Arrangements of Welsh Songs

On March 1st 2023, The Bridge Singers performed a concert of Welsh songs to mark St. David’s Day. Their guests were Harps Northumbria, the venue was St. Lawrence’s Church in Warkworth, and several of the choir arrangements were made by me.

The full programme and programme notes appear at the end of this blog, but first here are a few details and excerpts of these arrangements.

Ar Gyfer Heddiw’r Bore

We first sang this beautiful song by David Hughes in December 2022 as part of our Mary-themed Christmas recital, but the arrangement was made with this St. David’s Day concert in mind. We sang it again at the Brinkburn Priory Carol Service later in the month, and this recording is from that occasion. The photos are of the area of Wales around Pembrokeshire and are by Michael Camm, who happens to live there and also happens to be my brother!

Ar Lan Y Mor

Ar Lan Y Mor verse 4

I didn’t know this song before this concert was in the planning stages, but as soon as word was out, it was requested by Penny, a member of the alto section. I arranged it for the sopranos and altos in the choir, to counter the men-only Calon Lan arrangement! It is in fours parts, with one being added in each of the four verses. This clip is from the ending – the rest of the recording is somewhat blighted by some loud members of the audience unfortunately coughing with gusto!

Calon Lan

Calon Lan

I used to sing this song, in Welsh, with my primary school choir in Queensland. We did our learning of the pronunciation by listening to Bryn Terfel singing it. I made this arrangement about ten years ago, but the person who asked for it didn’t like it so it was never performed. The same person was in the audience for this performance on March 1st 2023, and declared it wasn’t as bad as he imagined! It is for tenors and basses only, in three parts.

David Of The White Rock

I have loved this song since I was very young and found it in a book of British folk songs in our piano stool. I first made an arrangement of this song for Matthew Landreth in Owaka in New Zealand. He wanted something to sing in a schools Chamber Music Contest for bass, flute and piano. I provided a version of this song, and along with a transcription of the Domine Deus from Vivaldi’s Gloria. I’ve also made a version for recorder ensemble, which I seem to recall won some competition in New Zealand in the 1990s! My love of this song has not diminished, so here’s another arrangement of it. It has quite scrunchy harmonies, and is filled with counter-melodies, overflowing and weaving in and out with the original, very beautiful melody. This recording is of that first performance by The Bridge Singers on March 1st 2023, complete with the noises of late-comers to the church! A member of the audience on this occasion liked it so much that he asked for an arrangement for his TTBB choir, so I’m still not done with the song!

The Dove

The rather mournful melody is taken mostly by the tenors here, with the other three parts providing a rocking accompaniment.

Hunting The Hare

Hunting The Hare

This is a very lively tune, and again I’ve done arrangements of it before. I’m not sure I like the sensibilities of the lyrics, as I quite like the hares I happen upon on my walks, and have embarked on a project of hare songs which are less about their destruction and more about the magic of them! Maybe I’ll write new words to this tune!

Here’s the full programme. If you’re planning your own Welsh-themed concert, it might give you some ideas! The readings were all chosen by Richard Evans, one of the basses in the choir, our resident Welshman, and the inspiring person who suggested the theme for this concert in the first place.

Programme: Title; Composer; Lyricist; Arranger; Snippet.

Three songs with particularly beautiful melodies:
Myfanwy, Joseph Parry/Richard Davies – a fellow gets a bit upset because his beautiful Myfanwy doesn’t seem to love him any more
Reading: The Not So Obvious Welshman, Idris Caffrey
David Of The White Rock, Trad./John Oxenford – a harpist is feeling desperately ill, but is cheered by the sight and feel of his harp
Hunting The Hare, Trad./A.P..Graves - quaffing landowners train their dogs to terrify and chase a hare.
Reading: On the Farm, R. S. Thomas. Richard chose the poems, but Ian declared “I’ll read the R.S. Thomas one – I met him once, you know!”

Four songs of love
Calon Lan, John Hughes/Daniel James – the lower voices of the choir hope that the way they live their lives will result in a pure heart.
The Dove, Trad./Maria Ximena Hayes – a rather pessimistic fellow predicts that a girl he’s taken a shine to will reject him, even though he hasn’t even spoken to her yet
Ar Lan Y Mor, Trad. – the  upper voices of the choir see nothing but beauty at the seaside…in nature and in their sweethearts, who live in beach huts.
Over The Stone, Trad./John Oxenford – A silent stone in the wilderness has witnessed all who have passed that way.
Reading: Fern Hill, Dylan Thomas, read by Judy

Five melodies for nine harps
Llety’r Bugail (The Shepherd’s Home), arr. Eira Lynn Jones   
Lisa Lan, arr. Veronica Gilbert  
The Ash Grove, arr. Janet Bennett  
Alaw yr ychen (The Melody of the Oxen), arr. Anne Macdearmid  
Cainc Ieuan y Telynor Dall (Ieuan the Blind Harper), arr. Veronica Gilbert 
Reading: Starlings, Catherine Fisher, read by Penny 

Three songs of war
The Camp, Trad./T. Oliphant – the sound of trumpets in the morning, heralds a day of bravery and fighting to come
The Marsh of Rhuddlan, Trad./”Alfred” arr. Daniel Protheroe  - the battle goes badly but the countryside in which they dwell is now calm and beautiful.
Men of Harlech, Trad./John Oxenford arr. Joseph Barnby  - undeterred, more men head off to fight, with stirring thoughts of patriotism and glory in their hearts. 

Four religious songs
Watchman Tell Us Of The Night (Aberystwyth), Joseph Parry/John Bowring – Two fellows have a chat about why they’re out at night.
Ar Gyfer Heddiw'r Bore, David Hughes – The story of Jesus from birth to death. 
On To Bethlehem Town , David Evans  - A gentle song of travellers heading to something important
Guide Me O Thou Great Redeemer (Cwm Rhondda), J. Hughes – it’s a rousing and well-known hymn, popular at weddings we can report from first-hand experience. Join in if you fancy!
Reading: Prologue, Under Milk Wood, Dylan Thomas. Buoyed by the thrill of reading some of Under Milk Wood at our Epiphany concert in January, Richard is back with more. “I’ll have to practise my Welsh accent!” he declared!

Seven more melodies for nine harps
Y delyn new ydd (The New Harp), arr. Anne Macdearmid
Suo Gan (Lullaby), arr. Charlotte Petersen
Welsh MedleyHelar's Ysgfarnog (Hunting the Hare); Gwenith GwynStrike the Harp; Dafydd Y Garreg Wen (David of the White Rock), arr. Anne Macdearmid
Daffodil Polka, arr. Anne Macdearmid

A song from the  17th Century
Too Much I Once Lamented, Thomas Tomkins - someone is happily in love, and tells us alternately how miserable he used to be and how joyous he is now.
Reading: Now The Town Is Dusk… from Under Milk Wood, Dylan Thomas, read by Richard

Three songs for the end of a concert
Eli Jenkins’ Prayer, Arthur Troyte/Dylan Thomas – a vicar says his evening prayer in the style of a plainchant.
Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau, James James/Evan James – the National anthem of Wales – do join in – words in Welsh and how to pronounce them are elsewhere in this programme.
Ar Hyd Y Nos/All Through The Night, Trad./Harold Boulton – a hopeful end-of-the-day song with all singers and harps together.
The programme front cover.

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