History


The Welsh male voice choir is a Welsh institution, associated with the coal mining communities of South Wales.

These choirs have their roots in Methodism, and whilst their repertoires are particularly strong on hymns, over recent years the choirs have broadened their appeal with more popular items such as songs from the shows. It is a sad reflection on modern life that many of the smaller choirs have ceased to exist.

Many people may wonder where Tonna is situated.

The village of Tonna is situated in South Wales, at the foot of the Neath Valley just 1 mile from the town of Neath itself and approximately 9 miles from Swansea. It is in close proximity to both the Aberdulais Falls (National Trust Property) and the Aberdulais Canal Basin.

THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE TONNA MALE VOICE CHOIR

The Tonna Male Voice Choir evolved from a weekly “sing-a-long” at the Railway Tavern in Aberdulais.

From this group of men with a love of singing, in keeping with the Welsh tradition, it was not long before a committee was formed, and thus the foundation for the Tonna Male Voice Choir was laid. The choir’s first Chairman was Mr Harold Bradley with Mr Clive Evans as Secretary.

An initial membership of 16 in 1968 increased rapidly and within a year the choir was some 60 strong which necessitated a change of rehearsal room from the Railway Tavern to the Tonna Junior School.

Membership continued to increase and by 1971 the choir numbers had grown to over 80.

This strength of numbers continued for several years, but then in common with most other choirs in the area, the declining industrial base in the area took its toll and numbers started to decline. There has been a revival of interest over recent years and the current membership of the choir stands at 47.

The first conductor of the choir was Mr. Les Davies from Neath who was at the helm for 6 years, and who was responsible for setting the choir onto the narrow path that is the search for excellence.

When he retired in 1974, his successor was Mr. Sid Jones, who held the baton for 4 years. Following the retirement of Mr. Jones, Mrs. Mair Lewis was appointed.

At this time she was most probably the youngest conductor of a male voice choir in Wales!

Mrs. Lewis was the Musical Director for 18 years and together with accompanist Lianne Miller was instrumental in pushing the standards of the choir a little further along that elusive search for perfection.

Next to take up the baton was Aled Maddock who remained in charge for 5 years before pressure of other commitments forced him to stand down.

Today’s Musical Team consists of:-

Musical Director – Susan Hopkins. Born in Resolven, Susan who lives in Tonna, has progressed “through the ranks” of the choir so to speak.

She joined the choir in 1986 as assistant accompanist, and was appointed to the post of Musical Director in 2002. Susan was a teacher at Tonna Primary School where she was also music co-ordinator until her retirement in 2008. Susan is a former pupil of Madam Eileen Gething Jones of Tonna.

Accompanist – Geraint Hopkins. Geraint, who was brought up in Tonna, now lives in Llanharan.

Although joining the choir as Accompanist in 2012, he has been associated with Tonna Male Voice Choir since childhood, being the son of our Musical Director, Susan and long serving member of the Baritone section, his father, Rod.

Geraint began accompanying the choir during his teenage years, and accompanied the choir on tours to Canada and Holland. In 1997 Geraint moved away to study at the University Of Liverpool and thereafter to London.

He returned to Wales in 2002. Since 2004, Geraint has been the County Borough Councillor for Llanharan in Rhondda Cynon Taf, where he also serves as Cabinet Member for Children’s Social Services and Equalities. He also works for Churches Together in Wales as their public affairs officer.

Accompanist – Margaret Robinson

The choir are delighted that they have recently obtained the services of another fine musician to accompany the choir, she is: –  Mrs. Margaret Robinson, further information  is to be found on the Profiles page.

This new appointment will enable the choir to continue to function at a high level of excellence.

Of the original band of choristers we were proud that until recently there were still 3 founder members in today’s choir.

Unfortunately there is now only 1 founder member remaining. There are also several current members who joined the choir shortly after its formation; this is truly outstanding service by any standard of measurement.

The committee are proud to have presented 14 long service members with their 25 year badges over recent months, including our Musical Director Susan Hopkins.

The choir made its first public appearance on Thursday 24th April 1969 at St. Catherine’s Parish Hall, Melyn, Neath in a concert for Christian Aid.

This tradition of supporting charity has continued to the present time with some 90% of choir concerts being for charitable purposes.

The choir are proud of their achievements in having raised many hundreds of thousand pounds for charity since its formation, and has recently registered as a Charity in England and Wales.

With the closure of the Tonna Junior School the choir were once again forced to move “home”, this time a short distance to the new Community Centre which is still the headquarters of the choir, and where it practices on Monday and Wednesday evenings, and where new members are assured of a warm and friendly welcome.

The choir’s first Annual Concert was performed at the Welfare Hall in Resolven on Thursday 22nd January 1970. This venue was used for several years for the Annual Concerts of the choir, as unfortunately there were no suitable buildings in the village of Tonna to accommodate such an event.

On September 1st 1971 the choir made their first Radio broadcast on the BBC Welsh Programme, “AWR GERDD”. It is interesting to note that the supporting artists on this programme were also from the village of Tonna. From this first excursion into the world of radio, the choir has now made several broadcasts.

