History and achievements
COR MEIBION LLANELLI
Cor Meibion Llanelli Male Choir celebrates its 53rd year in being, and looks back at the highlights of its proud history.
The story begins in 1961, when a concert given by the famous Cor Meibion Treorchy Male Choir was held at Soar Chapel in the village of Llwynhendy. Treorchy Male Choir was at the height of its popularity and greatness, and a packed chapel was enthralled by the Choir's singing and presentation. One of the people present at that concert was Raymond Lewis, who soon persuaded his friend, Denver Phillips, to think about forming a male choir in the neighbourhood of Llwynhendy and Bynea. The area was fertile ground for such a venture, with many choristers - both male and female - having experienced the thrill of learning the classical oratorio works in the " ysgol gan " ( singing school ) , which were held once or twice a week in the local chapels and churches when an oratorio performance was being planned.
Consequently and eventually, a meeting of interested men was convened at Saron Vestry in Cwmfelin Road, Bynea on the 15th October, 1964, and the decision taken to form a male choir - Cor Meibion Cwmfelin Male Choir - under the direction of Denver Phillips, and accompanied by Moira, Denver's wife. However, Moira felt the burden of twice-weekly practices to be onerous, and I was approached by Denver and a committee member to enquire as to whether I was interested in becoming the new choir's accompanist. I must have taken a long time to make up my mind - indeed, it was all of five seconds - before agreeing to become the choir's accompanist !
Looking back at that time, and then realising what Cor Meibion Llanelli ( Cor Meibion Cwmfelin became Cor Meibion Llanelli in 1972 ) has achieved in its 53-year history, one cannot fail but to be impressed and humbled. But the key to the choir's success , in my opinion, has to be the ethos wich was present from the very outset. Denver Phillips's ultimate goal was to win the first prize at Wales's National Eisteddfod. The choir was not to be regarded as merely a group of men enjoying a sing-song for its own sake. No. There had to be a standard set in choral expertise and technique. Therefore, it was vital that the choir be exposed to competition and criticism which could be used to develop the choir's standard of singing and performance.
In 1967, the choir won its first competition at the Clunderwen Eisteddfod before preparing to enter the National Eisteddfod at Fflint in 1969. Third prize was achieved, and it was obvious that the choir had potential to develop further. Second prize was achieved in the National Eisteddfod at Bangor in 1971 after the choir had gained a notable victory over National winners Cor Meibion Pontarddulais at the Pontrydfendigaid Semi-National Eisteddfod in the preceeding May; and again second prize in the National Eisteddfod at Haverfordwest in 1972. But - as in life generally - a set-back came along. This was in 1974 at the National Eisteddfod in Carmarthen , where the choir was placed 6th out of 6 choirs. Denver and I were devastated by the result,- as were the choristers-, and it became obvious that Denver began to harbour worries about his health. He confided in me that he planned to retire after the Annual Concert of 1974, and hoped that I would be able to carry on in his place. Denver had worked tirelessly to establish the choir, and it was my honour and privilege now to take over from him.
The following list is a collation of achievements and landmarks in the history of Cor Meibion Llanelli - achievements which have emanated from the ethos set at the outset of the choir's history, that excellence in musical performance must be the paramount goal.
1. Taking part in the first London Welsh !000 Voices Festival at the Royal Albert Hall in October, 1969, and the first away visit in 1970 to the Chelmsford Welsh Society.
2. Winning at Pontrhydfendigaid in 1971 and beating Pontarddulais.
3. The choir's superb performance at Haverfordwest National in 1972.
4. Two major wins at Cardigan and the Miners' Eisteddfodau in 1975.
5. The first visit to Laudenbach in Germany in May 1975, and the subsequent return visit by the Laudenbach choir in 1976.
6. Wins at the Cardigan and Miners' Eisteddfodau in 1977 and 1978 - the choir being the first male choir to win the coveted Richard Burton Trophy for a third time.
