Wales is a place renowned for its tradition of singing, but many of the old hymns aren’t heard much anymore. Inspired by a conversation with the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, The Rev Paul Bigmore, a Welsh priest, has written new words for old hymns in order to bring new life to the stirring music of traditional Welsh hymnody.
From the Church in Wales
“Father Paul Bigmore, who serves in Ynyshir, in the Rhondda Valley – an area once internationally famous for its hymn singing – has called the book Songs Of Praise The Valleys Sing. It includes tunes of once very well known Welsh hymns such as Blaenwern, Berwyn, Rachie, Ar Hyd Y Nos and Rhys.
Fr Paul, who has dedicated much of his ministry to bringing music back into people’s lives through his Music in the Community scheme, says, “The idea for the book came from a conversation with Rowan Williams who grew up in Swansea not far from where I did in Port Talbot. He was saying how sad it was that all those lovely hymn tunes and melodies we were brought up with were dying out fast. I decided there and then to do something about it.
“Singing is part of our Welsh tradition and culture, particularly in the Rhondda. We have a rich heritage of tunes that needs to be nurtured. Welsh hymns raise the spirits, gives impetus of hope and joy – and we saw that very recently at the Euro2016 games when the terraces of France resounded with Cwm Rhondda and Calon Lân as thousands of Welsh fans turned to our best known hymns to urge the team on – with considerable success too!
“While the fans know the tunes, though, not many of them know all the words or are even aware of our other great hymns. This is partly because they are in Welsh but also because the language is not understood – words like ‘co-eternal’, ‘consubstantial’, ‘ineffably sublime’ are a bit of a mouthful to today’s youngsters – they don’t know what they mean.
“My aim is to give these tunes a new lease of life by giving them words that people will understand and remember. I also want to rekindle our culture of hymn singing. We live in a world where there is great need. Loneliness, rejection, isolation and poverty affect many people within our communities. I hope that by bringing people together of all ages to sing these hymns – in one voice – the above concerns may alleviate in some way for the good of all.”
“The new hymnal, called Songs Of Praise The Valleys Sing will be dedicated by Dr Morgan during a service at St John the Baptist church, Cardiff, on September 17 at 2pm. BBC Wales presenter Roy Noble will introduce items and two of the hymns will be sung by Llandaff Cathedral Girls’ Choir. A choir of children from the Rhondda – Cor y Cwm – will also perform and the congregation will have the chance to sing five of the hymns themselves too.
The service will also mark the 50th anniversary of the Aberfan disaster. A soprano soloist will sing Fr Paul’s setting of In Expectation, a poem by Rhondda poet Dr Christine James in memory of those who died.
All proceeds from sale of the new hymnal will be going to the charity Dreams and Wishes which supports seriously ill children and their families.”