Welsh male voice choirs worry for future – BBC News

Image caption Pendyrus Male Voice Choir is one of the largest in Wales

Almost half of Welsh male voice choirs have said they are worried about their future.

Some 46 choirs of 102 surveyed by BBC Wales said they were concerned, while 50 estimated they had fewer choristers than 10 years ago.

Most said recruiting new and younger members was a challenge.

Historian Prof Gareth Williams said choirs were “resilient”, producing a good sound with fewer voices.

Image caption Prof Gareth Williams said choirs had retained quality

A total of 116 members of the Welsh Association of Male Voice Choirs and the North Wales Association were contacted for information as part of the survey, with 102 responding.

Fifty-six groups said they were not concerned about their future, although 50 said they had fewer members than 10 years ago.

Some said it was a challenge to adapt to a new repertoire of songs to attract new audiences while continuing to perform traditional hymns.

Prof Williams – himself a member of Pendyrus Male Voice Choir in Rhondda – said the state of male voice choirs was “in many ways a barometer of Wales’ economic health”.

Image caption Ystrad Mynach Male Voice Choir rehearsing

“Certainly when you look at the great period of prosperity before the first World War, the depression in the twenties and the thirties when Wales lost so many people – many choirs were affected, some just clung on,” he said.

“Even today in a post-industrial era people have found the choirs adapting to a new situation, the repertoire has changed the composition of the choirs has changed, but they’re still here.”

So how are some of Wales’ male voice choirs faring?

Ystrad Mynach

Image caption John Knight told Paul Heaney that Ystrad Mynach was determined to recruit more members

With just 19 choristers, chairman John Knight said membership is less than half of what it was 20 years ago.

The group has been determined to recruit new members – they have posted 2,000 flyers through doors, put posters up everywhere and have even taken choir practice to different venues across the town.

Mr Knight said: “Some who are getting on a bit wouldn’t go anywhere else, they’d just sit at home watching television, whereas they get up every Monday and every Thursday – it’s somewhere to go, it’s something to do.”

Caldicot

Chairman Mark Stocker said at the last count there were 90 choristers on the books – with 30 new members in the past five years.

The choir even managed to build its own choir hall next to the town’s leisure centre. Success is down to lots of concerts, a wide variety of songs and a strong social element, with an associated cycle club, golf society and tours.

The age of choristers ranges from a 19 year old to 94-year-old Bill Cash, who lives in Bristol and has been travelling to practice twice a week for 47 years.

Image caption Bill Cash travels from Bristol twice a week to sing

“It’s the company I suppose, you have a laugh with the lads – on and off the stage,” he said.

“If you can stick it for a fortnight we’ll have you for life!”

Blaenavon

When musical director Gareth Whitcombe met film director Daniel Harris by chance a few years ago a campaign started to highlight the plight of the choir in Blaenavon and other choirs across Wales to survive.

Support from Hollywood star Michael Sheen and hundreds of others across the world saw the film “Save Our Male Voice Choirs” premiere in 2016.

Image caption Gareth Whitcombe said choirs should be prepared to try something different

The resulting publicity brought 16 new members to Blaenavon’s choir, lowering the average age and securing its future.

Last month there was another first – a collaboration with a band called Blaenavon in front of a sold out crowd at the town’s Workmen’s Hall.

“Always be prepared to try something different,” added Mr Whitcombe.

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