The Fron Male Voice Choir
Voices Of The Valley
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It is 75 years since the founding of the Fron Choir to compete in the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod, itself founded in 1947.
You will find more information about the choir and its illustrious history here.
We welcome visitors to our rehearsals. You would be most welcome to join us on a Monday or Thursday evening but please be aware of the current regulations and be prepared to wear a mask throughout. Please let us know you would like to attend HERE. We look forward to welcoming you.
Male Voice Choirs Explained
A Welsh male voice choir is made up of four sections. There are two groups of tenors, known as the Top Tenors and Second Tenors, and two groups of basses, known as the First Bass and Bottom Bass (or sometimes Baritone and Second Bass).
The Top Tenors sing the highest part and usually lead the melody. For those of you who are more musically-minded, the typical tenor range extends roughly from the C below middle C on the piano to the C one octave above middle C, although it is pretty unusual for the tenors to be asked to sing that high. The famous top note in Puccini’s “Nessun Dorma” is the B above middle C, just to give you an idea of how high top C is!
When you see the Fron Male Voice Choir on stage, the Top Tenors are usually on the centre-left, the First Basses are on the centre-right with the Second Tenors far left and Bottom Basses far right. Of course, this arrangement can change depending on the venue. For example, at our very popular Christmas concert at the New Vic Theatre in Newcastle-under-Lyme, where the auditorium is in the round, the choir is arranged in a circle around the piano.
The Second Tenors fill the sound between the Top Tenors and the baritones lending support to both sections. They are capable of singing almost as high as the top tenors but can also reach down the B below middle C – notes normally sung by the First Basses. Second Tenors most usually sing complex harmonies rather than the melody – not an easy task.
The First Bass (or baritone ) vocal range falls somewhere between the Bottom Bass and Second Tenor, typically from around the A below middle C to the F above. It is considered the natural voice for most men. An important section, it contributes greatly to the rich fullness of sound the choir generates and the overall harmonies produced.
The Bottom Bass (or second bass) is the powerhouse section of the choir and, because most of the time they are singing the root of the chord, they provide the essential platform above which the other voices can weave their harmonies. Their vocal range extends from around the second E below middle C to the E above middle C. However, a Bottom Bass not only has to be able to reach these low notes, but he also has to be able to produce them with sufficient power and tone needed to produce the authentic sound of a Welsh Male Voice Choir such as the Fron. Look out for the basses singing the bottom D at the end of the Russian Hymn “Spaséniye Sodélal” and feel the rumble!
I joined the choir initially in 1970 but left in 1990, returning in 2007. Singing has been a part of my life – it started from singing in chapel, then Eisteddfodau, as a soloist and in a choir, it was a natural progression.I cannot recall my first performance with the Fron – it is too far back. My favourite venue is probably the Royal Albert Hall in London where we’ve song quite a few times. My favourite performance was our recent win at the Llangollen International Eisteddfod (my third time with the Fron), that and the Roy Thompson Hall in Toronto.Joining the choir is one of the best things I’ve ever done. You are surrounded by lads who become mates, you have a chance to travel, and you are always learning new music, and it also improves your self-confidence.I have been retired for 16 years from my job as an Electrical Inspector at a local Chemical Factory, now closed.An interesting fact . . . I was one in the first hundred babies born in Wales at the start of the National Health Service in 1948.
I was initially a member of the choir from February 1962 – December 1966, and re-joined in October 1983 and have been a member ever since. I love music and singing, also the choir has a vast and varies repertoire. My very first performance was at the Llangollen International Eisteddfod in 1962 My favourite venue is the New Vic Theatre in Stoke but my favourite performance has to be winning at the Llangollen international Eisteddfod three times with the Fron.I was a painter and decorator before I retired and would say to anyone thinking of joining that, like me, you will love the music, singing and camaraderie.An interesting fact . . . In 1958 my pal and myself rode a 150cc NSU scooter to Barcelona! It took 5½ days to get there at 30mph and 6 days back because we were very tired, having spent 3½ days there.
The Fron Choir was formed in 1947 to compete at the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod.
Froncysyllte is a small village still – as our compère often quips: “The village is so small that the speed restriction signs stand back-to-back!” – and they found it difficult to conscript enough adults to form a 60-piece choir (the number needed to enter the Male Voice competition at Llangollen so the local youth club was absorbed. We still have two active members who joined the choir as teenagers when it was formed.
