Top Welsh choir goes back to its roots – in America

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Cor Y Penrhyn.

The American descendants of one of Wales’ oldest male voice choirs will get to hear them sing at a special USA concert tour.

The visit to the States will be one of the highlights of a momentous year for Cȏr y Penrhyn that will also see them perform with the world famous Black Dyke brass band in Llandudno.

The Bethesda-based choir are also celebrating the 10th anniversary of having their Musical Director, Owain Arwel Davies, at the helm.

In the meantime, they are preparing to perform at a special event in the US Slate Valley region where due to a quirk of history, Welsh culture and choral traditions are thriving.

They will be guests of the Poultney Area St David’s Society, based at the heart of the Slate Valley region in Vermont and New York State, where many workers from Penrhyn quarry, where the choir was formed in 1893, emigrated to in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

While in America they will perform at America’s National Cathedral in Washington DC on August 27.

They will also be guests at the week-long North American Festival of Wales in Columbus, Ohio, being held from September 3-6, where they be following in the footsteps of Only Men Aloud to star in the gala concert on September 5. The next day they will be taking part in a hymn singing event or “Cymanfa Ganu”, conducted by Owain Arwel.

The USA tour will be the culmination of a high profile year of events for the choir, which is also preparing for a concert with the world renowned Black Dyke brass to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Owain Arwel Davies’s time with the choir, at Venue Cymru on June 20.

Owain Arwel, who is head of music at Ysgol Tryfan in Bangor, is also a trombone player with a background in brass bands, performing in his youth with the National Youth Brass band of Wales and for many years with Seindorf Beaumaris Band.

Choir spokesman Alun Davies said: “We wanted to do something special to celebrate Arwel’s 10 years with us, and we thought what better way than to combine his two passions, choral music and brass bands.

“The Black Dyke band is the premier brass band in the UK and it will be an honour to share a stage with them.

“We chose Venue Cymru as we thought it was the right place in North Wales to stage a concert of this size and prestige.”

The Black Dyke Band from Queensbury, West Yorkshire, is one of the oldest and best known brass bands in the world and among their many accolades, in 2014, they completed the “double” when they won the National Brass Band Championships of Great Britain for a record 23rd time, and also won the British Open Championship for a record 30th time. They have also won the European Brass band Championships a record 12 times, most recently in 2012.

The 70-strong will be visiting America in late August and early September.

In particular many are looking forward to a warm welcome in the Slate Valley region.

The largest influx of quarry workers came after the great strike of 1900 to 1903, one of the longest disputes in British industrial history, sparked when bosses at Penrhyn quarry tried to clamp down on the formation of a slate workers’ union.

Many settled around the town of Poultney, where their influence is still felt today as their Welsh culture and in particular love of singing, was passed down through the generations.

Poultney still considers itself a ‘sister’ town to Bethesda.

The Green Mountain College of Poultney, offers a special Welsh heritage culture programme, set up to cultivate the cultural legacy of the slate workers and foster an interest in Wales among students. Across the border in nearby Granville, New York, the Slate Valley museum also focuses on this unique heritage.

Janice Edwards, from Poultney’s St David’s Society, said: “Many, myself included, have relatives in Wales still that we have kept in touch with for generations.”

Alun Davies added: “We got such a welcome in Poultney in 1993 and again in 1999 we had two sell out concerts, so everybody is looking forward to seeing old friends again”.

“It’s lovely to be in this place in America which is so Welsh, where people feel we are part of their family”.

The 1993 concert in Poultney marked the centenary of the choir’s first trip to America, in 1893 to attend a world fair in Chicago.

Mr Davies said: “To perform at the North American Festival of Wales is such an honour, we performed there once before in 2006 when the event was held in Cincinnatti, so to be invited to perform there twice in 10 years is amazing.”

Tickets are on sale for the joint concert by Cȏr y Penrhyn and Black Dyke Band, priced £20 and £17.50 by contacting the Venue Cymru box office, or call the choir’s ticket sales hotline: 01248 601167. The event will start at 7pm, on June 20.

For more information about the choir and where they’re performing go to www.corypenrhyn.org or check out their Facebook page.