The choir’s first appearance on Television was in 1977 during a tour to Scotland, since then they have appeared several times, featuring on programmes as diverse as “Songs of praise” and Channel 4’s “Big Breakfast”.

The choir also recorded a series of programmes for BBC Radio Cymru which was broadcast in the Autumn of the year 2000.

With the increasing popularity of the choir, several requests were being received for recordings and so, in September 1981 the decision was taken to put the sound of the choir onto record.

The making of a recording requires a substantial financial investment and fortunately a sponsor was found to finance the venture, this proved to be a successful venture because within a short time of the recording “Take me Home” going on sale, the choir were able to repay the sponsorship.

The choir has since made another five recordings, this time financed completely from within the choir (valuable assistance being provided by the Ladies Section) in November 1986 the recording “Memories” was released and in May 1993 to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the choir the recording “A Silver Celebration” was issued.

All these recordings have proved popular with audiences throughout the country and the decisions to invest in these recordings have proved worthwhile.

To keep up with the new technology, in September of 1999 the choir released their first CD “Unwaith Eto / Once Again” this was also released on tape, the choir then released a CD entitled “KILGWRRWG”, which was a joint recording with Chepstow M.V.C. and features tracks from both choirs as well as joint items.

The choir released another recording in 2013, “Feel The Spirit”, the cover for which was designed by a pupil from the Tonna Community School.

The choir has toured extensively throughout the UK and has on several occasions toured abroad.

The choir’s first overseas tour was in 1980 when, with some trepidation the choir ventured from the shores of the British Isles to Italy.

This trepidation was unfounded as the tour was a huge success both on and off the stage.

Since then the choir has travelled extensively and made numerous friends in Sweden, Brittany, Germany, Italy, Malta, Ireland, Holland, Canada and Prague as well as all corners of the British Isles, the choir were also privileged to be part of the inaugural World Choir event at Cardiff Arms Park in 1992 and to have participated in the Millennium Songs of Praise at the Millennium stadium in Cardiff to celebrate the dawn of the new Millennium.

This making of friends has not been confined to the outward tours of the choir as Tonna has on many occasions been delighted to play host to visiting choirs.

The choir were particularly pleased in their 25th anniversary year to welcome back to Wales for their third visit, the Doremi choir from Gothenburg, the Doremi choir were also celebrating their Golden Anniversary; it speaks volumes that they chose to visit Tonna as part of their celebration.

The choir has always been keen to encourage young artists to take part in their Annual Concerts, and wherever possible these are local artists, and the choir are delighted that many of these young people have since become famous, not only in Wales, but throughout the World.

Included amongst these are Rebecca Evans, Sian Cothi and Katherine Jenkins. The choir has also had the pleasure of performing with many “household names” from the world of entertainment and appeared on many occasions with the late, great, Ryan Davies.

Although at the outset there was some discussion over the name to be given to the choir, in settling on the name of Tonna the committee were possibly unaware that they were re-establishing the long musical tradition of the village.

Records indicate that there was a male voice choir in Tonna as early as 1890 when the conductor was a Mr. Richard Rees who, apart from his involvement with the choir was also a conductor at Nazareth Chapel in the village.

By 1899 the choir had earned a good reputation and as a result was invited to sing at Craig Y Nos Castle.

The item sang was “A MARRIAGE ODE” and the cover to the music has this explanatory note. “Composed on the occasion of the marriage of Madame Adelina Patti to Baron Cedestrom by Mr. T. ldris Jones, Melyncrythan, Neath, set to music by Mr. Jonah Morgan, GTSC Tonna, Neath, and sung at Craig Y Nos Castle, Spring 1899 by kind permission and under the patronage of Baron and Baroness Cedestrom by the Tonna Male Voice Party conducted by Mr. D. Saunders Davies”.

The current choir then has a proud reputation to maintain, and this it is doing with a pride and commitment that will surely see the future assured for many years to come.

Over the years the choir has been fortunate to have a strong group of Patrons.

This group is now growing steadily and gives valuable support to the choir, and this support enables the choir to accept requests for charitable concerts that might not be otherwise possible.

The choir are appreciative of the support given by Patrons, and is attempting to involve them in more of the social activities of the choir. Anyone wishing to become a Patron of the choir is invited to contact the P.R.O. or Secretary for further details.

They say that behind every good man there is a good woman.

This is certainly true, as the choir boasts an extremely hard working Ladies Committee who are always ready to assist the choir with any major undertakings such as the hospitality for visiting choirs and “manning” the door for the many concerts performed by the choir. They are also a valuable source of funding for the choir.

To the future then – and the Tonna Male Voice Choir have no intention of taking life easy now that they are 49 years of age. Engagements are already flowing in for the next 2 years, with highlights including the planned visit to the Albert Hall in 2018 for the 1000 voices concert, as well as the many local concerts which are perhaps taken a little for granted.

Copyright © Tonnamalevoicechoir 2017