The history of the Sydney Welsh Choir

The Early Days

The Welsh Rugby Union tour of Australia in 1978 inspired the formation of the Sydney Welsh Rugby Club, whose teams made an immediate impact with their singing at the post-match celebrations. A male voice choir was created at the club, broadening into a mixed choir in 1980. Margaret Hughes was Music Director from 1981 to 1999, building up the choir into a separate entity with an international reputation. The Sydney Welsh Choir now has over eighty members and has outlived its parent rugby club, which was wound up in 1997.

The Nature of the Choir

From the outset it has had a core of Welsh-born members but has increasingly attracted singers with no obvious Welsh link, though it is amazing how many Welsh ancestors can be discovered by a spot of genealogical research. The one attributes all the choristers share is a love of singing, a unifying force providing harmony that is social as well as vocal. The repertoire is extremely broad – “from Bach to Bacharach” – oratorio, hymns, opera, folksongs, stage musical numbers and quality popular songs. Over a quarter of the songs are in Welsh, a language that looks unpronounceable at first glance to the average Australian, but which soon becomes a manageable challenge.

Performances & recordings

The choir usually makes at least thirty public performances a year, most of them full concerts. The choir has sung in such famous venues in Sydney as the Opera House, Sydney Town Hall, Convention Centre, State Theatre, Queen Victoria Building, Stadium Australia and Conservatorium of Music, though most concerts are held in local churches, clubs, schools and retirement villages. Special occasions at which the choir has performed include the Royal Easter Show, Darling Harbour Christmas Pageant, the official Australia Day Luncheon, and the official NSW Government Anzac Memorial Service, in which we are the one choir chosen each year. Our audiences range in size from the overflowing but modest congregation of any small church to the packed house at Stadium Australia for the final Wallabies v Lions match of 2001. Apart from overseas tours the choir does a lot of travelling within Australia, with concert tours to South Australia in 1992, Queensland in 1996 and a very successful tour of Tasmania in 2010.  We have made many visits to Canberra and three tours to the far South Coast focusing on Merimbula and Narooma.  We frequently give concerts in other parts of rural NSW such as at Dubbo, Port Macquarie and Gunnedah.

The Choir has produced several CDs, the most recent of which is “On Dragon’s Wings”.

The choir plays a central role in the Welsh community of Sydney, especially with its St David’s Day Celebrations at Carnarvon Golf Club and its annual reception at the British Consulate or Consul’s house.  The Choir’s quarterly newsletter, The Clarion, and this website and Facebook are important links with the general public.  The choir is grateful for the help it has received from its patrons, especially from chief patrons Warwick and Jan Lane.

Sydney Welsh Choir has toured extensively, including to the UK and Ireland, and our next tour is to Victoria in October 2018.

The choir is greatly indebted to the enthusiasm of its late president, the highly talented Clive Woosnam OAM. Clive, who died in July 2018, was the choir’s president for 23 years and led us on seven overseas concert tours, many of which he also arranged.
His knowledge of Welsh music, history and literature, especially the writings of Dylan Thomas, for which he had an international reputation, was prodigious.  He and his wife Helen worked tirelessly for the well being of the choir and for enhancing its relationship with the wider Australian Welsh community. 
As our concert narrator Clive would entertain audiences with his endless supply of Welsh anecdotes and hilarious stories, a skill that he has passed on to our current conductor. He was admired and respected by choristers and audiences alike. 
Sadly his successor as choir president, Robert Horlin, died suddenly just months before Clive passed away, and the choir remembers both gentlemen with immense fondness and gratitude.
Clive Woosnam