The Choral Tradition in Wales

3 May 2021

As Wales is known as a nation of music, specifically the ‘Land of Song’, Welsh National Opera is taking a look at some of the historic choral traditions that still remain today.

Often connected with male voice choirs, Wales is a nation recognised for its choral traditions which are rooted in the culture dating back to the 18th century. The occurrences of hymn singing and performances of religious compositions, brought together a rise in choral singing, outclassing playing instruments and congregational singing. The hymn singing festival, also known as the Cymanfa Ganu thrived as people sang together in harmony from various hymn books, and Wales soon witnessed a surge in congregational singing also through the formation of the Eisteddfod.

Some prominent male voice choirs in Wales today include Morriston Orpheus Male Voice Choir and Treorchy Male Voice Choir, among various others in the South Wales valleys, a region which is regarded as the hub of choral singing.

Choral singing in Wales has now become a multi-purpose practice, taking place not only in competitions, events and concerts but also occurs at national events such as rugby matches and festivals. The sense of unity and togetherness brings a joy of nationalism and patriotism to those when singing in a choir, being a unique part of Wales’ reputation as the ‘Land of Song’.

Not only did choral music flourish at the turn of the 20th century, but it also still remains as one of Wales’ leading forms of musical traditions, as we have witnessed several significant choral competitions that have taken place in Wales in more recent years. This development concurred with the formation of populous choral associations such as the Welsh Association of Male Voice Choirs, a society formed in 1962 which still exists today promoting choral singing in Wales. This society is responsible for organising the Festival of Massed Male Voice Choirs, held at the Albert Hall, London biannually, to engage and celebrate the art of male voice choral singing in Wales.

We also celebrate choral singing in Wales at the annual Eisteddfod, which includes dozens of choral competitions, ranging from youth to male voice choirs. In more recent years, there has been an increase in other choral competitions, such as Côr Cymru (the choir of Wales), involving several choral categories, from mixed choirs to children’s choirs; this contest promotes the art of choral singing on our media platforms in Wales. Celebrated internationally also, is Llangollen International Eisteddfod which displays choral singing at its best with choirs all around the globe competing for the renowned title of ‘Choir of the World’ in the small town in North Wales.

WNO is very proud of its origins in the communities of South Wales, where a group of people who loved to sing came together to form the Company back in 1943. Our history of choral singing continues to this day with our Community Chorus as well as the wonderful choral singing from WNO Chorus in the majority of our productions.