Voices of The Valley

Suddenly, a spotlight falls: in its beam, dust swirls. At a subtle gesture from the Musical Director, the quiet singing of tens of men begins. Barely audible, the controlled sound gradually builds and swells with a rich, resounding beauty, filled with more than musical notes alone. This is the sound of Froncysyllte Male Voice Choir, big voices from a small town, whose powerful and emotive performances have made them one of the most celebrated in the world.

“Sweet are the pleasures that to verse belong, and doubly sweet a brotherhood in song”

In 1946, following the devastation of the Second World War, the people of Llangollen issued an international invitation to choirs to compete the next year in a musical competition: “as a gesture of good fellowship”, declaring movingly: “Though this expression of a small mountain town’s boldness for peace may be far less spectacular than a deed of war, it is at least constructive, opening a door, maybe a narrow one, through which men and women of many lands may meet freely in friendship stimulated by their mutual love of music-making”.  The inaugural competition in 1947 was a great success, with groups from 10 foreign countries making the trip to Llangollen, to join around 40 choirs from across the UK. Inspired by this, and the message of peace and hope it conveyed, residents of Froncysyllte resolved to form their own choir to compete the following year. In order to do so however, the choir had to be 60 voices strong, so young men of the village were encouraged to join, persuaded by Wilfred Jones, leader of the village youth club, and in 1947 Fron Choir had the youngest membership of any Welsh Male Voice Choir. Led by their first Musical Director, Lloyd Edwards, a local piano teacher, the choir went on to forge a reputation for excellence, winning a number of major competitions before his death in 1970. Though the choir came second at the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod under Lloyd Edward’s baton in 1966 and 1968, it wasn’t until 7 years after his untimely death that the choir finally won the competition, in 1977. They did ‘the double’ that same year by also winning their category at the National Eisteddfod of Wales, before going on to win at Llangollen again in 1987, 1994, and 2018.

Current MD, Leigh Mason, took on the role in March 2010, making her the fifth conductor of the choir and the third female conductor. Over the years, Leigh has conducted more than 100 concerts, from various locations in the UK and Ireland, to international destinations, and her dynamic and energetic style of conducting has become as integral to the choir’s performances as their singing. She has led the choir to success in a number of choral competitions, including the Isle of Man Festival of Choirs, the Derry International Choral Festival, and the 2017 Cornwall International Male Voice Choir Competition, where the choir dominated. Despite these accomplishments, Leigh considers leading the choir to victory in the Male Voice category at the Llangollen International Music Eisteddfod in July 2018 to be her greatest accomplishment to date, describing it as “achieving one of my life’s ambitions.” At the same competition, the choir’s accompanist, Jason Ellis, was singled out by competition judges for the sensitivity of his playing. An accomplished musician and freelance music composer, arranger and transcriber, Jason was appointed as Fron Choir’s principal accompanist in 2010, and has also travelled widely with the choir. On their 2018 visit to Austria, he had the thrill and honour of accompanying the choir at Salzburg’s Dom Cathedral, where both Mozart and his father were court musicians. He regularly performs piano recitals, and has his own piano tuition practice. Since 2014, he has also been the resident pianist at Liverpool Empire Theatre.

Fame Comes Knocking

Daniel Glatman, the manager of boy band, Blue, was “blown away” when he first heard the choir sing at a wedding, under the direction of then MD, Anne Atkinson. Moved by their passion and pride, which he said: “made the hair stand up on the back of my neck”, he signed them in 2006  to Universal Music, the record company behind some of the biggest names in world music. Their debut album, ‘Voices of the Valley’, was released in mid-November of the same year, making it into the album charts in its first week of release. Going on to sell more than half a million copies, the album remained at number one in the classical chart for 11 weeks. The follow-up album, ‘Voices of the Valley Encore’, was also a hit, going platinum with 300,000 sales and earning the Fron their first Classical Brits nomination in 2008, which they repeated in 2009 and 2010. The choir also came to the attention of Zygi Kamasa, a producer on the film Bend It Like Beckham, and co-producer of George Clooney’s Good Night and Good Luck. He intended turning the choir’s story into a film to rival Calendar Girls, and though the project unfortunately never came to fruition, the choir members had great fun in imagining who might play them in the film!

Gwlad y Gân/The Land of Song

The Welsh love of song pervades life here. Not just the reserve of male voice choirs, it is also evident among the country’s fervent rugby and football fans. Think of the passionate renditions of Dafydd Iwan’s ‘Yma o Hyd’ at the 2022 World Cup, which brought Dafydd himself to tears, or the spine-tingling verses and soaring chorus of Hen Wlad fy Nhadau at Welsh Rugby internationals. Even in the pubs of Wales, spontaneous singing will often break out. It is inherent to the people of the country, a deep-rooted part of tradition and nationhood.

Forged in the boiling cauldron of 18th and 19th century religious and industrial revolution, Welsh male voice choirs are the embodiment of this passion, and are regarded around the world as the best of their type. The proud heritage of Froncysyllte Male Voice Choir is a true testament to the stirring power and lasting legacy of this Welsh musical tradition. Their passionate performances and moving harmonies have earned them international recognition, and have helped to carry Welsh culture and music far across the world. Froncysyllte Choir’s impact and legacy is immense, as is their continued contribution to their beloved country of Wales, the fabled Land of Song.

Please follow and like us:

Leave a Reply

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked *