Vicar Keeps Melodies Alive

Adapted from the Church in Wales

A Rhondda vicar is on a mission to save traditional Welsh hymns and the culture of hymn singing by giving their words a modern makeover.

Inspired by a conversation with Rowan Williams, the Rev. Paul Bigmore wants to breathe new life into the stirring hymns he learned as a child but that are now rarely sung.

Songs of Praise the Valleys Sing, his book of 50 hymns, will be dedicated and launched in September by the Most Rev. Barry Morgan, Archbishop of Wales.

Bigmore serves in Ynyshir in the Rhondda Valley, an area once well known for its hymn singing. Songs of Praise the Valleys Sing includes tunes of once well-known Welsh hymns such as Blaenwern, Berwyn, Rachie, Ar Hyd Y Nos, and Rhys.

Lord Williams, who serves as honorary president of the Hymn Society of Great Britain and Ireland, has written a foreword that calls the book a welcome resource.

“The idea for the book came from a conversation with Rowan Williams, who grew up in Swansea not far from where I did in Port Talbot,” Bigmore said. “He was saying how sad it was that all those lovely hymn tunes and melodies we were brought up with were dying out fast. I decided there and then to do something about it.

“Singing is part of our Welsh tradition and culture, particularly in the Rhondda. We have a rich heritage of tunes that needs to be nurtured. Welsh hymns raise the spirits, give impetus of hope and joy. And we saw that very recently at the Euro2016 games when the terraces of France resounded with Cwm Rhondda and Calon Lân as thousands of Welsh fans turned to our best known hymns to urge the team on — with considerable success too.

“While the fans know the tunes, though, not many of them know all the words or are even aware of our other great hymns. This is partly because they are in Welsh but also because the language is not understood. Words like co-eternal, consubstantial, ineffably sublime are a bit of a mouthful to today’s youngsters. They don’t know what they mean.

“My aim is to give these tunes a new lease of life by giving them words that people will understand and remember.”

The hymns in Bigmore’s include the familiar tune Rachie. The words have been changed from “I Bob Un Sydd Fyddlon” to “Joyfully we praise him, Christ the Risen Lord.” Another is the favorite Welsh Sunday school hymn Iesu Tirion.

Songs of Praise the Valleys Sing will be distributed by Gomer Press and will cost £10. Proceeds will support the charity Dreams and Wishes, which helps seriously ill children and their families. The cover is by Gayle Rogers, resident artist at the Workers Gallery, Ynyshir.

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