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Melbourne Welsh Male Choir Bendigo Concert
24 June, 2018 @ 2:00 pm - 4:00 pm25$ – 45$
The Melbourne Welsh Male Choir is marking winter with two major concerts – 2pm Saturday 23 June at the Melbourne Recital Centre and 2pm Sunday 24 June at Ulumbarra Theatre, Bendigo.
The 50-strong choir will be joined by acclaimed New Zealand-born bass-baritone, Teddy Tahu Rhodes, and Melbourne soprano, Kate Amos.
Terry Thomas and Gwyn Harper are living proof that singing – particularly singing in a choir – keeps you young.
Terry, 83, and Gwyn, 79, were both born in Wales and are long-time members of the Melbourne Welsh Male Choir which is gearing up for two major concerts in Melbourne and Bendigo in June. They swear by the physical, psychological and social benefits of collective singing – and the sheer joy it brings.
According to Terry, there’s a wonderful Welsh word for it – hywl, a stirring feeling of emotional motivation and energy.
“Singing makes me feel alive and happy. It means everything. I would be lost without it. I like golf but singing is so much better, so much more rewarding. If it weren’t for the choir, I’d be sitting at home twiddling my thumbs. You meet nice people and have lots of laughs. We exchange lots of insults, of the playful kind of course,” he said.
Terry was a founding member of the Melbourne Welsh Male Choir in 1984, one of twelve who branched out from the Cantorian Cymraeg after a disagreement.
“We invited our friends and the choir just grew. We welcome all comers – you don’t have to be Welsh. Many are Australian-born and there are Scots, Irish, Dutch, New Zealanders, even English! At other times our choir has included Tongans, Samoans, Latvians, Lithuanians and South Africans,” he said.
“We all get a lot out of it. Choristers who have had major surgery make huge efforts to turn up the rehearsals, even if they’re not up to official performances.”
Terry is renowned for his soaring solo performances.
Gwyn, 79, was recruited to the choir in 1992 by his daughter’s Welsh-language tutor and served a number of years as President.
“The average age of the choir is 70-plus and some have problems with their hips, knees, and backs or suffer from other ailments but members are totally committed to turning up every Wednesday night for three hours’ practice. At the end, we’re physically tired but also energised. There’s nothing like singing to get the old endorphins going,” he said.
“What we get most from, of course, is the audience reaction when we perform. We feed off it and each other.”
For Gwyn, one of the stand-out experiences was in South Africa in 1997.
“It was not long after the end of apartheid and we performed the protest song, ‘Senzenina’. Some whites walked out but the black South Africans were astonished and sang back ‘Shosholoza’ to us. It made our hair stand-up. And, in our hotel, when we’d rehearse the song in the bar at night, all the coloured staff would come up the stairs and sing with us,” he said.
“Another memorable time was in Canada when we performed on American Independence Day just two years after 9/11. One of the other choirs featured at the concert was composed of street kids from New York. When we sang ‘An American Trilogy’ in tribute, the kids burst into tears and it brought the house down.”
Gwyn says that performing in the choir is also good brain exercise.
“We all have to learn the songs by heart, since we do not use music on stage and it’s a lot of work. There’s also a lot of camaraderie that boosts us all. We stir the crap out of each other,” he said.
“More seriously, performing as a choir fills us with hiraeth, a Welsh word which means a deep longing for home. And, of course, you don’t have to be Welsh to feel that.”
David Ashton-Smith OAM, who became the choir’s director in early 2016, says that the great benefits of choral singing have long been evident to him.
“I’ve been involved with directing choirs of various persuasions for nearly 40 years. Science is now proving what we’ve known intuitively – that singing is good for you in every respect. It releases endorphins which reduce stress and anxiety levels and contribute to a positive mental state. It syncs heartbeats and endocrine systems and improves mood and overall well-being,” he said.
“Singing boosts the amount of oxygen in the blood, increases energy levels, and works out a range of muscles in the upper body. Music also exercises the brain. Learning new songs is cognitively stimulating and helps memory. It has been shown that singing can help those suffering from dementia.
“A joint study between Harvard and Yale in 2008 showed that regular singing can even increase life expectancy. The longevity of the Melbourne Welsh Male Choir certainly seems to bear that out.”