Llangollen is the closest town to the village – a mere 2 miles away – that it was a matter of local pride that the Fron should enter a choir to an Eisteddfod so close by.
The choir became successful very quickly and over the intervening years has toured a lot of the world and sold well over 1 million of the VOICES OF THE VALLEY series of albums, the sixth of which, ‘VOICES OF THE VALLEY – ECHOES’ is now available to order from our shop
The Fron is a concert choir but is also still active in the competition world and in the past few years has won major competitions such as the Cornwall International Male Choral Festival and our fourth win of the Male Voice Choir Competition at the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod.
The year is 1946 and Europe is still recovering from the devastation of the Second World War. In Britain, the nation is still stoically bearing the burdens of post-war austerity and rationing and is about to experience one of the severest winters in history.
That same year, the people of Llangollen sent, through The British Council, an international invitation to choirs to compete in a music festival to be held in 1947 “as a gesture of good-fellowship to help in bringing peace-loving and democratic peoples into closer personal association within the sphere of a genuine common interest.” The organising committee declared “Though this expression of a small mountain town’s boldness for peace may be far less spectacular than a deed of war, it is at least constructive, opening a door, maybe a narrow one, through which men and women of many lands may meet freely in friendship stimulated by their mutual love of music-making”.
The cruel winter over, Britain saw a brighter time ahead. Princess Elizabeth, the future Queen Elizabeth had just married her dashing naval officer, Lieutenant Philp Mountbatten and the National Health Service was shortly to be introduced. The 1947 Llangollen International Eisteddfod was an unqualified success – groups from ten foreign countries braved the journey to Llangollen, joining some 40 choirs from England, Scotland and Wales.
Inspired by the success of the first Llangollen International Eisteddfod and by the message of peace that it inspired, the residents of the nearby village of Froncysyllte determined to form a choir to compete in the competition the following year. Mr Gomer Powell, the Interim Secretary, called a public meeting with the object of forming a choir and, in 1947, The Froncysyllte Male Voice Choir (“The Fron” Choir) was born.
Froncysyllte (pronounced vron-cuss-ulth tay), known locally as “Fron” (pronounced Vron), is a small village at the eastern entrance to the Vale of Llangollen. The village, with its miners’ and kiln workers’ cottages, nonconformist chapels, church and public houses, came into existence during the 19th century alongside Thomas Telford’s Holyhead Road (A5) and on the hillside to the south. The local lime industry, its main source of employment, underwent a period of decline towards the end of the 19th century, although quarrying for limestone was still active near the village when the choir was formed. Set in beautiful countryside in the Northeast corner of Wales, Fron would have been “just another village” if Thomas Telford had not built his famous Pontcysyllte aqueduct to carry the Llangollen Canal across the River Dee. Thousands of visitors come to this World Heritage Site each year to marvel at his engineering skills and the ground-breaking work of the local iron foundries 200 years ago that made the project possible.
The first chairman of The Fron, J.R. Jones (“Joe Jordan”), a prominent county councillor, was the driving force behind the choir in its early years although, maintaining that his voice was “awful”, he never sang. Lloyd Edwards, a well-known local piano teacher was appointed as The Fron’s first conductor. Menna Hughes, daughter of Robert Hughes, the founder Treasurer and one of Lloyd’s pupils, was appointed as the first accompanist. To compete in the Male Voice Competition at the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod the Choir needed 60 voices, so Wilfred Jones, the leader of the Froncysyllte Youth Club, persuaded the young men of the village to join. He was so successful that the 1947 Fron Choir had the youngest membership of any Welsh Male Voice Choir.
Lloyd Edwards together with his Deputy John Richard Davies went on to win major choral competitions and gain a reputation for excellence at home and abroad. Lloyd held the Choir’s baton until his untimely death in 1970.
The Fron choristers stayed together after the Eisteddfod with Watkin Williams (a prominent County Councillor and much-respected character in the village) as the Chairman.
It was to be thirty years in 1977 before the choir won at Llangollen. The same year they won the National Eisteddfod of Wales completing “The Double”. The choir won at Llangollen again in 1987, 1994 and, most recently, in 2018.
