Celebrating the Welsh

To this day, in Wales, music characterizes cultural life, and religious music is no exception. Each year churches sponsor large gatherings (gymanfa) for day-long hymn singing (ganu) festivals lasting as long as three days. This tradition, called the Gymanfa Ganu (pronounced geh-mahn-fa gani) is celebrated, not only in our Utica-Rome area, but on a global scale reaching from Canada to Argentina, and from Europe to New Zealand.

I attended my first hymn sing at a church in Utica, many years ago, and it lasted from Friday evening ending Sunday afternoon. Friday’s events included a talent show, but the culmination was on Sunday, when one of Wales’ prominent choir masters was invited to lead the choir in all day singing. Even though I am musically challenged, my lungs and heart have never been so full of music. Traditionally, of course, the singing would be all in Welsh, a Celtic language, but in my experience the singing was mostly, but not entirely. Should you want to practice your Welsh, this will be an opportunity.

Music in Wales is comparable to a National Sport. Bands and choral groups compete for national awards, and even the choral directors achieve national and international recognition. The harp is a featured instrument. Such can be witnessed in this year’s annual North American Festival of Wales, including Gymanfa Ganu, in Toronto, Ontario, from August 29 – September 1; it is sponsored by the Welsh North American Association (WNAA). You may hear the “Three Welsh Tenors,” or attend the concert by a premier Welsh chorus. Saint David’s Society of Utica sponsors a spring celebration on May first. It will be held at New Hartford United Methodist Church at 3:00, and features music director Jay Williams III, of Clinton, NY as well as New Hartford native, John Fredericks West at the keyboard. The Society will present the fall Gymanfa Ganu in October.

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