Amongst the press of responsibilities and anxieties of the last couple of months, I had rather lost the fact that I had agreed to sing with a choir from my Welsh class at the Learners’ Eisteddfod in Flint last Friday. An Eisteddfod, for those who don’t know, is an ancient Welsh tradition where people come together for song, poetry, literature and music. It is a competition but it is also a social event, a cultural high and a community occasion. The National Eisteddfod for Wales is a huge deal. It moves between North and South Wales and this year it will be held in Wrexham. Just in case anyone is reading who might be intending to come, we are about half an hour’s easy drive from Wrexham, and the holiday cottage is still free for the Eisteddfod dates. Do have a look at the link alongside and come and stay.
The Learners’ Eisteddfod, by contrast, is not such a big deal. I’m not sure how our Welsh tutor got us all to agree to sing. His wife and son in law and best friend are in the class and he and his wife are good friends of ours too. That might have helped. It seemed churlish to say no. And besides I like singing. I have an adequate rather than a good voice and in order to sound ok I need to be surrounded by others, singing with gusto and in tune. In those circumstances, I can just about hold a tune myself, most of the time.
We were singing Lleucu Llwyd, which translates as Lucy Grey. Our tutor was a learner himself, Welsh and proud of it but not a native speaker (mam iaith, mother tongue they call it here) so he was allowed to be part of our little choir of six. He and his best friend have good voices and easily carried the rest of us along. This, I should make clear, is not us! I hope we sounded something like this.
We had rehearsed on and off at the end of class for a few weeks but still I felt stupidly under-rehearsed when we rolled up on Friday. It was only that week that I had finally got all the words by heart and agreed to abandon the security blanket of holding on tight to the music. Cornist Hall was heaving with people. We could hardly get inside the room and there was no chance of a seat.
The choral singing was the last competition of the evening. By that stage beer and wine had been drunk, someone had played the bagpipes – oddly Scottish in such a Welsh gathering but warmly received – and one of our choir had won first prize in the solo unaccompanied singing. We had spoken a lot of Welsh and got cheerful and careless and switched back to English again.
Our name was called. We trooped up. One, two and off we went. There is nothing like a glass of wine to loosen the tongue. We romped through it, hitting all the notes, remembering all the words, smiling and singing and loving it. It was good. We knew it was. We even thought for ten minutes or so that we might have won until the last contestants came on and sang, in Welsh, a selection of Abba songs. There is something about Abba songs, isn’t there? We just couldn’t compete.
We were second, an honourable performance. The taxi came. We wobbled out and sang our way home.