International Musical Eisteddfod – Llangollen, North Wales, Wales

Olympics of Welsh Culture

When a Welsh men’s choir bursts into song, the audience bursts into tears. For reasons lost in time, Wales has long been known for the heavenly quality of its renowned male voice choirs, characterized by polyphonic “hymn singing,” a kind of aural waterfall of many rhythms and melodies. The male choirs are a major attraction of the eisteddfodau, ancient Welsh festivals of music and culture that stem from a 12th-century Celtic tradition of traveling singing bards.

Many eisteddfods are held annually across the country but the two principal ones are the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod— considered the Welsh Olympics of poetry and song—with 12,000 performers of music, song, and dance from fifty different countries in colorful national costume, and the Royal National Eisteddfod, a totally Welsh festival (with headphone translation facilities avail­able), held in a different town every year.

Wales’s rich tradition of choral singing, pri­marily by men, was integral in preserving the Welsh language and continues to play a big part in both festivals. In a country barely the size of Massachusetts (or half the size of Switzerland), there are more than 100 male choirs with 60 to 100 voices that rehearse and give concerts year-round to prepare and qual­ify for the national event: rehearsals can be just as enjoyable as the big show, and visitors are welcome at most. Welsh ballads and spir­ituals are standard fare, but Broadway tunes and pop ditties (in Welsh) often turn up on the programs.

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