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The History of Cwmdare Voices - O.D.A.

Why ODA? These initials relate to the very early days of the Choir when several regulars of the “TON GWLYD FAWR” the village pub of Cwmdare decided that the sound they made on their boozy Sunday afternoon sing-songs sounded rather good. “So, let’s form a Choir came the shout!” “Great what about a name?” It’s only going to be a bit of fun so let’s call ourselves “. ONLY DRUNKS ALLOWED” (ODA) So, in June 2012 a first official practice was held in the Village Miners Welfare Club. With great enthusiasm 22 lads turned up, some never returned! However, those that did stay started to perfect a few songs. No idea about sections or musical content or what vocal range one was, you just sang along with those you were in a drink round with. It was all about the shear enjoyment of making music. It soon became apparent, however that in order to progress a person who knows what he is doing, musically of course, was needed. Gwilym Jones, a retired music teacher stepped into the breach and with his direction we started to get organised into a semblance of a choir. A little while later Jonathan Cooper a head teacher and music teacher took over the role as Musical Director, and with Gwilym as accompanist we moved forward quite quickly. As word got round so our numbers increased and very soon, we had enough songs in our repertoire to hold a few local charity concerts. However, it wasn’t until we were offered to perform in Saint Elvans Church in Aberdare for the inauguration of local councillor, Ann Crimmings, as Mayor in 2013 that our name became a problem. How could we be introduced in a church as Only Drunks Allowed, so Cwmdare Voices was formed. During the next couple of years, we started performing more, and to be fair, we certainly seemed to be improving as a choir, but in order to get even better we were aware that we needed better direction. In January 2015 we were lucky enough to welcome on board Dr. Mike Thomas as our new Musical Director. Mike had been the MD for Pelenna Valley Male Voice Choir for over 20 years and he was positive that now he had retired as a school teacher, he would have the time for both choirs. Mike brought a whole new professionalism to the choir which certainly engendered a confidence and enthusiasm with the lads. One of the first memorable concerts we held was in Saint David’s Church, Neath where we joined two more experienced choirs in a ‘Cor Mawr’. This was followed by a further massed choir performance in Saint Elvans Church, Aberdare. Both events certainly provided a wealth of experience to our newly formed choir. Cwmdare Voices has always had an ethos of helping charities and over the years we have raised much needed funds for ‘Stay Strong for Ows’, The Rowan Tree Cancer Care Charity, Riding for the Disabled, Velindre Hospital amongst many more. Only recently the Choir sang in a concert which helped raise nearly £2000 for the charity Home Start. Having started as a social enterprise in a pub it has been only natural that the Choir has developed a lively social side with lots of events for our members and many animated post-concert afterglows. With the advent of a better direction, more confidence and a progressive repertoire the Choir started to explore performances further afield with a couple of tours to Newquay in Cornwall, a concert with the Bournemouth Male Voice Choir and a further concert with the Stoneleigh MVC from Coventry. This led to more ambitious tours to Maghrefelt in Northen Ireland and to Wolfenbuttel, Germany. More recently the boys have amalgamated with Pelenna and Cwmbach choirs to undertake a very successful tour to Australia and in 2023 we travelled to Barbados to take part in their Celtic Festival. Ever since the choir was formed in the bar room of the Ton Glwyd Fawr public house it had been its ambition to sing at an international rugby match at the home of rugby, Cardiff’s Principality Stadium. In those heady, early days of ‘Only Drunks Allowed’ it seemed an impossible dream. However, in just six short years that ambition was reached when the choir was invited to sing on the pitch at the start of the Wales v South Africa international in November 2018 The boys maintain to this day that it was their singing on the pitch, prior to the match that led Wales to beat South Africa by 20 points to 11. Over the intervening years the Choir has performed in numerous venues, festival and concerts however all of it was to come to a grinding halt when covid struck in 2019. Restrictions meant that all performances, practices and any get togethers we no longer allowed. However, thanks to our resourceful Musical Director, Mike Thomas, we were able to hold a weekly practice on our computers and mobiles using the Zoom app. Emerging from this enforced lock down it was wondered if we would lose any choristers but on our first practice back everyone returned. Since that time the Choir has twice sang at the Welsh Proms, appeared live on stage at the prestigious Millennium Theatre, Cardiff, sang in St David’s Cathedral in West Wales and joined a massed choir of over 400 choristers to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Caradog’s win at the Crystal Palace, London. The choir has been very fortunate to have as its musical director Dr Mike Thomas and stand-in stalwart Gwilym Jones, but to boost this team we have acquired the services of Andrew Chinnock, an outstanding pianist, as accompanist and a great asset for the choir. Mike remains as MD for Pelenna Valley Choir and we often come together to form a bigger choir when needed. Together we make quite an extraordinary sound. As 2022 came round, the Committee felt that our Music Director, Mike Thomas, had not been recognised sufficiently for his work in running three male choirs, both in the Cynon and Pelenna valleys, and for his contribution to music in general. We decided to look at the possibility of us nominating him for an award. The Committee, with Bob Jenkins, our Treasurer, taking the lead, submitted an application to the appropriate authorities. It was therefore, rewarding to hear that in the Kings New Years Honours list, Mike was awarded an MBE (Member of the British Empire). To underpin and administrate any good choir there needs to be a proactive committee and Cwmdare Voices have always been lucky in that respectwith a present-day group of seven members serving. Our first Chairman, Huw Jones served for nine years and after retiring, his position was taken by Dave Manning. Matthew Burford retired from his position as Secretary in 2023 after serving the Choir well since its conception and the position has now been taken by Gary Powell. Bob Jenkins holds the position of Treasurer and the Committee members comprise of Ian Blake (Vice Chairman and Patrons Secretary), Gwilym Jones, Nick Evans, Liam Riddiford and our newest member, Stephen Stevenson, All Committee members play an active part in keeping the affairs of the Choir running smoothly to ensure that we have an active performance agenda and a buoyant social schedule. Much thanks must go to all these lads for their dedication and hard work on behalf of the Choir. We also have a loyal band of patrons who help support the Choir financially and faithfully boost our audience numbers at gigs. A lot of them have been with us right from the start and their input is greatly appreciated. Membership has always remained fairly static at around forty choristers. Some have left and others have joined helping the Choir maintain a good number whilst other choirs are finding their memberships are dwindling. Cwmdare Voices are proud to announce that Professor Peter Vaughan QPM CStJ, Lord-Lieutenant of Mid Glamorgan that in 2023 agreed to be the Choir’s Honorary President. Peter has been a patron and supporter of the choir for several years and we feel privileged to have the patronage of such a distinguished person. He served as the Chief Constable of South Wales Police and was awarded the Queen's Police Medal in the 2013 New Year Honours. Peter, originally from Aberfan lived, for some time, in Cwmdare and retired from the South Wales Police at the end of 2017, after more than 33 years in the service. Peter was appointed by Her Majesty the Queen as Lord- Lieutenant of Mid Glamorgan in May 2019. We practice at the Cwmdare Miners Welfare Club each Tuesday evening from seven till nine and new members are always welcome.

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