Nov 13, 2009

An Interview With Eirian Owen of Cor Godre'r Aran

Côr Godre’r Aran is based in the village of Llanuwchllyn near Bala in North Wales. They will be appearing at next year's North American Festival of Wales in Portland Oregon. Americymru spoke to Eirian Owen, the choir's Musical Director about the choir and their forthcoming visit. More details about NAFOW 2010 can be found HERE.

Americymru: The Choir will be performing at the 2010 North American Festival of Wales in Portland, Oregon. Can you tell us how this came about? Have you ever been to Portland?

Eirian: I believe that the invitation to perform in the 2010 North American Festival of Wales came through a member of our choir who has contact with an official of the Festival. Côr Godre’r Aran previously visited Portland in 1971 and in 1974. I was, in 1971, newly married and the choir’s tour to USA and Canada was my honeymoon – shared with, of course, my husband - and 25 other men! A diary of that trip shows that we stayed overnight at the Royal Inn (is it still there?) , that the concert was held in a chapel and that we arranged an extra concert for the following afternoon because many people were unable to get tickets for the previous night. The chapel was full to capacity on both occasions. My 1974 diary tells that I was very impressed with the shops in the Lloyd Centre and that I decided not to go ice skating with some of our group for fear of breaking an arm and being unable to play the piano. I was at that time the choir’s accompanist and would have faced the death penalty – or worse – had I sabotaged the tour by breaking a finger or arm.

Americymru: When was the choir founded? Can you tell us something about its history?

Eirian: The choir was formed in 1949, primarily to compete at the National Eisteddfod which was, that year, held in Dolgellau. It was at that time a “penillion singing/ cerdd dant” group of about 20 young men from the village of Llanuwchllyn. The conductor was Tom Jones and the choir soon gained a strong reputation as one of the chief exponents of this traditional Welsh genre. Tom Jones retired in 1975 and I was chosen as the new conductor/ music director. I had recently graduated in music and had taken up a teaching post at a local high school. I continued along the same path that Tom Jones had established but, I soon began to feel that “penillion singing” lacked the opportunity for musical and vocal development and that the choir had the potential to succeed in other genres. Therefore, a gradual change of direction took place as I included more and more “male choir” repertoire in our programmes. Nowadays, Côr Godre’r Aran concentrates entirely on the male choir repertoire.

Americymru: What is your repertorie? Is there a particular piece that you all enjoy performing more than others? Do you have a signature piece or one that's more often requested by audiences?

Eirian: We sing a varied repertoire, from opera to musicals, part-songs, motets, popular music, hymn tunes. One of the favourites in Wales at the moment is Eric Jones’ “Y Tangnefeddwyr” . Audiences in the UK nowadays seem to appreciate a variety of male choir repertoire although, old favourites, such as “Myfanwy” are probably not performed as often.

Americymru: You have toured all over the world ( Scotland, Ireland , Portugal , Canada / U.S.A., Australia , New Zealand, Tasmania, Hong Kong , Singapore and Patagonia ) What are your most memorable experiences whilst on tour? Is there any one performance that you are particularly proud of?

Eirian: Every tour has its special memories. Singing to the inmates in a prison in New Zealand was an emotionally charged occasion; singing as we marched down a street during a St Patrick’s day parade in Ireland was fun. Performing in Patagonia felt like singing in rural Wales as there were so many members of the audiences who spoke Welsh and the warmth of their welcome was unforgettable. Australia and New Zealand provided us with our biggest audiences – we regularly performed to 2000 people. I remember being overwhelmed by the emotion of one of those concerts and coming off the platform crying! Whilst we were in Portugal, the whole choir was invited to the British Ambassador’s residence for drinks and canapés one Sunday; his staff were rushed off their feet carrying food and drink , as the vultures from Wales gobbled everything down as soon as it appeared. We did sing for our food , though......! We have not visited the USA and Canada since the early 70’s. We were then totally inexperienced, naive and very wet behind the ears. The food was different, cars were as big as buses and drove on the wrong side of the road, the buildings touched the clouds, rivers were as wide as lakes , we jay-walked without a care and gazed in awe at all those magnificent sights.

Americymru: The choir has won prizes at the National and Llangollen Eisteddfoddau. Care to tell us a little about that?

Eirian: Winning at these Eisteddfodau is always a thrill. Choirs come to Llangollen from all over the world and we never know who the opposition might be until just before the Eisteddfod. There is a feeling of camaraderie between choirs at Llangollen – each one is supportive of the other. I believe that competition brings out the best in a choir.

Americymru: The choir won the BBC Radio Cymru competition for Male Voice Choirs. Can you tell us something about the competition and your experience of it?

Eirian: This competition ran over several months . There were several rounds , each recorded before hand and one choir would be eliminated every week. Three choirs reached the final round which was a live performance before an audience.

Americymru: The choir is based in Llanuwchlyn near Bala. Can you tell a little about the area?

Eirian: Llanuwchllyn is a village of about 700 inhabitants , almost all of them Welsh speakers. Many of the families have lived in the area for generations. There are, amongst the members of Côr Godre’r Aran, sets of brothers, fathers and sons, cousins, uncles and nephews. The son, grandson and great-grandson of the founder, Tom Jones, are present members of the choir. Llanuwchllyn and the surrounding area (Penllyn) is rich in heritage and culture and is a stronghold of the Welsh language. The area is rural and is favoured by tourists who come to enjoy the beauty of Bala Lake and the peace of the surrounding mountains and valleys.

Americymru: How does someone join the choir, what is your selection process? What kind of commitment do your choir members make, what's expected of them?

Eirian: Membership is by invitation and all prospective members go through a very informal audition . Quality of voice is the only criteria – the ability to read music is a bonus, not a necessity. Members are then expected to attend weekly rehearsals and concerts regularly. There is an average of 2 concerts a month. There is, generally, no problem with commitment , although I occasionally have to remind individuals of their obligation to the choir!

Americymru: Where can people purchase your music?

Eirian: Our CD’s are available online through Sain. Our latest CD, “Cofio” is available through the choir’s website

Americymru: Do you have any final comments for the readers and members of Americymru?

Eirian: We look forward to meeting you all. Our members range in age from 26-70 ; we’re all young at heart and love going places and meeting people.

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