A Nation of Singing Birds

Sermon and Song in Wales and among the Welsh in America

Ronald Rees

The history of the Welsh love of hymn singing, and of how hymns and the religious movements and revivals of which they were part fired the Welsh imagination and spread via Welsh emigrants to the religious communities of the USA.
Date Published :
May 2021
Publisher :
Y Lolfa
Format Available    QuantityPrice
Binding : Paperback
ISBN : 9781912631292
Pages : 240
Dimensions : 8.5 X 5.5 inches
Stock Status : In stock


A book all about the Welsh love of song, and the singing of hymns in particular, and how hymns and the religious movements and revivals of which they were part fired the Welsh imagination. By the middle of the nineteenth century, Wales - thanks to a repertoire of appealing hymns and an easily-learned form of musical notation - was the fabled sea of song. Other nations were drawn to the siren-like power of hymns but perhaps no other has sung them with quite such fervor. In America, where the Welsh settled in numbers, they continued to sing. In monoglot, tightly-knit settlements in Delaware, Ohio, Vermont, New York and Pennsylvania, chapels were invariably the focus of community life, and it was a group of Welsh migrants to Utah, led by John Parry, who formed the nucleus of the famed Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Musicality, however, was not confined to the singing of hymns. Harry Caplan, the American classicist, defined preaching as a ‘sacred art’, suggesting that sermons were performances; vocal exercises as well as pedagogical ones. To engage congregations, Welsh preachers - at home as well as in America - delivered their sermons with a discernible cadence or rhythm, in which sound could be as important as meaning. By combining the persuasive power of the word with the emotive power of music, congregations could be brought to states ranging from spiritual readiness to near-hysteria. There are echoes in our own times of this mesmerizing cadenced style in the recordings of the speeches of Martin Luther King and poetry readings by Dylan Thomas. This book has been painstakingly researched in libraries and archives in Wales and America, from large national institutions to small public libraries in Wales and specialized repositories in America such as the Welsh Library at Green Mountain College in Vermont. The chief archival sources were emigrant letters and diaries and archive copies of local newspapers.

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