Monday, October 25, 2004

Save the Wales

It was that time again. That time when the good, hale and true Welshfolk gather for the annual Mitten version of the Gymanfa Ganu.

"The whatsa-whatsit??" I hear you ask.

The Gymanfa Ganu -- For which there are National Associations, whose purpose is "to preserve, develop, and promote our Welsh religious and cultural heritage and our religious and cultural traditions, including, but not limited to the Gymanfa Ganu*, and to do all things necessary and proper to accomplish and enhance the same".

"No help at all," I hear you say.

Y Gymanfa Ganu -- a Welsh cultural tradition, is a hymn-singing festival characterized by choral singing in four part harmony which dates back more than 150 years.

"Aha!" I hear you exclaim.

Yes indeed, oftentimes where there is singing, there is Tuna. And where there is singing with a big Welsh Carrot decorated with dollar signs, then most definitely there is Tuna. Sign me up. I'm as Welsh as the next fish.

My role in this particular Hymn Shout was that of "relief singer." In other words, after several hymns, the participants would rest their bruised and battered vocal cords while I regaled them with my comprehensive repertoire of Welsh folksongs (read: four). After my sets, they would rise again, ready to do battle with the likes of Cwm Rhondda or Hyfrydol.

On the surface, it doesn't seem like such a bad setup. And I must admit, a day later with check in hand, the entire memory is much more pleasing. But to get the full flavor of this annual vocal pilgrimage to Mecca on the Moorland, you need to understand a few basics about the annual Gymanfa Ganu.

First of all, The Welsh are a real CAPS LOCK, LEANED OVER, BOLD kind of people. They are serious about their homeland and they are serious about their music. Who else would SUE (and win, I might add) because a performing Welsh choir wasn't Welsh ENOUGH? I'm telling you, you don't mess with the Welsh.

Their mascot is a bad-ass red dragon

and their other national emblem is a Leek

This endearing symbol has, more recently, been replaced by the slightly cheerier daffodil, because as festive as they may seem, an onion crammed into one's lapel just doesn't really say Party Down With a Sheep, now does it?

So yes, the Welsh are tough and oniony. And they love themselves some music. And they love to sing themselves some music in their native tongue. And they love to sing themselves some music in their native tongue even if they have never spoken the native tongue -- sober, anyway. And they love to sing themselves some music in their native tongue even if they have never spoken the native tongue -- sober, anyway -- Really Really Really Really Really REALLY REALLY REALLY LOUDLY.

In addition to the rule that, as a Welsh hymn shouter, you have a cultural predisposition to dial it up to 11, there are two important corollaries. The first is, the louder you sing, the slower you go. One reason is so you, and your neighbors, and your neighbor's neighbors, and your neighbor's neighbor's to come can longer and longer enjoy the GLORIOUS LOUDNESS of the human voice. Another, more practical reason is that a slower tempo will delay your head exploding.

"Exploding?" You gasp.

As all Good Welsh singers know, with each successive verse, the face turns a little purpler and the neck veins bulge out a little bit more, until at last, in a fit of Welsh ecstasy, your head explodes.

The second corollary is if a refrain done once is good, then a refrain done twice is better, and a refrain done ONE MORE TIME (for the 97th time) is Welsh, WELSH, WELSH! This repetitive repetition provides the singer with an impressive shade of purple. And then, of course, your head explodes.

The Welsh language is a Scrabble-player's dream. Consonants outnumber vowels three-to-one. Think of the points you'd get with cwyd, and ynof and bywyd, Oh MY!

Arglwydd, arwain trwy’r anialwch,
Fi bererin gwael ei wedd,
Nad oes ynof nerth na bywyd
Fel yn gorwedd yn y bedd:
Ydyw’r Un a’m cwyd i’r lan.

Speaking it, though, is a whole other ballgame.

I like to think of myself as a teensy bit of a language snob. Not because I am particularly fluent in many, but I've sung enough and have a good enough ear to be able to approximate all sorts of sounds and offend speakers of languages both living and dead. I mean, I've sung in Sanskrit, and I'm here to tell you that never ever have I had a single Sanskritian complain about my diction. So, I must be doing something right.

I used to think Dutch was the funniest language, because it looked and sounded like a cross between drunken German and bastard English. Welsh isn't like that at all. My best description of the Welsh language is an unholy union of Klingon and Hairball. Ergo, if you have a long-haired urp-prone cat who enjoys watching Star Trek, it probably speaks Welsh fluently.

So, this Christmas, if you get the burning desire to have your own little private Gymanfa Ganu I leave you with this inspiration. Just think to yourself, What Would Welsh Worf Do? And then sing Silent Night Really, Really REALLY REALLY REALLY FREAKING LOUD.


Who needs calm and bright, anyway?


TVJ said...

I must admit, the CAPS LOCK, LEANED OVER and BOLD thing doesn't surprise me just for the fact that Wales has given us .. TOM JONES and CATHERINE ZETA-JONES.

uh .. I guess I can't make my comment have CAPS LOCK, LEANED OVER AND BOLD characters?

Oh, well. You get the picture!

Gary said...

Hey, are Tom and Catherine related?? Hmmmmm..

Anyway, this sounds a lot like Gaelic, which is part of Nova Scotia's background. No one speaks it anymore, but a few music groups like The Rankin Family still sing it. And, my brother (who lives in NS) is learning it and is actually part of some organization whose aim it is to sustain the language. I have to say, it makes absolutely no sense to me, and sounds NOTHING like it is spelled.

Anonymous said...

Do you think most people actually try to "sound out" those words? As if there were some sort of phonetic possibility in English? Or does everyone just gaily skip over them knowing there's not a snowball's chance in hell they'll ever sound like anything? This Tuna wants to know.

Anonymous said...

this made me sorry I missed the Gymanfa!
It's a shame they only come around once a year!