A rousing performance of the famous Welsh hymn Calon Lȃn by a digital choir put together by top tenor Rhys Meirion has gone viral on social media with more than 190,000 views…and counting.
The 130-strong choir, which included members from across North Wales and as far afield as Australia, was assembled virtually for the popular S4C series, Corau Rhys Meirion.
Calon Lȃn was originally written in the 1890s as a hymn, with words by Daniel James and the tune by John Hughes, but it’s now also firmly established as a Welsh rugby anthem.
As well as parts sung to the original music, other sections of the iconic hymn were performed to an eclectic mix of tunes including La Bamba, the Welsh rock classic, Pishyn, and the hit ballad, Mack the Knife.
The programme came about because the coronavirus lockdown prevented the Caernarfon-based TV production company from filming in the usual way.
The idea was inspired by the Facebook group Côr-Ona, which is a play on words using ‘corona’ and the word ‘choir’ in Welsh.
The group, masterminded by Anglesey singer and choir conductor Catrin Angharad Jones, was set up to allow choir enthusiasts to sing and share their favourite songs and hymns.
It has turned into an online phenomenon notching-up over 40,000 members since it was formed on March 17 to help people feel lonely during self-isolation of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Blaenau Ffestiniog-born Rhys, who was raised in Tremadog and now lives in Pwllglas, near Ruthin, was in the middle of filming a third series of Corau Rhys Meirion when the coronavirus lockdown was imposed.
Much of the filming of Rhys at home was done by his two daughters, Elan, 21, and Erin, 18, using iPhones.
Rhys said: “ We were filming a choir of Awel y Coleg residents and local youngsters in Bala which was all about bridging generations when we were forced into lockdown. We were left thinking what could we now do to end the series as clearly bringing a choir together wasn’t going to be an option.
“We saw that Catrin Toffoc had started Côr-Ona which had very quickly gathered a big following of more than 46,000 members.
“We thought a digital choir would work and got in touch with Catrin. The hymn Calon Lân is such an iconic song and always makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up when it’s sung at the national stadium or wherever else so we thought we’d form a digital choir to perform it.
“But we also came up with the plan of setting the task of seeing what music Calon Lân could be sung to and we had some incredible efforts including La Bamba and Mack the Knife, which was a hit in Wales back in 1970 thanks to an unforgettable Welsh version by a band called Dyniadon Ynfyd Hirfelyn Tesog.
He added: “So we made the show using several different versions suing to different tunes and ended with digital choir performing the traditional version.
“We also spoke to members of the digital choir online about how they were coping with the coronavirus pandemic and the lockdown and the whole concept of self-isolation.
“I think the digital choir has shown us the power of music and how singing together is so important to the Welsh nation. The digital choir members were proof that people still want their musical fix and through the wonders of modern technology we were able to do it.
“The response we had to our plea for versions of Calon Lân was incredible and we had so many versions sent to us it really was incredible. Then to pull together a digital choir of more than 130 performers was also fantastic.
“Like everyone at Cwmni Da, I’m blown away by the response to the social media video of the final digital choir version of Calon Lân. To see it has had more than 190,000 views and still rising is incredible.”
Businessman Aled Rees, 44, of Llanbadarn Fawr, Aberystwyth, got involved with the digital choir even though he says he sings very badly and is glad his twin boys Ioan and Iago, six, and daughter Mari, 10, were there to help.
According to Aled, who runs travel company Tango Tours with his Argentine wife Angeles, as well as Siop y Pethe and the popular Byrgyr restaurant in Aberystwyth, getting involved in the progamme had been a distraction from the troubles of the coronavirus lockdown.
He said: “I’m actually a good friend of Rhys Meirion and sent in a clip of me singing with my boys. The digital choir concept has been a great way of distracting and entertaining the children during the pandemic.
“I never thought I’d ever been in a music video and I’m just glad it’s as part of a choir so I could blend in! The boys and Mari enjoyed it too. For me the whole concept was about unity and making light of the horrendous situation we are in.
“I’m really not sure what the future holds for our Tango Tours business as travel to Argentina is going to be out of the question for a very long time and I’m not sure when we will be able to open Siop y Pethe again.
“We have to try and stay positive. I plan to fight through all of this and keep everything c ross ed !”
Aled, who worked as a bio-chemist in the NHS for 23 years before setting up his businesses, added: “I have now set up a not-for-profit food delivery service in Aberystwyth which is operating while the lock-down continues.
“But the digital choir project has been a wonderful distraction. It’s really about people who have never sang or performed on video before putting themselves forward. I hope it helps some gain confidence in themselves. We certainly enjoyed taking part.”
Among those who took part were a musical family from Llanddona on Anglesey, Bari Gwiliam,, his wife, Kate, and daughters, Elin, 12, and Catrin, nine, who performed Calon Lȃn to the tune of La Bamba.
Bari, who is a member of the popular band, Llareggub, said: “Catrin Toffoc started the Facebook page and asked us, as a family, to get involved. Kate and I thought it was a good idea and something to get the children involved in during the coronavirus lockdown.
“As we well as performing our La Bamba version of Calon Lân, I play trumpet on the final Welsh version that has been viewed such an incredible number of times on social media.
“I also sing on that version too as do Kate and Catrin. To see the social media response it has had is amazing. It just goes to show perhaps the popularity of choirs when it comes to the Welsh nation.”
Cwmni Da managing director Dylan Huws, who also produced Côr Digidol Rhys Meirion, said: “The way the show was put together presented many challenges and needed a totally new way of working.
“The whole production crew worked remotely. We had Rhys’ daughter’s filming him on iPhones while Osian Howells, the director, watched on Facetime and directed the girls on what he wanted.
“The story telling is the same no matter how you film it. We really concentrated on the story telling as we were sure viewers would accept and forgive our technical issues.
“The digital choir all came in separately and had been filmed on different equipment and in different formats. The editor, working from home, then had to splice the clips together and ensure they were perfectly in synch.
“It’s the first time I have worked on such a production and despite the technical difficulties and the fact we all worked remotely from our homes it worked. I am thrilled with the show and the work the whole team did in putting it together.”
Elen Rhys, S4C’s Entertainment Content Commissioner said: “The positive reaction we’ve seen in response to the heartfelt performance of Calon Lân has been phenomenal. It proves that music can bring us all together even though we’re all apart.
“It’s not a myth that Wales is the Land of Song, and we’re very proud that it has reached such a wide audience. With a smile on our face and a song in our heart, we can support each other to get through this crisis.”