee raised hefty amounts of sponsorship locally towards the presentation of the festival. It must have been disappointing for them that attendance did not match their worst case scenario but the sponsorship dollars should help the financial equation. Hearty congratulations - llongyfarchiadau - to all involved in putting on such a splendid Festival.
Next year's gathering will be in Buffalo, NY and will incorporate special events to celebrate the 75th. anniversary of the founding of the WNGGA. Don't take my word for it -- there's a solid group of fellow members from the Georgia Society who can also tell you that attending and participating fully is great fun and well worth the effort and expense! See you in Upstate New York!
By Jenny Hubbard Young