Features appear in each issue of Pennsylvania Heritage showcasing a variety of subjects from various periods and geographic locations in Pennsylvania.

With the development and expansion of the northern anthracite fields in the 1840’s, many ethnic groups flooded the region. Transporting their various customs to the Wyoming Valley, these groups formulated the social structure of the area from their traditions. One of the most significant of these traditions was music.

George Korson, in his Minstrels of the Mine Patch, dis­cussed the ethnic miner’s ballad. Korson’s interest lay in the mining ballad as it reflected the miner’s life: his work­ing conditions, his attempts at assimilation, his frustrations. As the Welsh seldom included these subjects in their music, Korson found it impossible to explore their wide range of musicology. However, Welsh music played an important role in the development of the region’s social order.

Arriving in the early 1840’s, the Welsh’s bilingualism provided them a ready acceptance by their employers while they maintained their heritage within the church and family units. The stability of the home allowed a cultural base to be formed and expanded upon. The unifying force became the traditional hymns which the fathers sang in eight-part harmony on their way to the mines, the family intoned around the parlour piano, and the community used in the church. The integration of music into the life style of the Welsh miner best reflects the spiritual, singing com­munity that they created.

Nature plays an important role in the expression of Welsh theology. Similes and metaphors drawn from natural phenomena fill many hymns. The beauty of Rev. T. C. Edwards’ anthem, “Like the Grass Are All Man’s Days,” lies in its simile of man’s existence to that of a blade of grass. While life flourishes, the wind (death) does exist and terminates that beauty. However, strength comes from the enduring mercy of God. Being shut off within the earth’s recesses, it is no wonder that the hymns of the Welsh miner are filled with amazement at the grandeur of the natural world.

With music playing such a central role in the Welsh heritage, it is not surprising that the great Welsh festivals, the Gymanfa Ganu and the Eisteddfod, had music as a base. Although structurally different, they provided a source for musical expression beyond the family and church.

All local church choirs and congregations gathered an­nually to sing under a competent conductor at the Gy­manfa Ganu. Held between March 1, St. David’s Day, and March 17, St. Patrick’s Day, its importance lay in its unifying function within the Welsh community. Unlike most ethnic groups, the small Welsh mining towns con­tained a great number of segregated, denominational churches. Music proved to be the common denominator that once a year unified these churches into a community.

The basic Welsh hymnody was never greatly expanded upon within the Gymanfa Ganu. Participation in it could not be individualistic, but stressed the sense of community. The choirs, often as large as two hundred voices, joined together in an expression of joy. From the Gymanfa Ganu, choral unions formed for year-round singing.

With the home and church as early training centers, many Welshmen became musically proficient. Although basically illiterate, the growth of the choral societies appeared inevitable. Morgan C. Jones organized sixteen of his fellow miners in 1867 for musical instruction and performance as the Cambrians. Being unable to read the written scores, the miners learned the different four-part harmonies through rote-memorization. This society be­came the keystone of later organizations.

In 1882 Jones organized the Wyoming Valley Choral Society, composed of three hundred mixed voices. Jones stressed the classical works, especially Hayden’s “The Seasons.” The “Hunting Song” from his collection won the society the first place award at a Philadelphia competi­tion. Outstanding local soloists, Morgan C. Jones, John Lloyd Evans, Mary Williams, and David Jonathan sang with the society.

Evans, one of the most skilled performers in the region, came to Wilkes-Barre in 1870 to assume the post of organ­ist at the Welsh Community Church. Learning technique and choral control through this experience, he soon as­sumed the directorship of the Wilkes-Barre Choral Society. Evans initially utilized Hayden’s “The Seasons,” but, in 1888, advanced the union’s reputation and importance by introducing two selections from Dr. D. J. J. Mason’s recent sacred cantata. This began the recognition of local musical composition.

Mason, born in Monmouthshire, Wales, in 1854, im­migrated to the United States in 1869. In 1872 he entered the Danville Institute to study under Joseph Parry. Parry’s composition skills led him to a post at University College, Cardiff. Mason became headmaster at the Institute and began his own serious composing efforts.

In 1875 Mason entered his work, “The Young Musicians,” at the Scranton Eisteddfod. The piece won over the local favorite, Gwilym Gwent, and secured Mason the leadership of Wilkes-Barre’s Mendelssohn Choral Society. He left the society in 1882 to receive his Mus. Bac. in Europe, but returned to compose the score for a grand opera in 1893. Using a traditional Welsh tale, “The Maid of Cefn Ydfa,” with a libretto by Professor Apsmadoc of Chicago, his lush Welsh melodies premiered at Chicago’s Columbian Exposition. Although he discontinued his work after a 1904 fire destroyed many of his compositions, a choral union formed under his name to utilize his music.

