The Pembroke & District Male Voice Choir story so far
Anyone attempting to write a history of an organisation would necessarily have to pay tribute to the original founders and their efforts to establish and bring to life something they deeply believed in. Thus it must be for those re-telling the story of Pembroke & District Male Voice Choir and first tribute must go to the compiler of the original history, on which this edition is based, namely the late J Gordon Davies, former President. No one man can be the most important but Gordon Davies can be considered a major contributor to the choir's story.
There has been hundreds of choristers over the years of course but one of the very first to be involved in the choir’s formation in 1952 is still with us today. Namely Mr Owen Jones, "Father of the Choir", Principle Baritone soloist and first bass chorister. It should be said that Owen sings as well today as he probably ever has done.
No other persons effect and influence to this day over the choir, is stronger than the founding conductor the late Mr WP (“Bill”) Lewis MBE, “The Boss” as he is fondly remembered conducted our choir for over 47years and his torch is being carried now by his daughter Christine, the choirs present conductor.
However let us not get too far ahead of the tale at this point.
The choirs beginnings started with an advert in a local paper asking generally that those with an interest in forming a male voice choir attend a meeting in the No 9 Vestry of Wesley Chapel Tuesday 14th October 1952. Mr AV Rees presided. Enthusiasm was such that the first officers were appointed, AV Rees-Chairman. HE Davies-Secretary, FG Lloyd-Treasurer and Owen Jones-Music Secretary.
A meeting on the 20th October appointed Mr WP Lewis as Conductor, Mrs F Sudbury-ccompanist, with a committee composed of AT Griffiths, TL James, DB Jones, T Morgan, CE Nicholls, WJ Phillips and TJ Vincent.
Formed originally as Pembroke Borough MVC (the choir had to change its name to its present one when Pembroke lost its borough status in a Local Goverment Act many years later. This also reflected the choirs ability to recruit new members from outside of the immediate area) Little time was lost in getting down to work, 50 members attended the first practice held on the 28th October 1952 in Trinity Chapel School Room Upper Meyrick Street. Trinity was later to be the venue for the first LP produced by the choir.
On the 28th March 1953 the choir were ready to give their first concert in Bethel Chapel, St Florence with a number of items by the choir. Other contributions came from soloists Ms W Williams, Mr E James and Mr H Evans. An octette performed “Myfanwy”, there was a duet from Mr Evans and Mr James and a recitation by Claude Tozier. The concert received very favourable reviews from the press.
The first concert in Pembroke Dock was performed on April 8th 1953 at Bethel Chapel Meyrick Street in aid of victims of the East Coast flood disaster of that winter. Admission was 2 shillings, programme 3d, guest organist Ivor Owen, Director RCO Swansea and personal friend to WP Lewis. Further invitations to give concerts were coming in, one of the first being Lamphey Sports Club.
The list of venues where the choir has sung runs to many A4 pages and the programme of familiar items sung is a similarly long list. There is a tradition in Welsh choirs that leans towards what are jokingly called “War Horses”, that is items specifically arranged in past times for male four-part harmony, familiar and well loved by choristers and audiences alike. “Nidaros, Soldiers Chorus, Speed Your Journey” are very good examples of this tradition. Nothing can be preserved in aspic in the field of music however and modern times demand modern treatments of different items. Choirs have to respond accordingly and audiences are much more likely to enjoy a broader range of musical experiences these days at a male voice concert. This is not to say that all “War Horses” will be forgotten; they are too well loved for that, only that there is a time and a place for them and they no longer dominate the modern choirs programme as they used to.
As Pembroke & District Male Voice Choir developed and changed over the years so inevitably did personnel, people coming and going due to age, personal circumstances, death intervening often. These changes too run to many pages though many choristers and members of the musical team have served the choir for a considerable length of time and are still serving. The routine of the choir at the time was one of practice and local concerts, sometimes interspersed with occasional visits to Eisteddfods and the like. During the mid to late sixties however major changes in society and social activities were taking place and this was reflected within the choir with a drastic drop of chorister numbers into the low twenties. No male voice choir can perform well on these numbers and retain its balance and quality, therefore the officers knew that something needed to be done and done urgently. Accordingly the local gas showroom was selected to host an AGM where three possibilities were advanced to the attendees:
- A big push to encourage new or former members to join
- Invite Ladies to join and form a mixed choir
The meeting decided a final effort would be made over the following month to encourage new and old members to join before making a final decision on the fate of the choir. Fortunately the efforts of those involved were rewarded with enough members to continue and the choir future was secured and has been since that time. A deep debt of gratitude is owed by all with an interest in the choir to those whose efforts made continuation as a male voice choir possible.
New Officers were elected at this decisive, not to say momentous, meeting and it is felt that they deserve reporting here:
President-Mr S Neale, Chairman- Mr Wilfred John, Vice Chairman-Mr J Gibby, Secretary-Mr S Skone, Assistant Secretarys-Mr C Allen and Mr C Cray, Treasurer-Mr R Collins, Conductor-Mr WP Lewis, Assistant Conductor-Mr HL Davies, Accompanist-Mr H Trevena, Assistant Accompanist Mrs Christine Lloyd, Chaplain- Rev D McIntyre, Librarians- Mr Owen Jones and Mr A Rees.
From this basis of security the choir went on to make notable marks and musical history at a host of venues and with a variety of people famous in their fields. That is set to continue in the future for P&DMVC as long as the demand exists for excellence in the choral field from those who appreciate the work that goes into the finished product. One can see from the table of notable events following on our website that the choir has travelled widely by invitation and is a major contributor to the Massed Voices concerts held regularly in the Royal Albert Hall, London. That contribution comes not only from strong chorister representation at every concert but also through the efforts of our Secretary Mr Phil Lloyd.
Phil occupies a prominent place on the Committee of the Welsh Association of MVCs who organise the event on a bi-annual basis. At concert times he is in charge of all chorister staging arrangements and takes the role of MC on the night of the event. Before hand he seems to be able to find time to arrange accommodation and transport for four coach loads of families and supporters of P&DMVC who normally travel to the Albert Hall for the concert and to spend a weekend in London. The notable events list of course excludes the many hundreds of concerts performed P&DMVC in support of local good causes, charities and other fund raising events that may impact their community. Local good causes represent a majority of their concert activities from the choir being so firmly embedded in the community. It is worth repeating here that no chorister, musical team member or choir official charges the choir or event holders for their services and the choir as a body complete pays its own expenses whenever and wherever they are asked to perform. Donations and sponsorship do appear at times but are never requested.
The choir is fortunate too that in an age where Male Voice Choirs are disappearing or membership is falling the choir has maintained its strength and lately has increased it significantly with a batch of new members. Should the reader feel that they too would like to be involved in so worthwhile an organisation then they can contact the Secretary via the Web site to express and progress that interest. A voice test is normally given when attending practice for the first time but this is merely to determine what section of the existing four within the choir would best fit the voice range of the applicant. New blood is essential so never think “I cannot sing.” All parts and all voices combine to make the whole. The primary aim of all choristers is to enjoy oneself through the music whilst being a part of a team that produces something special for those in the choir, its musical team and those who listen at concerts. What more laudable aim could there be.