Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Singing for a Saint

My friend, Barrie Hibbert from Adelaide, sent this story and blessing which deserves to be passed on for reflection on St. David’s Day, regardless of your race:

“Hollalluog… hollalluog ydyw’r un a’m cwyd i’r lan.”

No doubt the sound of those words echoed around the Stade de France rugby ground in Paris on Saturday night. Just in case you didn’t recognize it…it’s the last line of the first verse of the famous Welsh hymn and rugby anthem, “Guide me O Thou great Jehovah!” But unfortunately, either there weren’t enough voices to sufficiently inspire the boys in red…or the boys in blue were just too good on the night.

I was hoping for a Welsh victory to set me up for a good celebration of St David’s Day this Thursday (1st March). But all was not lost. When I turned up at Church last night, Rosalind Gooden was leading the service, and she had taken a Welsh theme for the evening. All the hymn tunes were Welsh…Aberystwyth and Ebenezer among them, but sadly not my two favourites, Crugybar and Calon Lan.

Ros spoke about the life and influence of St.David, and also the great Welsh tradition of poetry and music…especially hymn singing. She also talked about the four great religious revivals that swept through Wales, and deeply affected the life of the nation. Apparently, at one point so many coal miners were caught up in the revival that the prevalent habit of swearing virtually disappeared: to the extent that the pit ponies could no longer understand their handlers’ instructions! At another time, the police had so little work to do that they formed themselves into quartets and went round the villages singing the Gospel message!

I was sitting in the pew quizzically pondering how authentic such tales might be, when my eye caught a notice in the bulletin. It was an announcement of a special Welsh singing festival - a Gymanfa Ganu – to be held at Flinders Street Baptist Church next Saturday night. No danger of us overlooking St David’s Day this year! But my heart really skipped a beat when I read that the evening was to be led by none other than The Metropolitan Mail Voice Choir.

I smiled at what I assumed was a misprint. But then I remembered that years ago somebody told me about an unusual singing group, the Adelaide Postmen’s Chorus. They sang choral arrangements of such great hits as that moving wartime ballad, “Dear John” and the Elvis Presley standard, “Return to Sender”. Their standard encore, “I’m gonna sit right down and write myself a letter,” always brought the house down.

There was a rumour going round at one stage that their choirmaster, Caradog Arwel Jones (aka “Jones the Post”), himself an Elder at the Welsh Chapel, was working on a musical setting of an oratorio using every verse of all thirteen of the letters of Saint Paul. Now wouldn’t that be something for a group of posties to sing about!

So perhaps the old Adelaide Postmen’s Chorus has gone up-market and re-named itself the Metropolitan Mail Voice Choir. All will be revealed on Saturday night. Meanwhile, to all my Welsh friends, and all lovers of things Welsh: 'Happy Saint David’s Day !'

Image: Google did not find a photo to match the Metropolitan Mail Voice Choir! Here's a photo of the Burlington Welsh Male Chorus.