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MID-WESTERN STATES & WASHINGTON D.C.
October 19 – November 2 1991
Treorchy Male Choir’s first visit to the United States of America proved a major success as they toured three states in the Mid West before reaching Washington D.C. for the climatic finale. Under the direction of a new Conductor, John Jenkins, and accompanied by Marion Williams, the Choir of 74 men (with no soloist) undertook a most rewarding, if exhausting, two weeks visit where new territories were visited and new friends made.
USA 1991: Text
The flight from Gatwick, via Boston, Massachusetts, eventually touched down in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It was another enjoyable journey, complete with plenty of musical performances in various airports and sections of the plane. Minneapolis & St Pauls, traditionally a Sioux Indian settlement on the side of the Mississippi, was the finishing point of the journey and it was there that the Choir met the tour organisers, Fran and George Wheat of Grand Island, Nebraska. Fran and George, who was a minister, had first heard the Choir in Wales two years earlier and were so enchanted by the performance that they were determined to organise a tour for the Treorchy men.
On the following morning the Choir sang “Kwmbayah” for the hotel staff before making a brief visit to a shopping mall and crossing the Mississippi to the Minnehaha Falls and Hiawatha Statue and finally the Cosmo Conservatory. By late afternoon the Choir reached Elim Baptist Church to be greeted by John Follin of Allied Concerts, who were supporting the tour. It was here that the Choir gave a short performance of items and met their hosts for the evening.
The first of the early starts to the day – a common occurrence on a tour that involved getting up, getting on the bus, getting on stage, getting to the bar and getting to bed before the next day began – was at 7.30am where the Choir travelled to Virginia via Deluth. Miles and miles of flat land covered with wheat and grain, dotted with farmhouses and machinery, was as far as the eye could see. It was also the first day for the “Clec Committee” to meet, consisting of Mervyn John, Daryl Stacey and Alan Lewis who collected stories of “clangers” dropped by choristers and then awarded them with Bronze, Silver and Gold medals for their mistakes!
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On reaching Duluth Harbour on Lake Superior, the Choir enjoyed a guided tour of the town before enjoying dinner in the Old County Buffet restaurant. On arriving at the Coates Plaza Hotel in Virginia, the choristers settled in their rooms and enjoyed the swimming pool facilities before the evening concert in Virginia High School’s Goodman auditorium.
It was a tremendous concert before a packed auditorium of 1,200 spectators and such was the response that the American national anthem, “Star Spangled Banner” was actually
performed three times! The first concert with this new musical line-up was indeed an outstanding success, and the Choir was rewarded with the first of many standing ovations on this tour.
The usual ritual of leaving the hotel early the next morning was followed by a visit to Chisholm, an iron ore town where choristers enjoyed a train-ride tour of the mining sites and museum. On reaching Fergus Falls by late afternoon, the choristers settled into the hotels and were transported over to the High School for another outstanding performance, complete with a standing ovation. The next day included another early departure as the Choir journeyed to New Ulm, a German settlement where they were welcomed at the Turner Hall for a performance by the Concord Singers before enjoying their lunch. On reaching the county town of Austin, the Choir booked into their hotel rooms before reaching the High School for a concert before a packed audience of 1,700 people in this fine auditorium. Choir shields were presented to both John Follin and Fran Wheat on stage as a mark of recognition for their hard work in organising the tour.
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Setting out for Sioux City on Thursday morning, the Choir travelled into the state of Iowa for lunch at the Teikyo Westmar University where many pictures were taken of the Peace Pole in the grounds of the institution. On arrival at Sioux City, the Choir reached Mornington College for the evening concert before 800 people, which again culminated in a standing ovation.
After the concert the Treorchy choristers were entertained by a local male choir who sang songs of welcome and of course the Rhondda men responded in typical musical fashion. Then both choirs combined for a performance of “Myfanwy” under the leadership of local conductor Dave Kelsey.
Friday October 25th saw the Choir enter another State as they crossed the border into Nebraska, enjoying a brief sight of the Strategic Aerospace Museum and the Strategic Air Command’s Headquarters, the Offut Air Force base. In Winnebayo they visited the St Augustine Indian School where the Choir were entertained by this incredibly impressive performance by the native American people of the Mission. This colourful display of dance was astounding and the Choir responded with a performance of several items in the Mission Church.
With a brief stop in an Apple Barn, the buses travelled to Grand Island – the home town of Fran of George Wheat – where they were warmly welcomed at the Dreiback Restaurant. The Mayor of Grand Island, Ernest Dobesh, greeted the Choir on stage at the High School and presented them with a golden key to the city, Another memorable concert, for 700 people, resulted in yet another standing ovation. The Choir retired to Liederkranz Social Club for a buffet and entertainment from the Barber Shop Singers, which included George Wheat no less!
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After six concerts, social singing and miles and miles of travelling, some of the choristers were suffering with sore throats and Fran arranged for a local doctor to be in the foyer of the hotel that evening to administer to the needs of the men!
On the following morning the Choir continued their journey across the flatlands of the Mid West until they reached North Platte, almost six hours later. They visited Cody Fort on the way to the High School for a performance before 700 people – and again received a standing ovation for another excellent concert.
