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Sleeve Notes from the 1960s


THE GLORY OF WALES

This was first LP with Eurfryn John as Conductor
 
           The days when every Welsh town and village could boast of its choirs are past. The spread of ready-made mass entertainment forms ~ television, radio and the cinema ~ have been contributory in a steady decline in the number of choirs extant in the Principality. It is refreshing, therefore, to discover that the Morriston Orpheus choir continues to go from strength to strength at a time when so many other choral societies have been forced to disband.
 
            The Orpheus came into being before the Second World War, following a meeting in Morriston's parish hall on April 9, 1935. It is, perhaps, worth remembering the news headlines of the time so that this period of contemporary history might be fixed in the memory. The Silver Jubilee of King George V was less than a month away, while in Geneva the Abyssinian Government lodged another protest against Italy with the League of Nations. The cinemas were showing Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times and nearer home a group of Welsh Nationalists was planning a protest attack on an R.A.F. depot in Wales. At the Forward Movement Hall in Morriston itself the new Orpheus Choir gave its first public concert on Saturday, July 13, just three months after the idea of a new male voice choir was mooted. Nine weeks later the Orpheus took part in its first choral competition, at nearby Port Talbot, and won the first prize after beating longer established choirs from Treorchy and my own home town of Pontypridd.
 
            After such a noteworthy and enthusiastic start it was not surprising that further honours and prizes should fall to the Orpheus. Not even the advent of war in 1939 could lessen the enthusiasms and loyalties of the steel and tinplate workers making up the major part of the Choir. The Orpheus continued to operate under sometimes distressing conditions, yet no rehearsal was ever cancelled. (Without wishing to minimise the horrors of the blitz on cities such as Coventry and London it is worth remembering that Swansea, some three miles south of Morriston, suffered greatly from Nazi air raids. The centre of the city was converted into a vast expanse of rubble while the famous market seemed to have been singled out for special attention.) When hostilities ceased the choir resumed its position of importance at Eisteddfodau and won the distinction of being placed first in four consecutive years, 1956, 1947, 1948 and 1949. Early in 1948 the Orpheus combined with the Morriston United Choir ~ a longer established body which once performed at an Eisteddfod accompanied, somewhat unusually , by a full orchestra, the old National Orchestra of Wales. Shortly afterwards the Orpheus began a long series of appearances on the B.B.C.’s “Welsh Rarebit” programmes and it was during this series that the members of the choir and the programme’s resident comedian, Harry Secombe, forged a strong bond of friendship. 

As a result of these broadcasts the Orpheus made its first records for Columbia. Yet despite the popularity of the broadcasts and the records, when the Orpheus entered the Pwllheli Eisteddfod in 1955 the choir was the only competitor in this field. Welsh choral singing was disappearing 
 
            Mention must be made at this point of Ivor E Sims, the choir’s first conductor, who helped to inspire each chorister by his knowledge and enthusiasm. The choir suffered a severe blow in April, 1961, when he died, and since that date the conductorship has been in the hands of Mr. Eurfryn John, previously accompanist and deputy conductor. It was Eurfryn John who conducted the Morriston Orpheus Choir during the recording session for the enclosed record at Soar Chapel in Morriston.
 
            The eleven selections heard are typical of the Orpheus’ 
work, combining a careful attention of the niceties of intonation with a most effective use of dynamics. In playing order, Myfanwy (Arabella) was composed by Merthyr born Dr. Joseph Parry who graduated from a boyhood in the iron foundry to the position of first Professor of Music at Cardiff University. Ar Hyd Y Nos (All Through the Night) ) and Rhyfelgyrch Gwyr Harlech (March of the Men of Harlech) are two traditional Welsh tunes in contrasting mood arranged for male voice chorus by the late Harry Evans. Morriston’s founder-conductor, Ivor E Sims, was responsible for the adaption of the Welsh hymn tune Diniweidrwydd (Innocence) heard here. Next an old Welsh “occupational “ folk song, entitled Cyfri’r Geifr (in English, Counting the Goats). This is a popular choice for St. David’s Day concerts by school children and in the song the goats are coloured for identification. In this version they are “wen” (white), “goch” (red) and “ddu” (Black) The final track on this side is Llwyn On (or in English “The Ash Grove”)
 

            Side Two opens with Dr, Daniel Protheroe’s setting of Laudamus. Dr. Protheroe, a native of the Swansea Valley, wrote this excellent arrangement of the Hymn tune Bryn Calfaria by W. Owen. Some of the best tunes in the Welsh hymnaries are adaption's of old Welsh folk tunes. Typical if this is Y Delyn Aur (The Golden Harp) arranged by the late D. Pughe Evans, a composer from Swansea. Deus Salutis (perhaps better known as Llef) and Llanfair (St Mary), are two well-known and loved Welsh hymn tunes which were written by G. H. Jones and Robert Williams respectively. The arrangements of these two tunes used here by the Orpheus were written by Mansel Thomas, Head of B.B.C. Music, Wales, and rightly the arrangements have quickly passed into the permanent repertoires of Welsh male voice choirs. Finally O Mor Ber Yn Y Man (In the Sweet Bye and Bye), another setting by Dr Daniel Protheroe, this time of an early part song. 
Alun Morgan

 


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