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Watch: Welsh female voice choirs then and now

12 Mar 2023 3 minute read
The Welsh Ladies’ Choir of Pontypridd, Pathe News, 1939; Valley Rock Voices choir, image by Edmund Shum, of Photography First

Wales is renowned as a Land of Song and much is written and heard about our ubiquitous male voice choirs which sprung up in the chapels and industrial heartlands.

But men are not the only hearty singers in our nation, and indeed there is a rich heritage of Welsh female choirs. This 1939 film from Pathé News, complete with RP voiceover and references to the ‘Land of the Leek’, shows the Welsh Ladies’ Choir of Pontypridd.

They wear traditional Welsh costumes – white lace shawls and tall black hats and a pianist accompanies them as they sing the ‘Bells of Aberdovey’, under the direction of Dame Muriel Jones.

Fast forward 85 years, and a 200 voice all female choir took to the stage this week at Swansea Arena, supporting Welsh legend Max Boyce and Wyn Evans.

Valley Rock Voices choir was founded by musical director Cerys Llewelyn-Bevan six years ago, having studied music at university and worked as a music teacher. She arranges the popular rock and pop songs, and teaches the choristers during their regular rehearsals.

With a nod to their Welsh costume clad ancestors, the 200-plus ensemble of women aged 21 to 80 were all dressed in red…but with so very many of them, the queue to get on stage went on and on and…on.

Mrs Llewellyn-Bevan says: “Wales is famous for having male voice choirs, we are a female voice choir, which is quite rare in Wales, I would say. We are also quite unique in that the repertoire that I choose makes us stand apart, as I like to do more rock and pop, accompanied by our four piece rock band.

“Singing, making friends and socialising and having immense fun, while teaching them at a high level so that they really feel like they are achieving something is my goal.”

She says the collective is about more than just singing – spin-off walking and swimming groups have formed, social and fund-raising activities arranged, and firm friendships forged.

In fact Mrs Llewellyn-Bevan said the best thing about Valley Rock Voices was the community created for mothers, grandmothers, doctors, lawyers, farmers, widows, cancer survivors, accountants, divorcees, dinner ladies, nurses, teachers, shop workers, bankers, housewives, students and carers. Members come from Swansea and further west as well as the Neath area.

So, in the spirit of International Women’s Day, have a listen to the choir in action during their summer concert at Swansea’s Brangwyn Hall last year, and check out their YouTube channel for more.

The choir’s repertoire includes the Bee Gees, The Killers, Katy Perry, Primal Scream – even a bit of rapper Stormzy.

Day-long “boot camps” are held on top of regular rehearsals at Neath Town Hall and St Peter’s Church, Newton, which conjures up images of exhausted recruits wading through rivers and doing press-ups.

“It’s much harder than that!” said Mrs Llewellyn-Bevan. “It’s 200 women for six hours a day.”

Cerys’ son Sam plays drums in the band and her husband Colin plays bass, while lead guitars are played by Rhys Whomsley and Christian Carpenter and keyboards are played by Phil Orrin.

You can follow the choir via their social media links here: Facebook  Instagram  Twitter

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