Early the next morning the buses retraced their tracks to Grand Island once more for a special performance in the morning service at Fran and George’s church, Trinity Church. By early afternoon the journey continued to the Seventh Day Adventist Baptist Church in Lincoln, the capital city of Nebraska. In the shadow of a magnificent organ, the tour photograph was taken before another successful concert. During the performance a special presentation was made – an American flag that had been flown over the United States Capitol especially to commemorate the Choir’s tour of the Mid West.
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One of the highlights of the Mid West tour was the visit to Boystown, Father Edward F. Flanagan’s famous orphanage which has its own motto of “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother”. The Choir enjoyed a tour of Boystown, where they also viewed Spencer Tracy’s Oscar for his role as Father O’Flanagan in the 1938 film with Mickey Rooney.
The tour was deeply emotional, particularly the performance of the Boys Town Choral Group of young people. It was also remarkable to see their reaction to the Choir’s majestic performance of “Men of Harlech”, which received tumultuous applause. Both choirs combined to sing “Star Spangled Banner” and choristers were assured of the fact that new friends had indeed been made.
The buses then headed for Omaha, where they saw the Strategic Air Command, home of the president’s plane, “Airforce One” and the starting point of the bombing raid on Hiroshima at the end of World War II. By late afternoon the Choir reached Des Moines, the capital of Iowa and enjoyed a free night of fun and laughter.
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On Tuesday October 29th the Choir headed for Burlington, with a brief stop at the Amona Colonies for lunch. At the Memorial Hall in Burlington, a staggering 2,000 people greeted the Choir’s arrival on stage. It was the largest audience of the entire tour and the Choir gave another outstanding performance, verified by a standing ovation. The grand finale was most impressive as the flags of each nationalality were illuminated when the national anthems were performed.
It was another early rise as the Choir continued on their mammoth Mid West journey to the town of Ames where choristers enjoyed lunch with the local Welsh Society before the trip continued to Albert Lea. The evening performance at the High School was another
tremendous success, culminating once more in a standing ovation from the 1,800 spectators. On the following morning it was time to return to Minneapolis Airport and undertake the short flight to the national capital of the United States of America, Washington D.C. This was indeed the highlight of the tour as choristers visited The Capitol, the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, J.F.Kennedy Centre, Thomas Jefferson Memorial, Vietnamese Veterans Memorial, Ford Theatre, CIA Headquarters and the Watergate Hotel. With a meal in the Hogate restaurant, the Choir settled into the Sheraton Hotel for the night.
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On Friday November 1st the Choir visited the Washington National Cathedral, or St Peter and St Paul Cathedral. It was here that the Choir was privileged to perform a selection of items in such a magnificent setting.
The afternoon was spent visiting The White House and enjoying a tour of the many rooms of the President’s home, before travelling to Arlington National Cemetery to visit the grave and eternal flame of J.F. Kennedy. It was also a very moving experience to see the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
In the evening the Choir travelled to the Unitarian Universalist Church in Towson, Baltimore. Although an intimate venue, with just
250 seats, the final concert of the tour was another wonderful and enjoyable event, again culminating in a standing ovation. The final day of the tour saw choristers visit the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum before a brief stop in the Pentagon Shopping Mall. On reaching Washington National Airport, the Choir departed for its overnight journey back home.
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As this had been the first tour to the USA for the Choir, it was akin to the early pioneers in the challenge of the unknown. It had indeed been an outstanding, if exhausting, tour with so many hours spent on coaches (and almost 3,500 miles travelled by road!), but the reception received at every venue had indeed been unforgettable. It had been a wonderful first visit to America, and another milestone in the history of the Treorchy Male Choir.
“We particularly enjoyed the smooth, sonorous sound of the bass section and the near-perfect blend that characterised the evening’s music. After a while, I just sat back and let it wash over me. How often is one able to hear and
experience simple beauty in this cacophonous world of ours? The music was tastefully performed and therefore very pleasant for people who long for honesty on the concert stage.” Lincoln Jones Hartford, Sioux City
“There was a magnetic attraction between the choir and the audience, which increased in intensity when Welsh hymns and folk songs were sung.” Rosalind Morris, Lincoln
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“I have heard for years that there is nothing quite like the Welsh male voice. Last night at the Memorial Hall, the Treorchy Male Choir proved that statement true. Individually the voices may not have been distinctive, but in unison, well-drilled and vital, they were the nearest thing to a perfect musical instrument as it would be possible to find.
“I am at a loss for words to describe the musical treat sung for us, lustily, beautifully, fully by the choir. From the opening to the roaring finale, the programme was a delight in its variety from soft and subtle to lusty and gutsy. The Choir’s rendition of “Battle Hymn of the Republic” was absolutely the best treatment of the work I’ve ever heard. It brought tears to my eyes and a lump to my throat.”
Grant Marshall, Burlington
Oct 20 Elim Church, Minneapolis
Oct 21 High School, Virginia
Oct 22 High School. Fergus Falls
Oct 23 High School. Austin
Oct 24 Mornington College, Sioux City
Oct 25 Indian Mission, Winnebayo
Oct 25 High School, Grand Island
Oct 26 High School, North Platte
Oct 27 Trinity Church, Grand Island
Oct 27 Seventh Day Adventist Church, Lincoln
Oct 28 Boys Town, Omaha
Oct 29 Memorial Hall, Burlington
Oct 30 High School, Albert Lea
Nov 1 The National Cathedral, Washington D.C.
Nov 1 Towson Unitarian Universalist Church, Baltimore
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