Feb 13, 2011

An Interview with Gwenno Dafydd - Welsh Actress, Singer, Writer and Broadcaster

In the run up to this years Saint David's Day Parade AmeriCymru spoke to Gwenno Dafydd Welsh Actress, Singer, Writer and Broadcaster and former Partnership Consultant and Representative at NSDDP. Gwenno also co- wrote the official Saint David's Day song Cenwch y Clychau i Dewi'.

AmeriCymru: Hi Gwenno and many thanks for agreeing to be interviewed by AmeriCymru. You have been involved in the organization of the Annual St. David's Day Parade for some years now. Care to explain for our readers how you became involved in this project?

Gwenno: I wasn't in the very first National Saint David's Day Parade (NSDDP) in 2004 which was quite a small event of a couple of hundred attendees and little publicity. I did hear about it afterwards and decided as a very patriotic Welsh woman that I had to be there the next year, which I was.

AmeriCymru: You also wrote the official St David's Day Parade song 'Cenwch y Clychau i Dewi'. Care to tell us a little more about the song and in particular where readers can go to hear it online or purchase sheet music?

Gwenno: In the 2005 NSDDP I was taking part and ringing one of the six bells (reproductions) of Saint David's bells that had been made for the occasion and suddenly, as we were just approaching Cardiff Castle at the tope end of Queen Street, I felt as if I’d been struck by a bolt of lightning (literally!!!) I just had this feeling that I had to create a song, an anthem that could be sung by children, adults, brass bands and choirs.

I got really excited about this idea but didn’t say anything to anyone. I just went away and wrote a verse and a chorus in both Welsh and English and took it to my song-writing partner at the time, Heulwen Thomas, a peripatetic violin teacher and told her what I had in mind. She wrote the music, I took it to the NSDDP Committee and in the 2006 Parade we performed the song in front of the National Museum of Wales at the end of the Parade.

The NSDDP Committee were delighted with the response we had with the song and asked if it could be sung the following year. They were trying to find ways of engaging schools and children in the parade and as I had worked as a supply teacher for fifteen years and also did a lot of Directing Theatre in Education, they invited me on the Committee as the Voluntary Schools Liaison Officer and since 2006 I have been responsible for engaging the schools and their pupils.

I have also been a professional broadcaster and performer for the last thirty years and I saw a way of using the song which I had co-written, as a way of levering a lot of publicity in the media which it did. When the children came on board was the year the parade grew phenomenally from a few hundred to well over 1,500. This growth meant that we had to ask for help from Cardiff City Council and the National Assembly for Wales as we were all volunteers. And it was all becoming too much for us as volunteers to organise.

In November 2009 I resigned from the NSDDP Committee as I was finding that the work to promote, lobby for additional funding, engaging interest and organising was taking over my own self-employed life so much so that I wasn’t able to earn a living.

However, last year I was approached by Cardiff City Council and employed to bring the children onboard. There were at least 900 schoolchildren present and probably another 600 including parents and friends. I also presented the Council with a very comprehensive report which would enable them to organise the children’s participation from now on from within their own Education Department.

Here are details and photographs of some of these events. You can also hear the youtube of me singing the song which I recorded as part of the Songs of our Nation project last year.www.gwennodafydd.co.uk/4html

The song made history by being the very first Welsh medium song to be sold as a download from a website and it was launched by World famous singer Bryn Terfel and Tim Rhys Evans Choir Master of Only Men Aloud, award winning choir. There are four versions of the song available – piano and voice, SATB, (Mixed Voice Choir) male voice and female voice. http://www.ylolfa.com/dangos.php?ISBN=9781847711342

AmeriCymru: You were also involved with the design of the 'Pembrokeshire Banner'. Can you tell us more?

Gwenno: Whilst I was still on the NSDDP Committee we were looking for ways to engage more people and one of our members had seen that the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade in Birmingham had a big focus on County participation. Another of the Committee had talked about getting the old Colliery Lodge Banners involved so I came up with an idea of having County Banners for every Welsh County so that people could walk behind their County Banner every Saint David’s Day and even if they didn’t come to Cardiff for the NSDDP there would be something that would link them to the ‘Mother’ parade in Cardiff. The banner is based on the words and images of some of the lyrics ain the song and also symbols of Saint David’s Cathedral. It seems fitting that the first County Banner should come from Pembrokeshire, spiritual home of our Nation’s Patron Saint and also where I grew up. The full story about the banner and beautiful and inspiring images can be found here: http://www.fishguardartssociety.org.uk/ThePembrokeshireBanner.html

The Banner is now permanently on display in Saint David’s Cathedral and was blessed by The Right Reverend Wyn Evans, Bishop of Saint David’s in a Homecoming Ceremony attended by Fishguard Choir, Goodwick Brass Band, Civil Dignitaries, the makers and their friends and families last February.

Although the National Saint David’s Day Parade happens in Cardiff every year, the only thing that is really mobile about the parade is the song and banners which can be re-created ‘anywhere in the world’ by schools, Welsh ex-patriot groups, choirs and chapels.

I was recently invited to become an Ambassador for Cardiff in recognition of all the voluntary work I have done in developing Saint David’s Day Celebrations in Wales and further afield. I would like to develop this role long term to becoming the Saint David’s Day Ambassador for Wales working towards developing world-wide celebrations of our Nation’s Patron Saint, Dewi Sant

AmeriCymru: Do you think March 1st should be, or ever will be , a national holiday in Wales?

Gwenno: Back in the sixties all Welsh schools had a half day for Saint David’s Day with the Eisteddfod in the morning and the afternoon free. I think this would be a good compromise so that people would be able to go along to the Parade in the afternoon.

Ben Bore (Rhys) / Rhys Wynne
License CC Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5
AmeriCymru: OK...prediction time. How many people are going to turn out for the parade this year and what's the weather going to be like?

Gwenno: No idea how many people will be there this year. I do hope it will be successful as a huge amount of people’s hard work has gone into it over the last few years and it would be very sad for those efforts to have been wasted. I am no longer involved in the practical organisation as it was just too time consuming and I gave several years service duing which time it grew from a few hundred to many many thousands so I feel I have made my contribution on one level. I will continue to develop my own projects including the two Facebook groups I have set upand am focussing my efforts on developing the idea

AmeriCymru: Any final message for the readers and members of AmeriCymru?

Gwenno: Yes – use the two Facebook groups I have set up ‘Celebrate Saint David’s Day’ and ‘National Saint David’s Day Parade’ to let others know how you intend to celebrate Saint David’s Day. Get a copy of the song and sing it, make a banner either based on the Pembrokeshire Banner or on your own design, let’s grow these celebrations world-wide and make all those who came originally from this tiny little speck of a Nation realise that it is a very special place and we need to make a big noise about it. Come here on holiday, go and visit the Pembrokeshire Banner in Saint David’s Cathedral and remind yourself what a privilege it was for you to have Welsh blood coursing through your veins.

Interview by Ceri Shaw Email

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