Ontario Welsh Festival, Niagara Falls, April 24-26, 2015
How does one begin to write about an event that has been described by so many as “the best one ever”? What made this Gymanfa weekend different from all the others? The major factor was the guest choir and its illustrious, talented director: Côr Rhuthun under the leadership of the famous Robat Arwyn. What a marvellous feast- not only musically but also socially. We fell in love with them all!
What makes this choir so very special? They all have splendid voices, they “live” the music, they have an incredibly special director, and they exude enjoyment. There isn’t a chorister in the North American Welsh Diaspora who isn’t familiar with Arwyn’s music and it was a huge bonus for him to hear his works sung this side of the Atlantic. Côr Rhuthun included several of his works in their repertoire. If I were forced to choose my current favourite it would probably be Anfonaf Angel (I’ll send an angel) – extremely beautiful and emotional. It has become the “anthem” of Air Ambulance Wales, recorded by Rhys Meirion (one of the Three Welsh Tenors and a previous member of this choir). But we heard several of my “favourites” during the weekend. Last month’s #1 on my chart was Arwyn’s “Benedictus”. Next week it could well be “Mae’r Sêr yn canu” or their version of “Rwy’n dy weld yn sefyll”. This prolific composer has provided us with an amazing repertoire – and will continue to do so, God willing.
Another factor in the success of the weekend was the dedication and hard work of Board members. We each have our responsibilities which we carry out as best we can. We are a team! This ensures the smooth running of all events, starting with the Noson Lawen on Friday evening. Our emcee, Myfanwy Bajaj, was at her best and kept us in fits of laughter as she wittily introduced Arwyn and the choir and other participants. A really great Noson lawen!
No-one comes to this weekend for a rest! I always reserve a Falls View room as the only opportunity I have of seeing one of the Wonders of the World is from my bedroom window early morning and late at night!
Saturday was chock-a –block, as usual. In between rushing from the AGM to Awr y Plant and to Seminars, we dashed off to the Market Place, once again a wonderful place to do ones early Christmas Shopping or just purchasing that special me-to-me gift! (I’m quite good at the latter, I’ll admit.) Tea, Welshcakes and Bara Brith galore awaited us as we snatched a few minutes R&R to socialize with friends.
Niagara Falls and the surrounding areas are steeped in history, especially that of the War of 1812. A trip around these historic venues was arranged for Saturday afternoon and on Saturday morning, during Awr y Plant, the children were visited by the famous character ‘Mrs Laura Secord’, who related how she saved the British from a planned ambush by the American infantry. Dressed in costume, ‘Mrs Secord” told us about her life during this tumultuous period. The family lived in the neighbouring village of St David. Any connection to Dewi Sant, do you think??
There were seminars for those of us who chose to remain at the hotel: ‘Know Your Wales?’ by Ian White and ‘Google Wales’ by Sian Thomas. Ian, in addition to showing us delightful photographs of Wales, quizzed us on whether we could identify these places, plus were we aware of their significance. I did not score 100%!!
Winner of this year’s Gold Award was Harold Woodey, unfortunately too infirm to attend the Banquet. A very moving video had been recently made of Harold “then and now” by President Donna Morris and Vice-President Julie Wenz. Quite emotional for those of us who have known Harold for many years!
For me the pinnacle of the weekend is the concert by the visiting choir. And, believe me, I was beyond delighted. However much I had anticipated this event, I had not expected it to be so much more than I could have wished for. For once in my life I was at a loss for words!! Adding to the wonderful voices of the choristers were soloists Kate and Meirion. Kate has won the Soprano solo at the Eisteddfod six times and Meirion is the winner of Y Rhuban Glas (the Blue Ribband). A combination of their superb conductor, the phenomenal voices and a wonderful repertoire resulted in a concert that I and many, many others will remember for a very long time. The ensuing emotion resulted in several of us being overwhelmed when the concert finally came to an end.
Sunday is the reason why this Festival began- namely the two Gymanfa sessions. Under the leadership of Arwyn we produced singing that can best be described as ethereal. I’m not sure who enjoyed the experience the most, us the congregation or Arwyn, our conductor. All too soon Alan Thomas, our organist was playing Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau, followed by our traditional hymn of farewell: God be with you till we meet again.
If you were lucky enough to attend this particular Gymanfa weekend, I’m positive you’ll agree with the above. If you missed out, I’m so sorry. Do your best to attend next year’s Ontario Welsh Festival in Ottawa. I guarantee a splendid weekend.
Hefina Phillips