An organization, similar to that of the Dr. Mason Choral Society, also took the name of a local composer, Gwilym Gwent. William Aubrey Williams (Gwent). known locally as the Mozart of the Wyoming Valley, is the be􀀋t example of the natural Welsh music ability.

Born in Tredegar Parish, Monmouthshire, South Wales, in 1834, Williams’ only musical training came from his uncle, the local parish choir director. Rhys Williams pre­pared his nephew for the annual Eisteddfods and at one of these he acquired his bardic name, Gwilym Gwent.

Gwent worked in the mines from an early age until his death in 1891. At the age of thirty-seven, he arrived in the Wilkes-Barre area and worked in various mines. Much of his composing took place in the mines as he wrote musical notation on the sides of trams and pit props.

Gwent composed and published over one hundred works. His most famous, “Yr Maf” (The Summer). was sung annually at all St. David’s Day dinners. The first bars of this ode to the awakening of summer appear on his grave in Hollenbeck Cemetery.

While the choral unions performed the much needed service of musical training, they served as the main source for the local music festival, the Eisteddfod. This festival is said to have begun in 940 when the Welsh chieftan, Howel, awarded a chair to a victorious bard. Carbondale held the first crude Eisteddfod in the United States in 1850. Numerous churches and civic organizations con­ducted Eisteddfods, but most quickly vanished. However, due to the work of Rev. T. C. Edwards, the Eisteddfod at Edwardsville became the most popular and lasting.

During his pastorate, Edwards established the Cynon­fardd Literary Society, which undertook the institution of an Eisteddfod. Its importance drew the first Eisteddfod to be held outside of Wales to Pittsburgh in 1913. At this time, Dyfed, the Archdruid of Great Britain, con­ferred the title of Archdruid of America upon the Pennsylvania pastor. Having this new honor of bardic leader, the Edwardsville church chaired its first bard in 1918.

George Brown of Providence won the honor for “The Conquest of Jerusalem.” Dr. Edwards called all the bards to the stage to form a circle. A recorder and herald bard led Brown to the circle as the congregation sang, “See the conquering hero comes. Sound the trumpet, beat the drums.” Unsheathing his sword, Dr. Edwards asked, in Welsh, “Is there peace?” with the congregation responding three times, “Hewwch” (peace). He then announced the winner’s bardic name, by which only he would be known. The new bard then assumed the chair he had won for a year.

The Eisteddfod, known as the university of the poor, allowed both the individual and the group to participate. As the competition became more demanding, two choral societies stood out as the best in the region, the Cymro­dorians and the Scranton Choral Union.

Daniel Protheroe, a noted Welsh composer, led the Cymrodorian Society. D. J. J. Mason’s cousin, Hayden Evans, conducted the Scranton Choral Union. In September, 1892 both travelled to the National Eisteddfod held at Chicago’s Columbian Exhibition. The strong competition included the Salt Lake City Tabernacle Choir and the Western Reserve Choral Union. The four choirs sang the competition pieces, “Worthy Is the Lamb” from Messiah, “Blessed Are the Men That Hear Him,” from Elijah, and “Now the Impetuous Torrents Rise,” from David and Saul. With the fierce competition, the judges requested a second hearing of each number. The judges finally awarded the $5,000 prize and gold medals to the Scranton Choral Union. Upon their return to Scranton, thirty thousand greeted the new national heroes.

While national recognition was accorded local Welsh music between 1893 and 1913, little attention has been paid to this area since then. The decline of the choral societies and the lack of interest in learning the Welsh language have gradually decreased the participation in the Gymanfa Ganu and Eisteddfod. However, the importance of the Welsh music’s contribution to the local social order remains.

This unifying element helped to stabilize these miners’ way of life and maintain an aura of calm over their communities. Through the institution and continuation of the Gymanfa Ganu and the Eisteddfod, an otherwise unreachable source of talent proved musically productive. Finally, the establishment of the choral societies paved the way for the modern semi-professional musical organiza­tions that exist in the region today. Thus, the music of the Welsh miner can clearly be seen as an integral segment in the development of the northern anthracite culture.


David J. Cope teaches in the Titusville Area schools and is a frequent contributor on local history to the Titusville Herald.