7. The release of commercial recordings in 1975, 1977, and 1978 on the Cambrian label.
8. The Annual Concert of 1977 at Bryngwyn Comprehensive School Hall with special guests, the Band of the Welsh Guards.
9. The Annual Concert of 1979 with the City of Swansea Orchestra, Delme Bryn Jones, John Treleven, and Janice Cairns - including a memorable performance of the final Act of Verdi's " I Lombardi ".
10. The second visit to Laudenbach, and the formal twinning of both our choirs.
Ten points have been noted from the early years. But there could be many more. However, the point is to appreciate that the choir now was becoming famous for its sound quality and excellence in performance. Television companies and Welsh Societies world-wide were becoming aware of what Cor Meibion Llanelli had to offer. So let's continue looking at these landmarks.
11. Two appearances on H.T.V.'s " Sing To The Lord " with Mary O'Hara and Gwynne Howell.
12. 14-day tour of Canada in 1980, visiting Calgary, Edmonton, Banff, Vernon, and Vancouver. Guest choir at the North American Gymanfa Ganu in Vancouver. Also at subsequent Gymanfas in Victoria ( British Columbia ) in 1990, in Seattle in 1994, and in San Jose in 2001.
13. Several appearances on the "Margaret Williams Show" on S4C - including the Margaret Williams Christmas Show in 1984.
14. Winning first prize at the Lampeter National Eisteddfod in 1984, being the best of five choirs competing at that competition. There were 117 choristers on stage. Conductor D.Eifion Thomas, Accompanist Sian Elin Jones, Soloist John Thomas. This was the realisation of Denver Phillips's ultimate goal for the choir which he founded in 1964.
15. Winning the televised Corwen Choral Competition in 1987.
16. Releasing two commercial recordings in 1981 ( "Showtime" ) and 1982 ( "Pan Ddaw'r Nos" ) on the SAIN label which pioneered a new type of popular repertoire for male choirs. Both recorded at Swansea's Brangwyn Hall.
17. Featured choir at British Leukaemia Association's Annual Christmas concert at London's Royal Albert Hall in December 1980. The choir hired a train for the visit to London. The occasion was memorable in that it was the first time the choir appeared at the Royal Albert Hall in its own right, and not as part of a massed choir. Two other single appearances at the Royal Albert Hall occurred in 1984 and 1985 when we appeared as guest choir in the London Welsh St.David's Day Celebration Concert.
18. The choir won its second National Eisteddfod title at Fishguard ( Abergwaun ) in 1986. Three more such victories were to come in 1996 at Llandeilo, in 1998 at Pen-y-Bont ( Bridgend ), and at Llanelli in 2000.
19. Mention should be made of the association with Launceston and Mr.and Mrs. Wilfred Cocks, and the subsequent concert visits made to that area in 1975, 1978 ( Angela Rippon was the evening's star guest ), 1986, and 1995. Many wonderful memories.
20. The choir tours to the U.S.A. and Canada in 1987 and 1990 were unique in both musical and geographic terms. The commencing venue on both tours was San Francisco, and the final venue was Vancouver and Vancouver Island in British Columbia. Indeed, so great was the attraction of these tours that S4C sent a production team to follow the 1990 tour as we headed north from San Francisco, up through northern California, through coastal Oregon, crossing the Columbia river into Washington state, singing at the capitol building in Olympia, before completing the journey at Victoria on Vancouver Island. The visit ended with music director Eifion Thomas conducting the North American Gymanfa Ganu and the choir at the Victoria Festival. The televised programme was called " Ar Adain Can " ( On The Wings of Song ). An up-load of this programme can be seen on the choir's You-Tube site.
As a result of the continuing enthusiasm and commitment of the music director and his team, and with the continuing dedication of choristers, Cor Meibion Llanelli felt confident to spread its wings even further.
21. In 1993 and 1997, concert tours were organised to Australia and New Zealand. The cities of Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Christchurch, Timaru, Wellington, New Plymouth, Hamilton, and Auckland saw the choir performing to packed audiences, and being received with critical acclaim and appreciation.
22. These years also witnessed the production of several commercial CD's by the choir - "Yr Ynys Ddirgel", "Ti Yw Fy Nghan", and another "Showtime". Each CD increased the choir's popularity with an increasingly-wider audience. Indeed, mention must be made of the Gold Disc which was presented to the choir in 1989 as a result of the popularity of the "Pan Ddaw'r Nos" recording of 1982.
