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January 18, 2011

It was definitely a brass band playing the tune “Jingle Bells” that we heard through the walls of the auditorium as we made our way into the building. The fact that it was January 15 brought out the humor, as we laughed and pinched ourselves for the good fortune of being at the Chepstow Leisure Center at last!. To hear a Christmas Concert performed by the Chepstow Male Voice Choir. On January 15, 2011!

The Chepstow Male Voice Choir

Let’s backtrack a bit. The original concert was scheduled for December 18. It snowed. A lot. The concert was rescheduled to another December night. It snowed. A lot. The concert was postponed, and then rescheduled for January 15. At last!

I had wanted to hear a Welsh Male Voice choir, live, for years. It’s a Welsh tradition dating back to the late 1800s. The north has its brass bands; Wales has its male voice choirs. And there is nothing so moving, uplifting, and heart-poundingly beautiful than listening, with your eyes closed, as the tenors, baritones and bases’ voices penetrate your soul.

Imagine this: A narrator is reading Dylan Thomas’ “A Child’s Christmas in Wales”

     “One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.”

In the background a hint of humming sneaks in to join the words, and as the poem unfolds, the delicate hum grows in volume. The words of Dylan Thomas seem written in a velvet snow that is the earth. The hum, its aura.

”Always on Christmas night there was music. An uncle played the fiddle, a cousin sang “Cherry Ripe,” and another uncle sang “Drake’s Drum.” It was very warm in the little house. Auntie Hannah, who had got on to the parsnip wine, sang a song about Bleeding Hearts and Death, and then another in which she said her heart was like a Bird’s Nest; and then everybody laughed again; and then I went to bed. Looking through my bedroom window, out into the moonlight and the unending smoke-colored snow, I could see the lights in the windows of all the other houses on our hill and hear the music rising from them up the long, steady falling night. I turned the gas down, I got into bed. I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept.”


Music is one of the threads that are woven into the tapestry of Wales. The coal miners sang as they marched into and out of the mines. The rugby fans of today sing. The Welsh National Anthem brings tears to the eyes of those big, strong, masculine Welsh men whenever they hear it. The song “Calon Lan”, a Welsh hymn written and set to music at the beginning of the 19th century, and asking God not for riches, but merely a “Clean Heart” is sung today at Welsh rugby games. Performed by the Chepstow Male Voice Choir, in Welsh, as is the custom for this hymn, it seemed translated and brought home as their voices blended and reached the heavens.

Not wanting to break the mood, the choir moved right into Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus,” grabbing and tugging and wrenching our emotions yet again.

When looking at the choir, I was tickled at the snow that topped most of their heads. Or was it their grey hair? Their ages only added the wisdom of life that words to a song need. These men were spritely, dressed in tuxedos for the first part of the concert, and sporty red sweaters (called ‘jumpers’ here in Wales) for the second. Donning their glitzy red Santa hats, their enthusiasm was contagious as the audience joined in the singing of favorite Christmas carols. It didn’t need to be Christmas (although, technically, we were still within the Christmas Season) to enjoy singing some of our favorite songs.

Musical Director Karl Daymond, resplendent in his “It’s Christmas, Kiss Me” tie, had toyed with some of the words of “Let it Snow.” Hands uplifted, as if in prayer, they begged to the heavens: “No more snow, no more snow, no more snow!”

Next December we will return to Chepstow for the Chepstow Male Voice Choir’s annual Christmas Concert. Or will it be January? Or February? Who knows. Who cares? Whatever the season, their voices will always bring Christmas to our hearts.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. mary Beth Halpin permalink
    January 18, 2011 1:52 pm

    One of your best, I feel like I too was there.


  2. January 18, 2011 2:27 pm

    It sounds WONDERFUL !! I am definitely coming with you next Christmas.

  3. Sal Davis permalink
    January 24, 2011 4:55 pm

    That sounds as though it was fabulous.

    There’s something about that mesh of voices that snares the heart. Male voice choirs are the best of the best, but when the boys were in good voice at the old Cardiff Arms Park you could hear them all over the city. Eisteddfodau may do their best to tame music but the wildness is still there to be heard.

  4. Sal Davis permalink
    January 25, 2011 6:40 pm

    Happy St Dwynwen’s Day –

    • January 25, 2011 8:39 pm

      For those who don’t know who St. Dwynwen was (and I had to look it up), she’s the Welsh patron saint of lovers. Happy St. Valentine’s day, early!

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