Melingriffith & Tŷ Cerdd comission
To mark the centenary of the Senghennydd disaster, Tŷ Cerdd along with the City of Cardiff (Melingriffith) Brass Band have comissioned the young Welsh Composer Owain Llwyd to provide a work for brass band. The first performance will be given on Nov 9. Here Chair of the band, Alan Gwynant, explains the poignant reasoning for the commission along with the background of the Melingriffith Brass Band and Owain Llwyd describes the challenges of writing for brass.
The piece was commissioned to mark the centenary of the Senghennydd disaster in 1913, which killed 439 men and boys (the biggest tragedy in the history of mining in Britain). It was felt that there should be a piece for brass bands, as brass bands would have been an important part of the social life of the miners at that time, and the likelihood that some of the lost miners would be members of local bands.
Following discussions with Tŷ Cerdd, it was decided to commission Owain Llwyd to compose the piece. Owain is a young composer, but a lot of experience in the field of composition.
Owain was asked to compose a piece that reflected the event, and the social atmosphere that would have existed, considering the use of a children's choir in one movement to stimulate the fact that many of those killed were children, and that the most of the men killed left families, and many children orphaned. He was also asked to consider writing a piece with more than one movement, with the possibility to perform each move separately.
The first performance takes place in a concert, Saturday, November 9, at St. John's Church, Canton, Cardiff, 7pm. In addition to the piece "Senghennydd", Cardiff City Band (Melingriffith) will play a varied program, including new pieces which have been arranged by their "composer in residence", Dave Collins. The band will be joined by Côr Heol-y-March choir. The choir is famous as an exceptionally talented and successful children's choir.
Owain Llwyd said,
The work is in 3 movements, although the join between each should be as seamless as possible. Movement 1 is deliberately energetic, which would seem odd at first when considering the purpose of the commission - a work to commemorate the centenary of the Senghenydd Coal Mining disaster of 1913. This movement depicts the inner-workings of the mine industry in all it’s glory. There are big moments, dangerous textures and some nervous motives. The percussion is really the workhouse behind the opening - listen out for lots of metallic sounds and repetitive rhythmic structures.
Movement 2 is the apex of the work with the inclusion of the children's choir. Here, the real gravitas of the situation is realised as the children depict the events that unfolded. At the centre of the movement lies a lengthy build up to what can only be described as a "wall of rhythmic sound" leading towards an explosive conclusion.
The last movement is reflective, emotional and to all intents and purposes, is in a hymn-style.
During the course of the 2 month commission, it is safe to say I have been on a steep learning curve. Having only written short fanfares for brass, a larger scale work was daunting at first. The world of brass isn't as familiar to me as it should be - lots of orchestral textures can be applied, but the practicalities and traditional scoring techniques were less familiar. Witnessing Melingriffith perform with great success at the National Eisteddfod in Denbigh and listening to the brass band competition in general was extremely beneficial, whilst in the knowledge of being in the midst of many initial sketches of the work. This is certainly an area of composition I would like to explore in more depth, and look forward to doing so in the near future.
It is possible to trace the connection between the name Melingriffith and the world of brass bands in back to the late 18th century. By the mid 1940’s and 50’s, under the leadership of the immortal TJ Powell, Melingriffith was one of the best-known bands in Britain.
But over the course of the next 40 years the membership of the band went down gradually, and 90’s of the last century, only six members were attending rehearsals. However, the small group was determined to keep things moving, and gradually rebuilt the band. By 2003, the band was ready to resume competing again in the fourth section.
The breakthrough came through success, and the band was promoted to the second division in 2008. In 2009, they were victorious in the British championship for bands in the second section.
So great was the demand for a place in the band, a second band was formed (M2), and started competing in the fourth division in 2010. There was a huge success, and M2 won the British Championship for bands in the fourth section of the same year.
Today, four bands take the name "Melingriffith", which are the main band, who will compete in the Championship division, M2, in the second section, M3, which is the Youth Band (who have also won several competitions), and the newcomer - M4, a band for beginners.
Each week, more than 120 amateur musicians of all ages and backgrounds enjoy making music under the name "Melingriffith".