The annual Gymanfa Ganu (pronounced Ga-mahn-fa-Ga'-nee)
falls in this month this year, being held on Sunday,August 31
of Labor Day weekend. We are very fortunate to have this unique and inspiring
event as an important part of our heritage.
The director this year will be Mr. Trefor Williams
who is a native of Wales. He was born into a musical family in Trefor, Gwynedd,
of northern Wales. In 1998 Mr. Williams started on an around the world tour,
but was abruptly halted at his first stop in Milwaukee, Wisconsin by a
Welsh-American woman named Barbara who is now his wife.
Putting down his roots in Milwaukee, he decided to
turn his amateur musical career into a full time professional one. He has been
involved in performing and directing with a variety of organizations in
Milwaukee. He has many stories of Wales and how the wonderful old hymns were
Our soloist will be Mr. Joe Consiglio. He
studied voice at Washington University, earning a graduate degree in vocal
performance. After moving to New York City, he studied with acclaimed voice
teacher Cornelius Reid. He has appeared in roles with the Union Avenue Opera,
the Midland Reparatory Opera and the University of Houston Opera. He is the
son-in-law of David and Ann Rees.
Salem Church's free
Welsh festival of song is held every year on the Sunday evening of Labor Day
weekend; it has been an annual event since 1915.
The tradition can be traced back to the 12th Century in Wales where the
singing of hymns in four-part harmony began. It has been an important part
of the Venedocia Church's life since about 1915. To hear the grand old hymns
sung by several hundred voices is an unforgettable experience. People from
several states return each year.
The Gymanfa Ganu is the biggest event of the year in Venedocia.
People from all over Ohio and from many other states swell the village to
several times its usual population as they pack into the Salem Presbyterian
Church to sing in four part harmony. The church thunders with hundreds of
voices praising the Lord with English and Welsh language hymns. The front
doors of the church are left open and you can hear the singing a mile away
to the east. Very few participants actually speak or understand Welsh, but
you are given a Welsh hymn book which makes it easy follow along. A choral
director and guest soloists, often Welsh natives, are part of the program.
The audience acts as the choir. In essence, what happens is that a
professional choral director is hired to help the audience entertain itself
singing Welsh hymns.
Here is a description of a Gymanfa Ganu given by an observant first-time
gymanfa attendee, Sarah Bryan Miller:
"The Welsh are a nation of singers, and whenever two or three are
gathered together they perform in harmony, rarely unison. Singing is a part
of the culture....Welsh emigrants to America brought their vocal traditions
with them, and even now, the Gymanfa Ganu (pronounced 'gih-MAHN-vuh GAH-nee'
and translated as 'gathering for song') is a regular event in any community
with a significant Welsh population.
The hymns are not simply sung through at a Gymanfa. The director may pick
and choose among the verses; he may designate them for men's or woman's
voices; he may order the organist to drop out so that something may be
performed a cappella; he may repeat verses, either because they weren't sung
enthusiastically enough the first time, or because he likes them and he
feels like it. He decides what will be sung in English and what in Welsh.
The director works the dynamic levels and the tempi, swelling the sound
here, slowing the pace there.
The numbers sung were not all originally Welsh...but they were proudly
out of touch with certain trends in modern hymnody....unlike most
contemporary hymnals...the music does not patronize the congregation with
low-lying melody lines and missing harmonies: If you sing soprano, you'd
better have an F; if you don't have an F, you'd better be ready to sing
another part. This has the agreeable effect of making the alto line an
actual, singable alto line instead of a growly (for a woman) extra tenor
part. It challenges the congregation instead of condescending, and it
eliminates the boredom of singing all melody, all the time."