At this point, my chronological memory begins to cloud, so I would like to complete this outline survey of the choir's achievements and landmarks by making points as they come back to mind.
23. Cor Meibion Llanelli has always tried to appeal to audiences by branching out from the traditional male choir scenario and into the realms of the more popular music culture. Memorable concerts have been shared with THE NEW SEEKERS, MICHAEL BALL, ALED JONES, THE THREE WELSH TENORS, ACKER BILK, THE TEMPERANCE SEVEN, THE BANDS OF THE WELSH GUARDS, THE ROYAL MARINES, AND THE GURKHA REGIMENT.
24. The ultimate "pop" experience, however, must be that of February 1994 when the choir appeared at the BRIT AWARDS held at London's Alexandra Palace. The choir was asked to be the backing group for THE PET SHOP BOYS in singing their hit number "Go West". The day was made even more memorable when meeting the other stars of the show such as ELTON JOHN, RUE PAUL, TAKE THAT, and MEATLOAF. The film of the performance is still available on You-Tube.
25. 1994 witnessed another landmark when the choir performed a concert version of Verdi's opera "Nabucco" which had been arranged for male choir by Eifion Thomas. Soloists were Janice Cairns (Abigaille), Jason Howard (Nabucco), Geoffry Moses (Zachariah), Huw Priday (Ishmael), and Elizabeth Woollett (Fenena). Included in the chorus also were Halway Primary School Choir and Bryngwyn Comprehensive School Choir. The performance was accompanied by the Welsh Sinfonia, and conducted by Eifion Thomas.
26. The choir's Scottish connection should have been mentioned also when visits were made to Edinburgh and Stirling in 1977 and 1979. A link was forged with the Edinburgh Prison Officers' Society which resulted in several reciprocal visits and fund-raising to buy wheelchairs for disabled young people.
27. It was in 1994 that the choir honoured another commitment when a week-end visit was made to Seattle in the U.S.A. This was the occasion of the North American Gymanfa Ganu being held in the city, with guest conductor Eifion Thomas, and Cor Meibion Llanelli as the guest choir. It was at the Saturday concert that the choir presented "The Loud Hill of Wales" - a compilation of readings and associated music. The success of this "new" type of presentation is still recognised by the Puget Sound Welsh Society, who extended the invitation to the choir.
28. Visiting "foreign" countries has become a raison d'etre for Cor Meibion Llanelli, and, apart from the above-mentioned visits, the choir in recent years has visited Nantes, Agen, and Versailles in France, Paderborn in Germany, S'Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands, Salzburg in Austria, and County Mayo in Ireland. Also, a two-centre tour was made to Toronto and Vancouver in 2008.
29. The choir's latest CD is "ANGEL" - a compilation of Welsh, English, Italian, and Maori songs - effectively encapsulating the continuing eclectic appeal of the choir's repertoire.
30. This point ends this personal list of memories because it relates to the events of 9/11 in the U.S.A. The choir was halfway through its tour of the U.S.A. after being the guest choir at the San Jose National Gymanfa before travelling on to Salt Lake City, Denver, and Kansas City. The choir woke up on the morning of 9/11 in Kansas City as the horrendous tragedy unfolded in New York. We seemed to be walking around in some unreal world, and very uncertain as to what was happening around the next corner. We were due to sing in a concert in near-by Independence, Missouri in the evening, and the organisers were adamant that the concert should proceed. The concert was held in the modernistically-beautiful "Temple of Peace", and the emotionally-charged atmosphere of the occasion and reception will be forever in our memory.
Thirty points taken from a personal memory bank. Other people who were there may have different memories of these past years. However that might be, the important matter for us who are striving to maintain Cor Meibion Llanelli at the forefront of the Welsh music scene is to ensure that new choristers who join the Choir are able also to experience the joy we have had in being with Cor Meibion Llanelli during its illustrious history of music-making.
YMLAEN LLANELLI - ONWARD LLANELLI.