Wales: The Land of Song

1 March 2021

The opening scene from The Sound of Music is without a doubt one of the most recognisable scenes in film history. The iconic filming location where the young Maria, performed by Julie Andrews, sings 'The hills are alive with the sound of music'is in the German Alps near the Austrian border. However, it could have easily been shot here, in the rolling hillsides of Wales.

Our small Celtic country, which homes 3.1 million people, is filled with beautiful natural landscapes. Around a quarter of the country lays either within one of its three National Parks - Snowdonia, the Brecon Beacons and the Pembrokeshire Coast - or one of its five Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty: Llŷn Peninsula, the Clwydian Range and Dee Valley, the Gower Peninsula, Anglesey and the Wye Valley.

Over recent months many of us have been unable to access and enjoy these locations, leaving us reminiscing of a time gone by. Here in Wales we have a term for that feeling - hiraeth - a blend of homesickness, nostalgia and longing. It’s a term that perfectly encapsulates our feelings of loss of a place, time and people during the coronavirus pandemic.

While we at Welsh National Opera have been able to keep the music alive, albeit online, we yearn to return to our stages, to roam the landscapes of our motherland and share our music with you, our loyal audiences, live.

Nicknamed the ‘Land of Song’, Wales has a historic singing tradition. As a nation we grow up singing in school, at parties, in church. We compete at the National Eisteddfod, the largest festival of competitive poetry and music in Europe. Singing and choral singing in particular is part of Welsh identity and tradition, and you can find Welsh choirs across the globe, from Sydney to Boston. To quote the 1941 Oscar-winning adaptation of Richard Llewellyn’s novel How Green Was My Valley, 'Singing is in my people as sight is in the eye'.

The nation's passion for singing is what led to the formation of Welsh National Opera all those years ago. Our first Music Director, Idloes Owen, was a choirmaster of the Lyrian Singers - a Cardiff based Male Voice Choir - and under him they gained a considerable reputation both inside and outside Wales. From what originated as a group of voluntary singers and musicians, our two full-time ensembles - WNO Chorus and WNO Orchestra - sit at the heart of WNO.

Coronavirus may have silenced our stages but as Dafydd Iwan says ‘Er gwaetha pawb a phopeth, ry’n ni yma o hyd’ [In spite of everyone and everything, we are still here] and we cannot wait to return to what we do best - performing for you - when it is safe to do so. In the meantime, enjoy Hiraeth, a staple of the Welsh Male Voice Choir repertoire, performed by the men of WNO Chorus.