Friday, 22 January 2010

Welsh singing in a Welsh chapel.

I'm not a religious man, but the occasion can, sometimes, reduce me to tears.

Last Tuesday I attended the funeral of a man, whom I thought, I did not know, or indeed had ever met. Elizabeth, my wife, attends the same church, as his bereaved widow, and wanted to go along to pay her respects.

So we went to the Jerusalem chapel in Resolven, the next village down our valley, at the appointed time, and went in. Once in, we were met by a large crowd of mourners, already seated in the old fashioned gated pews of a typical Welsh chapel, all polished wood on two floors. In full view of the congregation, on the first floor was an organ, complete with lady organist, ready for the funeral to take place.

The coffin was brought in, followed by close family and relatives. Once they were seated, the pastor (forgive me if that isn't the correct title), said a few words about the order of the ceremony, a few words of prayer were said, and then we, the congregation were invited to sing the first hymn from the hymnsheet. It was in Welsh, my native tongue, which I'm ashamed to say, I do not speak, I only have a schoolboy smattering of the language. But I can, with that scant knowledge, read and pronounce my mother tongue, as well as any Welsh speaker, but sadly, not understand a word that I'm saying, or on this occasion was singing.

So it began, with the organ leading us in, then the first words of the hymn were sung by the chapel throng, try as I might, I had a frog in my throat, then tears, and almost immediately my eyes were streaming moisture down my cheeks. It took the first verse and chorus for me to be able to compose myself, enough to join in. Then it was wonderful.

In the first moments of that hymn, all sorts of things welled up inside me, my schoolboy Welsh, good old Sydney Jones, my Welsh language master from almost 50 years ago, my granny Curtis, who loved to read in Welsh from her bible, to her grandchildren, me and my twin sister, the Welsh singing from the glory days of Welsh rugby at the Arms Park, and much, much more. But most of all, it was the pure Welshness of it all.

To top that, the singing was marvellous, as only true Welshmen can muster in their first language, whether of their everyday use, or such as me, with only a schoolboy knowledge. Welsh truely is best heard in song, and it makes me so proud to be a Welshman.

That day, I was very proud to be a Welshman, I had brushed close to my roots, on an occasion I had not thought could trigger such emotions within me. I have to say, I feel so much richer for the experience, which came about by attending, as I thought, a stranger's funeral.

I was wrong on that count, I had met the deceased several times, exchanging a few friendly words. We were both pipe smokers, though I have long given up the fine art, I had commented and struck up a conversation, saying how much I missed my pipe. Since that time we had said hello and exchanged a smile on bumping into each other, around the village, over the last couple of years.


Antoine said...

Well written. A church would not be the first place you'd go looking for me either, but I'd like to hear that singing one day.

My parents are Danish and English and with New Zealand being such a young country I don't have that connection with the past. Cherish it.

Anonymous said...

Welshcyclist, that was a beautiful taste of home for me. I've had the same feeling when I hear the anthem sung at a football match. As you know I'm living in Canada and rarely get to Wales. But the other day I met a Weslh lady at the local bakery. It was wonderful to hear the accent she had from living up the valley many years ago.
There is something warm and wonderful about growing up in Wales. Cheers.

we;shcyclist said...

Hi Antoine, good to hear from you, and also you Svenny, it's been a long time. Sadly the singing is dying nowadays, particularly in the chapels, the congregations only consisting of older generations. Even the great singing of the the Arms Park has gone, for we now have the Millennium stadium, ordinary Welshmen, are now priced out of the venue more and more. As a result, less of the grass roots are there and the singing is losing it's "Hwyl", as they say in Welsh.