Now in its 75th year, the Choir has had four excellent Conductors since Lloyd. John Daniel, who for 21 years followed in his steps and led the Choir to success in the National Eisteddfod of Wales and the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod, as well as an International reputation. Val Jones succeeded John in 1991 and for the next 11 years consolidated that reputation in competition. Val was followed by Ann Atkinson in 2002, who was the force behind the Voices of the Valley recordings and then, in 2009, by our current MD, Leigh Mason, who has taken us to victories in competitions In Derry, Cornwall and our fourth win at Llangollen plus various foreign tours. More details of past conductors can be found here
It took a chance meeting with Daniel Glatman, manager of boy band Blue, to set the Fron Male Voice Choir on the road to international fame and success. Daniel heard the choir sing at a wedding under the then musical director Anne Atkinson. Mr Glatman said he was “blown away” when he first heard The Fron sing. He said: “The passion, the pride, it just made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck.”
“I just thought that we had to get these guys into a recording studio. The great thing about their story is that we are seeing the last group of people who want to be thrust into the limelight being thrust into the limelight.” In 2006 he signed them to Universal Music, the company behind rap acts including Eminem and 50 Cent.
The choir’s first commercial recording, Voices of the Valley, made it in to the album charts in its first week of release in mid-November 2006. It went on to sell more than half a million copies and remained at number one in the classical chart for 11 weeks. The follow-up album, Voice of the Valley Encore, repeated that feat with pre-orders, before going platinum – selling 300,000 – and earning the Fron our first Classical Brits nomination in early 2008 – something we repeated in 2009 and 2010.
It was reported as “An amateur choir from Wrexham lost out to Sir Paul McCartney in the best album category at the Classical Brits, Their Voices of the Valleys CD was beaten by Sir Paul, who won the award for a work inspired by his love for his late wife Linda. Bryn Terfel, Katherine Jenkins and Sting had also been shortlisted in the category.”
Flirting with Hollywood
Zygi Kamasa, a producer on the film Bend It Like Beckham and co-producer of George Clooney’s Good Night and Good Luck bought the rights to turn the story of the Fron Choir into a film to rival Calendar Girls. Mr Kamasa came on the scene after Daniel Glatman signed them to Universal Music, the company behind rap acts including Eminem and 50 Cent. Mr Kamasa said: “The story of this choir which was picked from obscurity to be signed by the biggest record label in the world, is a classic feel-good story that has huge potential, especially when you consider that the average age of the singers is 60.” Unfortunately, the project never took off but choristers had fun imaging which movie star would play them in the film.
The success of the Voices of the Valley series of CDs took the Fron onto further international success with tours in the USA and Canada as well as an extended tour of all the major venues in the U.K. The choir has also toured in France, Spain, Cyprus, Germany and recently we visited Austria where we sang in St Peter’s Cathedral in Vienna, the church in Mondsee where the wedding from the Sound of Music was filmed and the wonderful DOM Cathedral in Salzburg where Mozart plied his trade.
The Choir continues to go from strength to strength into the 21st Century. In 2013, under the leadership of Leigh Mason, the choir entered its first competition in 15 years, taking 1st place in the Male Voice Competition at the Derry International Choral Festival.
In 2016, inspired by some members of The Fron, a charity choir of newcomers to choral singing was formed to raise money for Prostate Cancer UK. The resulting concert where the charity choir sang alongside The Fron, was a great success, raising £4,000 for the cause and, as an added bonus, 19 of the original 21 members went on to become full members of The Fron, swelling its membership to 72.
In 2017, to celebrate the 70th anniversary of its founding, the choir embarked on a successful tour of Cathedrals throughout the UK. In the same year, it competed in Cornwall’s prestigious International Male Choral Festival winning the 41 Voices and Over Category as well as the Best UK Choir and Best Single Piece of Music in the same category.
To complete the circle, in 2018 – seventy years after first competing in the Llangollen International Eisteddfod – The Fron seized the prize for Best Male Voice Choir, reclaiming the International Trophy for the Male Voice Choirs they had first donated to the competition in 1971.
To add to the magic of the occasion, two members of the original choir from 1947, Dennis Williams and Gren Gough, both now in their 80s, sang shoulder to shoulder with their brothers-in-song on the competition stage that day. Dennis’s reminiscences of his seven decades with the choir can be found here
A slow return to normality
. . . and you thought last year was weird!
World most scenic railway journeys
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