By David Powell

Dowlais Male Choir is about to embark on a four day tour (19th – 23rd April 2018) to Belgium and France to commemorate one hundred years since the end of the First World War.

The world famous choir from Merthyr Tydfil was approached by Pontypridd Male Voice Choir, who had connections with Halluin, France and the Menin Gate, Ypres, and so a joint travel committee was set up and plans were put in place for the tour.

Over the last 50 years Dowlais Male Choir has traveled extensively to several countries including America, Canada, Northern Cyprus, Holland, France, Bulgaria, Ireland and Italy. However it has not toured since 2013, when the choir represented Wales at the International Celtic Festival in Lorient, Brittany.

Dowlais and Pontypridd have joined together for the first time. Both stage around 40 choristers at concerts and the Musical Directors, Jonathan Gulliford (Pontypridd) and Darya Brill-Williams (Dowlais) have been great friends for many years. Along with Pontypridd’s esteemed musical accompanist, Dorothy Davies-Ingram BEM it looks a perfect combination for this special performance at one of the world’s famous war memorials.

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Tyne Cot War Memorial

Before its performance at the Menin Gate, Ypres, the joint choir will visit and pay its musical tributes to the fallen at Tyne Cot War Memorial cemetery and the Welsh War Memorial Langemark. It will be an emotional visit – both choirs would be seeking to pay its respects to the fallen in the centenary year since the First World War ended.

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The Menin Gate Memorial

At the Menin Gate the choir chairmen, Andrew Herridge (Pontypridd) and Ian Hargreaves (Dowlais) will lay a wreath to commemorate the fallen to the sound of the “Last Post”. Interestingly and fittingly every evening since 1927 at 20:00 hrs, buglers from the Last Post Association, with the road which passes under the memorial closed, sound the “Last Post”. This was decided by the citizens of Ypres who wanted to express their gratitude towards those who had given their lives for Belgium’s freedom.

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Joint concert with Lyre Halluinoise

On the Saturday evening Dowlais and Pontypridd will perform together at the Église Notre Dame des Fievres à Halluin, as well as joining with with local choir “Lyre Halluinoise”, a Male Choir formed in 1883. Currently composed of 60 singers, it is directed by Michel Jakobiec, talented singer, Professor of Singing, Director of the Conservatory of Tournai and member of the Choral Commission of the Music Confederation of France.

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Église Notre Dame des Fievres à Halluin

Dowlais and Pontypridd will be performing well known musical items including Welsh hymns, sacred, modern and popular songs while “Lyre Halluinoise” have requested ‘You Raise Me Up”, “Myfanwy” and “Unchained Melody” for the joint items. It looks set to be a tremendous concert with the audience being treated to a wide ranging repertoire and linked to over 250 years’ experience of choral singing between the three choirs.

It is exciting for both Welsh choirs to have the opportunity of performing at the Menin Gate, to visit the war cemeteries and to entertain the people of Halluin on this awesome occasion. No doubt, long friendships created. “At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them” will most certainly be what individual members of the choir will bring back with them on their return home.  

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